In the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation from national security adviser and inconsistent timelines of the Trump team’s interaction with Russian officials, many are rightly asking questions about national security and election integrity. The administration’s reaction has been outrage over leaks within the intelligence community — even though Trump himself celebrated Wikileaks releasing the DNC’s hacked emails during the campaign season, even going as far as to egg Russia on to find Hillary Clinton’s emails. This all points to a clear lack of transparency and culture of dishonesty from the Trump administration.
Truth is an essential part of Christianity: the Ten Commandments told Moses and his people not to bear false witness; in the Gospel of John, Jesus calls himself the way, the truth, and the light. And in Revelation 21:8, we read a very serious condemnation of liars: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” It is fair to say that a value for truth is completely woven into our theology. So it’s curious that in our culture of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” so many Christians seem comfortable with a loss of truth.
Beyond the recent Flynn news, untrue assertions pervade the Trump administration: a Bowling Green massacre that never happened, millions of alleged illegal voters with no proof, the infamous assertions about inauguration crowd size, etc. If dishonesty is not a deal breaker — indeed, 81 percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump — what is it about the way Trump and surrogates behave that is appealing to a specifically Christian audience?
This past Sunday, conservative former talk show host Charles J. Sykes penned an op-ed in the New York Times called “Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying.” Sykes concludes that in their attempts to create a more savvy and skeptical conservative thinker, pundits like himself pushed people too far, causing healthy skepticism to grow into a disregard for fact.
Sykes referenced a tweet by Russian political dissenter and chess grandmaster, Garry Kasparov: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
For Sykes, when “the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth,” trouble is afoot. This statement gives us a clue to where our Christians have gone astray in their pursuit of a Christian ethic. They key word, is “leader.”
For Christians, Scripture has traditionally been held as authoritative. Our only exposure to the will of God and the teachings of Christ come from the Bible. Many places in the Scriptures illustrate the age-old problem of socio-political leaders at odds with the authority of God. Herod, Jezebel, and misguided Pharisees all pitted their own interests against the God of Jacob. Perhaps this gives us a clue as to why the value of truth has gone out of the window.
A deference for human leadership has gotten in the way of the Christian commitment to God. Perhaps this is done unwittingly; modern American Christian tradition has perpetuated a particular set of stances as the crux of its ethic: abortion and LGBTQ equality. Some Christians use these issues as a test for faithfulness to the God of Scripture. I speculate that many of Trump’s Christian voters hold that their commitment to an anti-abortion stance is their biggest political motivator — and Trump promised to nominate a potential Supreme Court justice who would diminish the power of Roe v. Wade.
By putting certain socio-political ethics first, many Christians sacrifice the importance of truth as a foundation of our faith and morality. The Scriptures gives us many examples of ways we should be wary of those who deceive. The apostle Paul, as well as Jesus himself, say to watch out for false teachers and people who mean us harm. In Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples to beware anyone seeking to lead them astray: “many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.”
Christians should be wary of being led astray by anyone with a dishonest agenda. Someone has come along today who promises to “make American great again.” Let’s pray that the people of Christ will heed Jesus’ warning and not allow themselves to be led astray by a culture of dishonesty being perpetuated in his name.