Rev. William J. Barber, has regularly spoken out against the new president and his policies. (Photo credit: Pilar Timpane)

Church has duty to commend those who speak truth, condemn those who speak falsely

By the Rev. John Burns

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” . . .When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night” (I Samuel 15:10–16).

Do you know what it feels like to want someone to stop talking because you know the person is lying to you? The individual persists in trying to play you for a fool and attempts to pass off ever-greater fiction as truth until you can no longer stand to hear the sound of the person’s voice. Samuel felt like that, as he listened to King Saul spin a little bit of truth with a whole lot of deception in his attempt to convince the prophet that he had obeyed God when, in fact, he had not.

As followers of Christ, we are to take on the prophetic work of calling one another to tell the truth without any mixture of dishonesty. We are to call people outside the church on their lies as well. To do so is actually an act of love. When we become aware that someone we care about is telling half-truths, we do them a favor by confronting their falsehoods. In doing so, we give them a chance to repent and return to truth telling before they sink deeper into the kind of deception that can ruin lives and cause great harm to the community.

At the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, members of the clergy, including the Rev. Franklin Graham, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne Jackson, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and televangelist Paula White, offered official prayers and words of support to the new president. Across the nation, other clergy, such as the Rev. William J. Barber, Dr. Cornell West, the Rev. James Forbes and the Rev. Jim Wallis spoke out against the new president.

The prophets would counsel caution to both factions. Whether supporting or opposing President Trump, scripture would advise them to speak truth without any mixture of lies. Religious leaders in the political limelight find speaking without such mixture difficult to do. Each faction has a political as well as a moral agenda. Each seeks the support of the power of the presidency. Enmeshed in their political agendas, as noble as those might be, it is tempting for religious leaders to spin the truth, overlook the lie, exaggerate the claim, inflate the facts, participate in a deception and manipulate folks with half-truths.

The Church should call its own to speak the truth both when it is politically favorable and when it is politically hazardous to do so.

The Church should call its own to speak the truth both when it is politically favorable and when it is politically hazardous to do so. In addition, we must call our governmental leaders and the media to do the same. The Church must play the role of Samuel, speaking out against half-truths, whether or not they are perpetrated by our party, whether or not they are put forth by our candidate, and whether or not they are spoken by Christians, Muslims, Jews or people of no faith at all. Truth has no political party, no religious monopoly, no national identity and no network affiliation. God’s truth is above all human agendas.

If Christians do not fulfill our prophetic role in society, we will be the ones to suffer.

If Christians do not fulfill our prophetic role in society, we will be the ones to suffer. God will always find messengers to expose those who corrupt the truth for personal or political benefit. No lesser voice than Mahatma Gandhi said, “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it — always.”

If Samuel had not spoken truth to power, God would have found another way to expose the lies of Saul, but Samuel would have failed in his duty as a prophet of the Lord.

Let us not fail in our duty. Commend those who speak the truth. Condemn false speech when individuals lie. When confronted by half-truths, confront the deceivers and pray for their return to honesty.

The Rev. John Burns is pastor of University Baptist Church, College Park, Md.

The views expressed are those of the author or authors alone, and not those of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies.