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Evangelicals and Credibility

It is always risky for a pastor to get involved in the political dialogue of our nation, but when he does he should be credible as a thinker. And when he is credible he will end up being non-partisan. Both sides lie. Both sides have earthly ambitions that are completely disinterested in the Celestial City. But sadly many evangelicals promote memes, rumors, false quotes, and outright lies. Sometimes activists wink at stories that they know to be spin because it affirms their agenda in the minds of their followers. Sometimes pastors promote partisan rhetoric, knowing that is is exaggerated, but in an ends-justify-the-means ethos they piggyback on the story to entrench people in their ideology.

Thoughtful analysis of the stories and fair interpretation of context is not difficult and yet most people do not bother to analyze sensational quotes and scandalous stories that promote their ideology.

This is not exclusively a Conservative problem, but many Evangelicals are inclined to conservative politics and, therefore, I will address two egregious examples that are floating around Christian social media. Despite the fact — for example — that there is not one shred of credible evidence that the president is Muslim, panicked Conservatives, including pastors, wildly promote this myth in the interest of keeping their sheeple in a constant state of nervousness. The short-term gains are not worth the long-term costs that violating the Ninth Commandment (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against they neighbor”) will have on their credibility. With slap-happy irresponsibility they post up videos that “prove” that the president is Muslim and then they wonder why young people are leaving them in droves. They wonder why sharp, critical thinkers shy away from them. Conservatism has brilliant ideas, bedrock truths, and unassailable arguments that ought to be considered by every thoughtful man and woman in America, but these ideas and are getting clouded over by Christian men and women who have already bought into these ideas and who lazily and unethically capitulate to a spirit of fear and propaganda. I find it difficult to respect a person who gleefully puts up one of the many video montages that purportedly prove that the president it Muslim because those videos are so poorly edited and spliced that it requires a willful decision to defy intellectual integrity to even be moved by them. We all are guilty of disseminating something that is not true, but when Christians do it without apology or correction or a modicum of qualification I lose any confidence that whatever else they post about politics is worth a second glance.

It’s really bad when many of these same people are preachers of the gospel of Jesus. After they have irresponsibly disseminated video memes and scare-mongering distortions as gospel truth they wonder why what they say about gospel truth is no longer treated as gospel truth. If pastors who promote this garbage thought twice about what it would be like for someone who hated them and their message to make a video montage of “quotes” that they said, ignoring context and intonation and irony and sarcasm and avoiding nuance and clarifications, cutting out very relevant qualifications, they would also think twice about sending out stupid video montages and memes that purportedly quote their political opponents.

Some brief comments on two egregious examples.

“President Obama is a Muslim”

It is true that we have never had a president that attempts to be more nuanced and careful in his rhetoric when it comes to the religion of Islam. But this does not justify the persistent lie that is perpetrated by many American evangelicals that President Obama is a Muslim. And this video montage does nothing to prove this. Within the first minute the outright lying starts:

The video montage quote: “But my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims.”

The actual quote conveniently left out the first part: “I am a Christian, but my father came…”

Furthermore, the video threateningly magnifies the words “I am one of them”, implying that Obama is saying that he is a Muslim. However, even with this hackneyed editorial job they could not get the context out. He was saying that he is one of the many Americans that has lived among Muslim and has Muslim relatives.

The most “damning” quote in the montage is where President Obama is quoted as saying, “my Muslim faith.” Again, the larger context shows that he was not at all saying he was a Muslim and anyone with any interest in fact can check it out for themselves.  This is poppycock journalism. It is propaganda. It is bearing false witness.

I don’t have the time or interest in explaining every quote and the obvious mind-numbing agitprop that brainwashes gullible patriots. The most this video proves is something that President Obama has never been secret about. He has a love for and sympathy for Muslims. There is nothing illegal or wrong about that. Conservatives are free to dislike that, but Christians (and, no, they are not one and the same) are not free to promote lies that disregard nuance and complexity, culture and background, all in the name of protecting Christian values.

Marie Harf and Using Jobs to Combat Terrorism

Here’s just one example of a meme that Christians (and Christian pastors) are posting all over social media:

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This is obvious lampooning with, perhaps, a tinge of sexism and stereotyping about a blonde woman, but it is presented as gospel truth by many because they listen to only one news source for an interpretation of what the woman actually said. After all here is what Sean Hannity of Fox News said about this:

One Of The Most Ignorant And Misguided Of The Entire Obama Presidency.

Before looking at what Marie Harf actually said in a — ahem! — fair and balanced way, I’d like to recall something  Republican George Bush said:

We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror.

(He also said, “Islam is peace” but we’ll ignore that for now.)

Now, let’s think for just a millisecond about what Harf actually said:

MATTHEWS: Are we killing enough of them?
HARF: We`re killing a lot of them, and we`re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians. So are the Jordanians. They`re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need, in the longer term — medium and longer term, to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it`s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether–
MATTHEWS: We`re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime, or 50 lifetimes! There`s always going to be poor people. There`s always going to be poor Muslims. And as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet`s blowing! They`ll join. We can`t stop that, can we?
HARF: Well, we can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people. [MSNBC, Hardball with Chris Matthews, 2/16/15, via Nexis]

This is actually not radical (even though she may be a radical liberal). In fact, there are many Conservatives that understand her and would agree. Furthermore, she did not deny that we need to kill — yes, kill! — more of ISIS! Just because someone promotes the idea of soft diplomacy (soft power) does not mean that they are rejecting the need for hard diplomacy. In this quote she clearly was not denouncing the need for military action. She was saying, rightly, that it cannot be the only way we defeat this problem. Unless you want boots on the ground in that area until the end of time, at least part of what she’s saying is true. It is flat out embarrassing how conservatives are trying to get mileage out of this and succeeding at it because too many people don’t think for themselves.

She clearly could be more articulate. She clearly could be more politically astute and realize that Americans, after seeing 21 people beheaded, want to hear some kick-butt language from the Administration. But Christian people who are really interested in peace want to help dialogue, not hurt it. And too many Christians have so wedded their faith to their ideology that they are willing to jettison Christian principles of dialogue and honest thinking in the interest of promoting their political agenda.

And that’s too bad. Because we want to be believable. And to be believable there are times we actually have to listen to the other side in a way that is really fair and balanced.

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