Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Truth and Ideology

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
John 18:37-38a

Love is, as Paul said, “the greatest of these.” But Truth is not far behind. For Christians, there is not much in life that is more important than truth. We believe in seeking the truth and testifying to it. We believe that truth sets us free.

Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” But for Christians, it goes beyond the practical “truth” that honesty is the best policy. Truth is sacred. And the quest for truth is holy.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about “Racism and Shame.” It was about the harassment of African American legislators as they walked into the Capitol to vote on Health Care Reform. I reported what I had read in several new articles in print and on line, that some protestors had shouted “the N-word” and one had spit on Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who is also an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. I concluded by saying that those incidents tell me that “there are some people who have no sense of shame.”

A friend commented on the blog, asking, “What if it never happened?” and offered a link to an editorial in The Washington Times which took that very position. In fact, the Times writer argued, the real offense was committed by those who claimed racism when none existed.

It was a troubling possibility. I rechecked the news reports. I reread the statement by Representative Cleaver’s office. I also reviewed the indisputable evidence of the anti-gay slurs directed at Representative Barney Frank. I concluded that it was unlikely for so many people to have been mistaken.

Fox News took the position that it had never happened, and repeated it relentlessly. There was, they said, no video evidence that any racial epithets had been shouted. And the Capitol Police had reported that no one had been arrested in the spitting incident.

The following Sunday evening, March 28, on CNN Candy Crowley took up the controversy. She could not verify the shouting of racial epithets, but she had video of the spitting incident. It was, she said, definitive. (I have a VERY small TV and I don’t have HD, so her view was better than mine. But this is what I could see on my tiny screen.) The tape showed people shouting as the representatives walked through the crowd. Then it showed a man leaning forward, with his hands around his mouth (skeptics will ask if he was just shouting. Again, I was watching a small screen.). We saw Representative Cleaver react suddenly and turn toward the man and say something. Then as he turned back and walked up the steps, he wiped the side of his face. Ms. Crowley said that Capitol police confirmed that they had detained the alleged spitter, but had not arrested him because Representative Cleaver declined to press charges.

Honestly, I thought that would be the end of it. I did not hold my breath waiting for an apology from the Washington Times or anyone else, but I thought it would be the end of commentators saying that it had not happened.


Truth has become ideological.

The people who said it never happened before CNN produced the video evidence continue to say that it never happened. For them, there is no doubt. They don’t refute Ms. Crowley’s report. They simply ignore it. And given the vast resources of TV programs, we can be certain they have people watching every nano-second of every competitor’s programming. It’s not that they don’t know about it.

Christians have to care about the truth.

We are called to see the world through a biblical lens. We are called to see the world as Jesus saw it, from the perspective of those who are weakest and most vulnerable. We are not, and we cannot be, disinterested observers. We have a rooting interest on behalf of social and economic justice. And we need to be rigorous in discussing and debating how to live that out.

But truth is the foundation of moral discourse and the bed rock of Christian Social Ethics. We have to seek truth, in science, and history, and in every aspect of our lives. Each of us sees the world from our own perspective, and that perspective is colored by race and class and environment. We can never be completely neutral observers. But we need to try.

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