I’m sure you’ve watched interviews in the past where when a politician is asked a question, he or she gives a long answer, that when you dissect it is tangential to the question or contains multiple contradictory responses. There was a time when the evasion was a standard weapon in the politician’s arsenal to avoid obvious falsehoods which carried some notion of being wrong. The former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, put it like this: “You don’t tell deliberate lies, but sometimes you have to be evasive”. In this post-truth world, that now seems like a quaint bit of history with politicians having graduated to flat out lying, but I wonder if in the meantime outside of politics, evasiveness has become commonplace.
The Bible is definitive about “bearing false witness”. It is the eighth of the Ten Commandments and is typically taken to refer to perjury rather than lying in general. Exodus 23:1–3 elaborates: “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.”
Proverbs 6:16–19 mentions perjury, but also separately “a lying tongue”: “There are six things that the Lord hates,seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.” Proverbs 12:22 also makes it clear that lying is detestable: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,but those who act faithfully are his delight.”
What about evasiveness? First let’s define it: “The legal term evasive answer refers to a response that is given, which does not directly answer the question posed. The point of such an answer is to hide the truth.” An example is given: “Q: “Do you have any bank accounts in Swiss banks, Mr. Bronston?” A: “No, sir.” Q: “Have you ever?” A: “The company had an account there for about six months, in Zürich.”” The answers were both truthful, but hid the fact that Mr. Bronston did at one time have a personal account in Geneva.
Since evasive speech is not directly tackled in the Bible, we need another way to determine if it is acceptable to God: we can look at the intent. For example, if someone with low self esteem asks you what you think of their choice of clothes and you sidestep hurting them with what you really think by suggesting alternatives as a way to avoid damaging their confidence, then your motivation is not dishonourable — people can argue over if this is the right approach, but you are trying to love your neighbour. Contrast this with Mr. Bronson in the earlier example who was intentionally misleading with self-centred motives.
What about Jesus Himself? When faced with incriminating questions from religious leaders, he sometimes gave equivocal responses and similarly He spoke to people in parables that often confused them. Is this Divine sanction for humans to do the same? Again we must come back to purpose. We can speculate, but one crucial point is clear: Christ’s intention was not selfish or nefarious as He gave His life for humankind.
If the purpose of evasiveness is deceit, then the Bible is clear about it. “No one who practices deceit shall remain in my house” (Psalm 101:7) or from Jesus Himself: “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20–23)
My answer to the question in the post title is “mostly yes” as I think the proportion of cases where evasiveness is used for truly loving reasons is likely to be small. More often than not, it is a way of avoiding lying while still being deceitful. Ultimately, deception is corrosive to relationships and to society so not only should we steer clear of it ourselves, we should not encourage or endorse others who engage in it.
Originally published at r/cruciformity.