Presidential Debates and Jesus on the Truth…

DISCLAIMER: This is bound to cause some high-emotions so I’m going to moderate the comments closely. Thanks.

I don’t typically do political commentary on the blog, for a whole host of reasons that are unimportant right now, but today I felt like I needed to comment on something regarding last Wednesday’s debate.

I had always heard about the phenomenon of “fact checking” that takes place after a debate. To my knowledge, there are staff on each candidate’s payroll (as well as bipartisan study groups) who take the statements made in debates and then check to see whether or not the statement that was made is based on fact or if it is an exaggeration.

In other words, they look to see if the candidate was telling the truth or was exaggerating in order to win a debate.

Historically this fact checking has revealed several places where each candidate has exaggerated facts, also known as making things up on the spot to win a debate. This year’s Obama-Romney debate was no exception. Though news outlets called the debate a “win” for Mitt Romney, fact-checking revealed that both candidates were exaggerating in several places in order to win the debate.

Perhaps I’m overselling this, but these are the people we are looking to for leadership and direction. These are the people we are also going to critique later on for not keeping campaign promises.

People who have been proven to have exaggerated the truth – or “lied” if we want to be harsh, I suppose – in order to win a debate.

Does anyone else see something wrong with a debate format where the winner and the loser are both lying (opposite of truth telling) and the prize for winning is leadership of a country and the “hope” of a people for the future?

Furthermore, shouldn’t people who follow the Jesus who said “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’” (Matthew 5:37) feel a strong movement of the Holy Spirit as they consider throwing their support and vote behind someone who has actively distorted the truth?

James Bryan Smith in his wonderful book The Good and Beautiful Life has an entire chapter on “Learning to Live Without Lying.” The fact that he had to include this chapter in a book that teaches disciplines for discipleship says a lot about where we are, but this quote is one of the touchstones for the debate fact checking issue:

The radical nature of Jesus’ words (Matt. 5:33-37) was not that we should never take an oath but that all of our speech should be honest, genuine, true, and trustworthy – a yes that means yes and a no that means no. Jesus says that in the kingdom we are obliged to tell the truth in all circumstances, The kingdom does not run on deception. It simply will not. (110-111)

There are many issues to be considered in this election year, I get that, but if we can’t nail down the “tell the truth” issue can people who believe in another Kingdom and have allegiance to the King of all Kings put their energy and hope behind a candidate who needs to be fact-checked?

Can we simultaneously support a kingdom trafficking in untruth while claiming to live in a Kingdom based on Jesus Christ?

Honestly, I’m willing to give the two candidates the benefit of the doubt. There is a difference in lying and just being wrong. Maybe they approximated, maybe they guessed, or maybe they had bad information. However the process of fact checking has been around for a while. But there are paid staff who help the candidates prepare, who know what issues will be brought out and what statistics and data need to be presented at the debate. Furthermore people have Google, they have sources to research what is being said – to guestimate something knowing you’re going to be proven false is an adventure in untruth. It is not an unavoidable circumstance.

I’m not certain that followers of Jesus can go through the Facebook blasting and debate-with-friends-and-neighbors energy over two people who can’t seem to simply tell the truth when they know the truth of their words will be tested later at length.

Perhaps I’m alone in this one, though.  May we know the truth, and let the truth set us free. 

9 Responses to “Presidential Debates and Jesus on the Truth…”

  1. Waylon October 8, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    The Anabaptist stance on non-participation in the state looks more & more appealing.

    • cktygrett October 8, 2012 at 7:41 am #

      Perhaps now more than ever I believe people are considering strong response to the political culture. Anabaptist might be the path…

      • Zachary October 8, 2012 at 8:04 am #

        Are you seriously suggesting a removal from the public square to be the fitting Christian response to its contestation?

        • cktygrett October 8, 2012 at 8:35 am #

          I’m not sure a complete removal is what I’m suggesting, but definitely a more incisively critical approach. I’m interested in seeing if there is a legitimately Christ-honoring way to support candidates who actively traffic in untruth. We wouldn’t give the same support to other people in places of leadership, would we? How do we reconcile this? I’m not seeing a third way here. Do you know of one?

          • Kyle Meyers October 8, 2012 at 9:53 am #

            One of the big barriers here has become cultural. We do accept this toxic political process, because we often do “give the same support to other people in places of leadership”. The protestant church, for example, has how many denominations? However many thousand exist, is due in large part to the fact that we have come to define ourselves by our differences, by our polarities – not by what unifies us & brings us together (Jesus). So, when we are immersed in divisive issues, we often default to the need to be right, which often looks like getting behind a “leader” who supports our viewpoint, even when the facts are hidden or “exaggerated”. From there, we continue develop convenient blind-spots that push us farther away from the real truth of reconciliation.

            Whether politics, church, or marriage – we are continuing to see these similar themes & patterns that leave no room for grace & humility – only divorce, division, & war. We need to get off this Titanic before it sinks.

          • cktygrett October 8, 2012 at 10:43 am #

            This is a great insight Kyle. Thanks for adding this to the discussion because we can become focused on one issue to the exclusion of other equally important ones. We have to be critically aware of selective morality.

          • Waylon October 8, 2012 at 11:04 am #

            “incisely critical” may be the first step towards a third way. Tripp Fuller on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast likes to say that when the Church gets in bed with the State, they both go home with an STD. Our political process is just one small part, maybe even just a symptom, of a larger system of injustice upon injustice. Perhaps it is our entire way of life that needs to be called into question?

  2. Lucas Dawn October 8, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    One truth the early Anabaptists emphasized was the primacy of the New Testament (and thus Jesus and his disciples) over the Old Testament (and the kingdom–and kings–of a nation, Israel). They saw how others, both Reformers and Catholics, used the whole bible, especially the O.T. and its focus on how this godly nation should act, to legitimate the national political rulers they favored. In contrast, Jesus announced a new kingdom where he is king, made up of disciples who obey him as the one and only king. This did not mean a removal from contact with Jewish leaders; it did mean exposing and opposing the words and ways of the Jewish leaders, especially the scribes and Pharisees, who were not just a religious party but also a national political party, the main interpreters and enforcers of the law of Moses in Israel (outside Jerusalem) through their domination of the synagogues. The law of Moses was the “constitution” for the kingdom of Israel; as Jn. 1:17 says: the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (king).


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