In the midst of watching an excerpt of what was alleged to be a news report recently, I was thrown into an unexpected reflection on the Ten Commandments. Rarely, if ever, have so few words carried so much potential impact. They established a standard for personal success, family stability, and social harmony unparalleled in human history. But before I digress too far, let me get back to the newscast. As the misplaced fashion models posing as journalists read their respective blurbs from their off-screen tele-prompters, one of those ancient commands arrested my attention. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16 NKJV). I had never really thought about that command in reference to a news broadcast before, but I do now.
We often think of that ‘false witness’ command in the context of a courtroom, but that’s not the only place we find it. All of us can envision that scene where the witness raises a hand and swears to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, and we can easily grasp how important the issue of truthfulness is to the whole idea of justice. People can die because of the testimony of a dishonest witness. Lives can be totally destroyed and irreparable harm inflicted, simply as a result of a dishonest report.
Unverified Testimonies = Unreliable Judgment Because witnesses wield such great power, putting them under oath in important situations seems appropriate, but that doesn’t always happen, because courtrooms aren’t the only places where they show up and claim center stage. Witnesses are constantly volunteering information, sometimes in public forums, where they aren’t sworn to truthfulness, or even charged to be honest—but that doesn’t diminish the potential impact of their words. Even outside of a courtroom, a witness’s rendition of things that their audience did not personally see or hear can elicit either redeeming support, or damning condemnation, and their power, especially for evil, seems to flourish most in those situations where no oath is required. When truthfulness is merely assumed, and honesty naively expected, and where there is no binding oath or trustworthy cross examination, a false witness’s testimony can be devastating, because it carries all the weight of truth. It is no surprise, then, that God chose to expand on those few words He handed Moses.
He followed up later with this admonition,
“You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice” (Exodus 23:1-2 NKJV). Then, through the prophet, Zechariah, God added, “These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; And do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ Says the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17 NKJV).
Witnesses Affect Outcomes
False witnesses present a threat to proper judgment in places beyond the courtroom. It is becoming more and more apparent that they represent a threat with frightening potential in the newsroom, and perhaps even more so in the classroom. If the information they present is skewed, twisted, inaccurate, or delivered in a way that alters perception and meaning, then the judgment of the hearers is impaired, their opinion is altered, and their response is quite different than they might have been with truthful testimony.
Truth–A Finished Product, Not a Kitchen Project
I had never thought of news anchors and/or their guests as ‘witnesses’ in the Biblical context before, but the people who fill our TV screens are brought into our homes to ‘bear witness’ to actions and events that we have not been present to see or hear, and there is no mechanism to ensure that their report reflects the whole truth. When words and actions are treated by witnesses like ingredients in a kitchen pantry that can be personally selected and measured in order to prepare a dish that suits their taste, then those who hear their testimony are in trouble. What the hearer is finally expected to digest may be something radically divorced from what the menu presented. Truth is a finished product, not a ‘kitchen project’. It’s tragic when those we depend on for information to enlighten our understanding are manipulating that information to inhibit understanding and pervert our judgment, but we see it every day.
My reflection regarding false witnesses and the tragedy they represent didn’t end there. Like it or not, Jesus sent us to be “witnesses”. If skewed and biased news reports in a tightly contested Presidential election are scary, what about ‘witnesses’ filling churches and pulpits in America who present Jesus as someone He isn’t? What about the way we so often practice and promote behaviors He condemns? What about our support of so-called ‘churches’ that ignore the whole issue of sin, and/or present Jesus as supportive of things He obviously rejected and condemned?
More at Stake than the Outcome of an Election
I was quick to think that the misleading news reporter ought to be fired. Then I remembered that the worst thing a biased news reporter can accomplish is to set us up to be saddled with another corrupt and untrustworthy politician, but the awful impact for those who fall victim to the false witness about Jesus can mean eternal separation from God. I had to admit that some of us who have been sent to be His witnesses ought to be fired, as well—or better yet, maybe we should stop using the Word of God like a pantry to cook up more religious lies, and begin to live out the truth that sets men free.
© 2016 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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