by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.
The title of this chapter refers to, “Negative-Lying.” For all of you fantasy led, utopian dreaming, and unicorn believing folks out there who bristle at this designation, take a breath, please. People lie. Bad people lie. Good people lie. Yes, Christians also lie. We all lie to some degree. However, not all lies are overtly negative.
- Female says to the mate: I’ll be ready in 5 minutes (35 minutes later….)
- Male says to a female after the first date: I’ll call you. (3 weeks later the female is still waiting)
- You receive a present on Saturday afternoon from your not-so-favorite Aunt. Your response to the gift was, “I absolutely love this gift!” (until you return it when the store opens on Monday)
- When your nine year old daughter presents herself proudly in an outfit she designed herself and asks her Dad, “How do I look?” Your response….”What? No! I mean….You look great in that outfit.” (What you are thinking in the unspoken part of your brain; Oh, My God! Plaid and stripes with a gold belt. Ouch! Keep smiling. Keep smiling.)
- No Really, that Salmon, Orange, Marshmallow casserole tastes great!
- Yes, Pastor….Of course I’ll be at Bible Study this week (NOT!)
- Best church solo….EVER! (even though you didn’t show up for practice and completely messed up the 2nd verse)
There is some sort of mythical utopian nonsense that “good people” don’t lie. That simply is not true. There is also an unreasonable expectation that far too many people have falsely relied upon concerning lying. They actually believe that as soon as a person becomes “saved” or has identify in some way as a “Christian” the ACT OF LYING halts and is somehow thrown into the proverbial “sea of iniquity” with all the rest of human acts of sin. Again, I say nonsense!
Two leading psychologists in the United States speak to this undeniable reality concerning the ability and frequency human beings have to lie. Leonard Saxe, Ph.D., a polygraph expert and professor of psychology at Brandeis University, says, “Lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.”
In a 1996 study, University of Virginia’s Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. had 147 people between the ages of 18 and 71 keep a diary of all the falsehoods they told over the course of a week. Most people, she found, lie once or twice a day, even when there was overt reason to do so—almost as often as they snack from the refrigerator or brush their teeth.
Why is this so important to the Christian church?
When local, state, or Federal politicians lie on a regular basis the public will generally have a few stereotypical responses.
- That’s just what politicians do….(shoulders sag followed by a depressed exhale)
- I told you they were all crooks….(face turns red and blood pressure rises)
- Everybody else lies all the time, except my guy….(auditioning for a Disney script writer)
If there is to be any hope of honest Christianity being experienced we must be honest with ourselves when it comes to the devastation that occurs when an environment of lying is so well established in any Christian setting that when a believer is searching for a safe place to “tell the truth” discovers how practically difficult it actually is to experience a truthful environment with each passing day.
The Bible speaks abundantly clearly on this issue. Matthew 5:37 (CEV) reminds the Christian the following;
37 When you make a promise, say only “Yes” or “No.” Anything else comes from the devil.
It also shares with us how incredibly important it is to be trusted by those who you are called to daily lead when it reads in the 6th Chapter of Proverbs (Contemporary Version);
16 There are six or seven kinds of people the Lord doesn’t like:
17 Those who are too proud or tell lies or murder,
18 those who make evil plans or are quick to do wrong,
19 those who tell lies in court or stir up trouble in a family.
If Christianity has any hope at all about being an honest reflection of what God intends we cannot hide from this very human trait. We must learn to approach this challenge in positive intentionality. Instead of ignoring the human trait of lying we should concentrate on providing a safe environment to express truth as we understand it.
If Christians are to commit to both fighting against negative-lying and subsequently helping to install an environment of truth telling we need to foundationally understand how truth itself is arrived at by any person. Each person, regardless of their age, education, or cultural identity must wade through the truth discovery process. This highly personal journey has two basic components; “objective reality” and “subjective truth.”
Objective reality is a rare and fixed “predetermined” consequence of certain stimuli. Three good examples of this would be;
- If a person jumping off a roof and, whether they believe it or not, they are going to fall.
- If one leaves their hand directly over a flame, whether they believe it or not, they will burn themselves.
- If someone eats 8,000 calories worth of food every day you will gain enormous amounts of weight.
Subjective truth is a whole different kind of process of understanding, and there are several concepts of personal discovery:
- Pragmatic truth is what works.
- What we can experience or observe is called empiricist truth.
- Rationalist truth is what can be proved through reason.
- Coherent truth is what is in harmony among many other ideas.
- Truth involving what a person “feels” is called emotional truth.
The concept of singularly definitive truth is most comforting to those who are desperately searching for it. However, understanding a singular truth versus “deciding” on a foundational truth is at best a fantasy in a practical sense.
By using the word “practical” I am stating that the discovery of truth is far more pedestrian and “down to earth” than one might think. Thinking that there is only one way to understand the who, what and why of God-or how to educate our children, or cooking, or sports management, or raising a puppy or painting a house-you are limiting your understanding and experiencing of truth.
The same can and should be said about the act of lying. Lying is most of the time associated with a reaction to telling the truth. The lack of value associated with truth-telling is a great challenge and the only way to sustainably address this issue is to ironically fight against our dishonesty that the problem exists. We can chose to be truthful, even knowing we will fail on occasion. We must develop a standard of truth that directly shuns intentionally negative lying within any Christian setting. We must!
It used to be accepted in our society that a local church was a safe place to be. Not anymore! It used to be accepted by most of our society that Christian pastors and ministers were among the most ethical and well educated in their communities. Unfortunately, neither one of these apply any longer. With each insidious negative-lie inflicted on a base of believers and non-believers alike, causes tremendous harm, both in practical terms as well as furthering the downward trends of assumptions of highly ethical standards of Christian ministers.
My Father once told me an old adage about highly effective and sustainable leadership, He said, “It is always better if the people who work for you TRUST YOU than LIKE YOU.” His point was that not everyone at all times is going to agree with you or the decisions you will be required to make as “their leader,” however, the rationale decision from one person to another “to trust” someone…..that’s special. He went on to share with me that when DOUBT about someone’s foundational character comes into play it is incredibly difficult to reestablish the same level of trust again.
Please remember that even though it’s completely reasonable for any Christian leader to want to be liked, it is far more important that they be trusted. There is no such thing as any group of people who will always agree with you ALL THE TIME….ON EVERY DETAIL….OF EVERY ISSUE. That does not exist and it never has. The goal is to build trust that is founded upon honest Christian character, divinely inspired wisdom, and a commitment to biblical principles and transparent CHRISTIAN ETHICAL STANDARDS that are without question worth following.
Let’s go back for a moment to Matthew 5:37. When you say “this I promise” or “you can count on this” or “BELIEVE ME when I tell you…,” you voluntarily place yourself in a completely different category of Christian evaluation. Let your “yes” mean YES. When you make any definitive statement of purpose, policy, philosophy, or pragmatic position….DON’T SAY IT AS AN ASIDE! Think long and hard before you commit to a statement that directly applies to ISSUES OF TRUST. For a Christian leader this is absolutely essential!
In practical terms, the underlying issue is whether or not as Christian leaders humbly understand that God is able and willing to allow “the faithful believer” to move BEYOND THEIR HUMAN LIMITATIONS. Can God lead us away from our basic human tendencies to:
- protect our emotional well-being,
- deflect conflict with passive-aggressive language and/or
- expertly practicing “less-than-transparent” honesty?
Why do I ask this three-fold question? The God that I know is both gracious and empowering. God is both calling and demanding when it comes to truth-telling. Each local church must provide safe environments that aggressively promote truth-telling; even when that expressed truth is uncomfortable. Since my experience shouts at me of this calling, gracious, demanding, and empowering God, my hope and expectations are that God will also supply the Divine mechanisms to accomplish this most needed fix.
Because this Christian journey is a sacred calling, we are called to respond to the God we claim and to remember the God we claim is watching if what we say we believe matches what we actually demonstrate. All Christians, both clergy and laity, need to exaggerate their sincere commitment to fostering a strong and unyielding zero-tolerance for those who take lightly the responsibility of preparing the way for those who will follow us. We must commit to rebuilding TRUST. Let your YES….and your NO…..actually MEAN SOMETHING.