Lies, half-truths and repentance

Back in April this year, an Internet evangelist recorded a conversation with a Florida-based baker, in which he asked her to bake a cake displaying the words, “We do not support gay marriage.” The baker refused to do so and quickly hung up. The evangelist then posted a recording of this conversation on his YouTube channel, and that is when the trouble began.

The evangelist was, of course, trying to make a point. In a widely publicised story, a Christian couple had earlier been sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same sex wedding. They were widely derided by the media for their intolerance. The evangelist was simply trying to make a point: The media and society in general would be far less concerned about a bakery refusing to promote Christian values than one refusing to endorse same sex marriage.

According to one website, the evangelist was soon threatened with criminal charges. Despite the fact that he graciously removed the recording from his YouTube channel upon request, the baker contacted the FBI and demanded that he be charged with hate speech. The website states,

Apparently, if you’re a Christian who refuses to bake cakes for same-sex marriages based on your religious values, you can be sued and harassed and lose your business. But if you’re a gay baker who won’t bake an anti-gay marriage cake, you get to press charges against a person for simply making a request.

 

It seems that Feuerstein’s valiant effort to expose one of the grave injustices in our society may have landed him in some serious trouble with the law.

The recent ruling of the United States Supreme Court legalising same sex marriage in all fifty states has brought attention to this story again. Christians are angered, and they’re taking to social media to express their outrage. Understandably so: It is certainly a grave injustice for a Christian to face legal action for “simply making a request”—at least, if the story is true.

The report above promotes a version of the story that is not quite in line with the truth. The Christian Post, a far more credible media source, also reported on the story back in April, and added some important information overlooked by 800WhistleBlower.com.

As it turns out, recording conversations without the other party’s permission is a third degree felony in Florida. Far from being “gracious” in removing the recording, the evangelist was obligated to do so if he wanted to avoid legal trouble. Further, the baker did not “demand” that charges of hate speech be pressed against the evangelist, but simply contacted the FBI to check if this was a possibility. And, despite what the “Whistle Blower” article suggests, the charges threatened against the evangelist were not for “simply making a request,” but for illegally recording and posting a conversation, which in fact resulted in several death threats being levelled against the baker.

The half-truth version of the article is quite sensational; the full truth decidedly less so.

Take another article that was recently posted on Facebook by a Christian friend. The headline is once again sensational: “Pope Francis: God Has Instructed Me to Revise the Ten Commandments.” This article claims that Pope Francis recently preached a sermon in which he claimed that God had instructed him to “to revise the most sacred of texts, the Ten Commandments.” Specifically,

The Fourth Commandment, which advocates that proper respect be shown towards one’s parents, has been reworded in order to include children raised by same-sex parents. Pope Francis said the Seventh Commandment, prohibiting adultery and, among other things, homosexuality, has been removed entirely, as instructed by God, in order to extend “God’s grace to all His children.”

The truth is far less tantalising: The pope claimed no such thing. In fact, the Pope Francis has consistently maintained, in keeping with official Catholic teaching, that same sex marriage undermines family as God intended and that homosexuality is a sin.

We could continue. There was the false story about a man suing Christian publishers Zondervan and Thomas Nelson because the Bible is offensive to homosexuals. And the equally false one about a Vermont pastor jailed for a year for refusing to perform a same sex wedding. Or the one about Facebook banning religious posts and memes due to pressure from atheist groups. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken has not been spared the ravages on Internet sensationalism.

There is something sensational about these types of posts, something that enrages Christians and moves them to social media action. Sadly, many share these stories without bothering to verify their validity. And that is wrong. It’s dishonouring to the truth and dishonouring to God. The Bible is quite clear: “You shall not spread a false report” (Exodus 23:1). Instead, Christians are to fill their minds (Philippians 4:8) and their mouths (Ephesians 4:25) with truth.

If you have fallen for one of these hoaxes, or any other hoax, and shared it via social media or email, you have a Christian responsibility. That responsibility is not simply to delete the post and pretend it never happened. Ed Stetzer suggests that there are at least three things you should do.

First, post a retraction. If you publicly shared untruths or half-truths, publicly admit that you did so. You may have to take a slight knock to your ego, but it’s the right thing to do. Admit publicly that you shared a story that wasn’t true and acknowledge that it was wrong to do so. At the same time, warn your friends to be on guard against spreading rumours and commit to being more careful in the future.

Second, don’t excuse it. Don’t defend yourself by arguing that it might have been true, or arguing that it wouldn’t surprise you if it was true or will soon be true. Will pastors soon be jailed for refusing to perform same sex weddings? Possibly, but it didn’t happen when you shared that article and there was no excuse for you to spread a false report. Admit that you were wrong.

Third, be very careful what you believe. If it is folly to give an answer before you hear a matter (Proverbs 18:13), how much more is it to spread a report before investigating it? If a story appears sensational and immediately rouses your indignation, take some time to investigate it before you share it. Unless you can clearly verify the claims, don’t share it! A quick search of Snopes.com or a similar urban legend debunking website may immediately verify the falsehood of the claim. But even if you can’t prove that it is untrue, don’t share it unless you know that it is true.

Think about, speak about and share the truth. That is what Christians have been called to do. And that is how we honour Jesus Christ with our lips and our thoughts.

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