Article by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton. Koeppel serves on the diocesan Stewardship Resources team and the diocesan Creation Care Initiative and is a frequent contributor on the topics of creation care, stewardship, and racial justice and reconciliation.
“What is truth?” I can just imagine Pontius Pilate’s “don’t bother me with that!” wave of his hand, as he casually throws this statement at Jesus (John 13:38). Truth did not matter to him at this moment. Still, he next goes out to the people to proclaim that he finds no guilt in this man. A moment of truth? We know how that ended, though. To use modern language: the maintenance of law and order required the sacrifice of one man to appease the mob instigated by temple authorities who felt threatened by an itinerant preacher.
Forward to somewhat more modern times: do you remember Walter Cronkite stating at the end of his newscast: “That’s the way it is!” He staked his name and reputation on what he had just reported. If we’re really honest, we’d have to reply to him: “maybe, maybe not.” There’s always more to our complex world than fits into a few minutes of a news broadcast. But without question, the ethos of Walter Cronkite and the news journalists in general in those days was scrupulously focused on facts. Their challenges were which of the many facts to present, and how to combine facts to shed light on a greater story and context. The difference between expressing opinion, sometimes in the form of a satire or polemic, and reporting facts was clearly understood, usually clearly demarcated, and respected. Different perspectives very clearly emerged when combining facts with values. That’s ok, as we all value different things in life, and these different values express themselves in different reactions to the facts as they present themselves.
Fast forward even further. Today, we observe a total reversal, where values have become facts, and facts have become the stuff of fiction. We have, finally, turned the journalistic ethos of old not just upside down, we have turned it inside out: first, we decide what we want the truth to be, then we make up facts to support our truth. Nothing much could be any further from truth. And what we get this way is usually not even good fiction. Finding any truth under these circumstances has become a huge challenge: we need to look at the values behind what we’re being told as truth, to have any chance at all of finding the kernels of truth that are buried in the stream of voices telling us what to accept as truth. And sometimes we have to actively seek out quieter voices to speak through the din of the louder ones.
How much more straightforward is “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (Matthew 5:37, KJV).
Living such a life of total honesty is not easy: who hasn’t told “just a little lie” on occasion to avoid hurting someone, or avoid conflict. Right, this is where both of my hands go up, and I believe I find myself in excellent company. Yet, though motivated by love, a lie is still a lie. How much worse, when the lie is motivated by distrust or outright “othering”—intentionally defining a person or group of persons as different enough from ourselves so they can be enslaved, economically exploited, subjected to selective (in)justice, suppressed at the polls, feared, hated, or even killed?
St. Paul is very clear on that point in the letter to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(NIV). It isn’t that these distinctions no longer exist”—it is that they are completely irrelevant to Christians. Also, in the first letter to the Corinthians he points out: as unique we all are as persons, we are all part of the mystical body of Christ, and as we are all graced with different gifts, we are to bring these, our unique gifts to contribute to the fullness of life together in the mystical body of Christ. There is no room for othering out of lust for power, greed, fear, or hate, only room to recognize and value each other’s uniqueness as members of and contributors to the one body of Christ. That, I believe, is our truth.
Beware the false prophets, no matter how loud they speak. Truth speaks calmly and always with love. That’s how you’ll know who they are. Don’t let them make you instruments of their lust for power, greed, fear, or or hate. We know how that ends.
Epilogue: I highly recommend an excellent article, Misinformation, Disinformation, Fake News: Why Do We Care?, by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Affairs. The article helps us identify non-truths, and provides insight into the motivations behind the many non-truths we encounter in a given day. In doing so, it equips us with a better way of dealing with these non-truths, as it challenges us to be truthful in all our dealings ourselves. The article lends itself for discussion in bible studies or social faith circles.