Truth-telling in a world of fake news, alternative facts, and America First

Remember the days when we used to suppose that Western society pretty much held to values drawn from Christianity?

In those days the church used to rail against such social ills as drugs and booze, and marital infidelity, and gambling, all the while assuming that society basically valued things like truth-telling, justice, neighborliness and generosity.

That seems long ago.

Now we find ourselves in a world of fake news, alternative facts, America First, and that “beautiful” big wall.

Now we find ourselves in a world where telling lies and looking after yourself isn’t just secretly practiced; it’s openly championed. And all the way to the very top.

A few years ago I was visiting friends and the 12-year-old girl of the house was running for president of the student body at her school. She asked if she could practice her campaign speech to the grown-ups, so we all assembled in the living room. She cleared her throat, readied herself, and launched into her presentation.

And started telling straight-out lies.

She promised better teachers, more appetizing cafeteria food, less homework, brand new lockers, and a whole range of other inducements for her fellow students to vote for her.

We applauded dutifully and told her she was great. Which she was.

But later I asked her mother whether it was alright for her to promise all that stuff that she couldn’t possibly deliver as a pre-teen student body president.

“Oh, it’s okay,” her mother placated me, “They encourage them to stretch the truth like that.”

So, it begins in elementary school.

We learn to over-promise and under-deliver at a very young age. We’re taught to stretch the truth, to exaggerate dramatically. We’re encouraged to look out for number one.

And now we live in an age where this isn’t just the president of the student body. The president himself does it!

Aside from all the nonsense about alternative facts and the number of people who attended the Trump inauguration, falsifying reality is a standard political practice now.

Student body presidents do it. Presidents and prime ministers do it. Falsifying facts is actually celebrated these days.

Christians now finds themselves no longer sharing core values with their society and its leaders. And this presents an enormous challenge to the mission of the church.

No longer is the church called to simply call people back to Sunday attendance. Now the church must practice a faithful form of presence in a broken society. We must tell the truth, practice hospitality and generosity, and model what it looks like to be a people for others.

When the Australian prime minister tells us that asylum seekers will be fine incarcerated on Nauru or Manus Island, the church must seek the truth.

When the American president says he will look out for Americans first and only, the church must show what true welcome and hospitality look like.

When building walls, ignoring the poor, and breaking promises is normal, then being truthful, faithful, selfless and kind is radical. And we need to be radical now more than ever.  

Come on, church, let’s embrace afresh our role as truth-seekers and truth-tellers.    



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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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5 thoughts on “Truth-telling in a world of fake news, alternative facts, and America First

  1. The church “modelling what it looks like to be a people for others” – bring it on !!!

  2. Mike, a few years ago, now I had an experience which literally changed my life, sent me on a U-turn. I was sitting in a workshop at a Christian festival, where the speaker was talking about anthropic causes of global warming. I, and most the audience, agreed with the overall scientific credibility of what he was presenting and what he was arguing for, which was a price on carbon emissions.
    All was going well, until someone asked an awkward question.
    A very ordinary bloke politely and calmly and respectfully told his story: that he was a self-employed truck driver, and he gave real hard figures about how this proposed tax would drive him from making a marginal living, to losing everything he has ever owned – his truck, his house, the lot.
    What happened next profoundly shocked me. The presenter told him – literally – that it was his problem and in essence he shouldn’t have been a truck driver in the first place and should just go and pick another job. The presenter just cut him off, cut him dead. There was someone in the audience going off script, and the response from the person with the mic was to ignore and hurriedly move on. The audience went along with this, and side stepped into the next questions with carefully contained answers.
    I spoke to the guy afterwards who was gutted by what had happened, and for the record, I also attempted on number of times to dialogue with the organisers. I become alarmed that frankly, they had no empathy for the little guy who asked a real, but awkward question.
    By the way, just to clarify. He (and I) wasn’t upset by the presentation, but the flippant disregard to his own real life situation. He is a nice honest, simple bloke who has done one thing in his life, and frankly, can only do one thing in his life.
    We can be – and Christians now fall into this, all the time – right, but utterly and terribly wrong. I now see it constantly, people who are information or knowledge right, but compassion wrong. The era of being gracious to one another is over. It is simply an era of who can globber the other hardest and quickest.
    Britain has exited, the US has Trumped and Australia will Hansen. Many Christians feel self righteous by complaining, getting angry at all of this. By there is no people of wisdom out there asking why. Why. Why is this happening? Why is it that the little guys (and gals) are making such monumental bad decisions? Is it because they are idiots? No, it is because they have had enough. The elastic band that has been stretching for years has finally snapped. The guys in the US know that Trump is an immoral brain dead idiot – but you know what, they voted for him because after all these years, only Trump has empathised with them as real people.
    Mike, we have an option. We can continue to get angry at the content (or lack thereof)– or we can do the one thing that is needed and leave the coffee houses the trendy restaurants the safely vetted media, and go. Go to the fly-over-states – or in your own country, the outer rim. Go and just sit and listen and be genuinely compassionate to the working poor by listening, listen to the tired, listen to the people who don’t have exotic jobs in electronic media or cutting edge this and that. Listen to good people who have good values, people who want to work hard – but people who up until now lacked the mic

    1. This has nothing to do with the poor having opinions. It’s about the manipulation of channels of communication (often by the rich) to control what’s perceived to be true or not.

  3. I find it ironic, to say the least, that when someone posted a heartfelt message on your blog about listening to the ‘little guy’, citing the case of someone who’s genuine concerns were ignored and treated with contempt, you respond by ignoring his concerns and just shut him down stating that what he wrote had nothing to do with your original message. Maybe it didn’t, but would it have hurt you to have replied far more graciously, accepting his concerns, whilst gently restating the original points you were trying to make?
    I just started reading your blog today and, up until I read your response to this post, I was finding myself warming to a preacher for the first time in a very long time. The first few blogs of yours I read made you sound genuinely caring and concerned about meeting people where they are. However, your response above lacked empathy and understanding alongside an unwillingness to listen to someone who might be a bit off track but who could so easily have been brought back gently… you who are currently engaged in writing about deep listening!
    Every time I take a tiny step towards faith a pastor or preacher says something to turn me away. No doubt you will ignore my concerns too as they do not relate to your original post about maintaining honesty in a world contaminated with ‘fake truth’. It’s no wonder people like me prefer to listen to the fake truth of duplicitous politicians rather than the fake care of pastors and preachers who cannot get off their high horses long enough to heal people’s pain.

    1. Well, I’m sorry my response to Simeon disappointed you so much. I’m not sure what was going on at that time, but I might have been having a very busy day and fired off a quick response rather than ignoring the comment altogether. I have been unwell lately. It might have been written on one of my worse days. And even more recently I was traveling extensively for nearly a month. I might have fired off a hasty and ill-considered response at an airport. None of these are excuses. I offer them as possible explanations for the context in which I might have answered him. As for your disappointment in the fake care of pastors, I should point out that this is a blog, not a church. I try to respond to those who comment, but I can’t make any promises to provide attentive pastoral care to my correspondents. Nonetheless, thanks for pulling me up and reminding me to try to respond more appropriately.

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