Isn't there something in the Bible about not bearing false witness? How is it then, whether in relation to the president's religious affiliation, the health-care debate, and now the immigration debate as well, so many Christians do so by hitting "forward" when they receive the latest chain e-mail, forwarding a false witness on to their neighbors and friends?
Here's my prediction. As the health-care debate moves toward a final up or down vote, more and more of these hysterical e-mails (often identifiable because they contain LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS! and even MORE exclamation POINTS!!!) will start being forwarded through cyberspace, spreading misinformation and religious terror about the latest CONSPIRACY THEORY! You'll find out that the government wants to KILL YOUR GRANDMOTHER, or CONVERT YOUR CHILDREN TO SOCIALISM and that sort of thing.
And then, as soon as the health-care debate is over and we move on to immigration reform, I imagine that an even more dangerous kind of hysteria will be virusing its way to a computer near you. These e-mails will link God, country, and the good old days ... which between the lines means those days when white people were in charge. That kind of nostalgia might sound good for suburban white folks like me who remember sunny summer afternoons playing kickball or riding skateboards with our friends in the 1950's and 1960's. But my African American, Asian, Latino, and other friends don't have such great memories of those days. They remember being called "boy" or "chink" or whatever. They remember segregated schools and restaurants and neighborhoods where they didn't dare go.
To be a follower of Christ means to join Christ in solidarity with our neighbors. He is the one, Paul says in 2 Corinthians, who was rich, but for our sake became poor. So if we're rich and safe, we join Christ in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. If we're privileged and powerful, we join Christ in solidarity with the excluded and marginalized. If we're righteous and religious, we join Christ in solidarity with the sinners and lost sheep. And if we get an e-mail asking us to break solidarity with other human beings, to form an us against them, to accept a caricature or stereotype of a human being made in the image of God ... then we join Christ in solidarity with the ones against whom false witness is being born.
That means we don't hit forward. Instead, we hit "reply," and we kindly but firmly say, "This is misinformation. I find this offensive and inappropriate. Can I explain why by phone?" Then, if the sender is willing, we have a kind but firm conversation by phone (or face to face) where we offer a different perspective. We don't condemn the person or attack the person who sent the e-mail to us. We just bear another witness, a true one, one in solidarity with the people with whom Christ stands. We don't say, "You shouldn't ... you should ... you're wrong ..." but we say, "I can't ... I feel ... I see it this way ..." Your job isn't to convince or convert the other person; it's just to bear witness ... true witness in the face of false witness.
Maybe Edmond Burke's famous words deserve to be adapted to today's cyber-world: All that's necessary for the forces of fear, misinformation, and hysteria to win in this world is for enough wise people to remain silent.
Brian McLaren is an author and speaker whose new book is A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.