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Wrestling with Truth and Ideology

By August 9, 2012 One Comment

National Public Radio is doing a series they’ve titled “First and Main” visiting swing counties in swing states often near an intersection of First and Main Streets. Earlier this week on Morning Edition they were in Hillsborough County, Florida, an area comprised of rural and suburban communities as well as the city of Tampa. There they visited with Gregory Brown, an out of work glazier (installer of glass, as in windows). Attempting to sell his motorcycle, he’s hoping it will help him make it through the next couple of months as “now he’s living on unemployment checks plus a disability check from the woman who lives with him” which isn’t enough to make ends meet. The intersection aspect of these reports however comes out more fully as the reporter segues from Mr. Brown’s economic predicament to his political perspectives.

“I’ve never been more broke in my life,” Brown says.

In his free time, Brown has been following politics. He’s been listening to Rush Limbaugh and says he intends to register to vote this fall. He blames President Obama for his economic trouble.

What really grabs my attention as I’m listening to Morning Edition is this:

As we talk, Brown brings up the president’s onetime minister, Jeremiah Wright.

“I know what I believe in, and I believe that Jesus Christ spilled his blood for my soul, and Rev. Wright doesn’t believe that,” he says. “He believes that white people are evil, and so does our president and so does his wife.”

When asked specifically if he thinks the president believes white people are evil, Brown says: “Yes. I believe that if you go to a church long enough and you hear that kind of rhetoric, after a while it gets into your soul.”

I agree with Mr. Brown to an extent, for if you listen “long enough and you hear that kind of rhetoric, after a while it gets into your soul.”

Then I heard this gem—which in my opinion really is a well reported segment especially in its use of mainstream evangelical professors’ voices in contrast—on yesterday’s All Things Considered about David Barton titled, “The Most Influential Evangelist You’ve Never Heard Of” all about a culture war crusader whose affecting national education and at least in some evangelical circles, distorted American history.

I was planning on following up my previous post on immigration. That’s still in the works. But before going there, I’ve been wrestling with the role of truth. I’m not talking about truth in politics or the media, as important as that should be, but simply and profoundly about the role of truth in the life of the church. For in both of the above radio pieces, I hear fellow brothers in Christ plainly espousing untrue things and it’s gotten me a little worked up. So, what is the role of truth in the life of the church and faith?

Or am I just overreacting to an example of ignorance? Certainly, ignorance can be found anywhere one wants to look and it has its own dangerous aspects. Part of our fallen nature can be to give in to being lazy, accepting easy answers, repeating half-truths. But I think this isn’t simply about ignorance. This is about falsehood and lies being portrayed as truth.

So, is this just about ideology? I’m wrestling with that too.

Because to a certain degree, ideology isn’t in and of itself such a bad thing. I hate to use it as an example, but lets consider partisan politics. Partisanship, it seems to me, gets a bad rap sometimes. I think of being partisan as being firmly established in an ideology. When Senator Ted Kennedy passed away a few years ago, it was often mentioned how the Liberal Lion of the Senate was able to work across the aisle with Republicans to get things done in government. Teddy didn’t have to give up his partisan ideology to accomplish such work. He could believe certain things to be true and be rooted in his ideology while open to working together with those of opposing ideologies. The same could be said of various Republican leaders. The point is, ideology isn’t in and of itself bad. Conservatives can latch onto various truths and it becomes their ideologies, the same for liberals, etc. But…

At what point does an ideology become the end in itself? And at what point does that ideology allow falsehoods and untruths to become acceptable “divergence of opinion”?

Because it seems to me perfectly acceptable for Mr. Brown who was interviewed for the first NPR piece above to believe in smaller government (even if ironically he currently depends upon unemployment and disability checks to get by), to celebrate free speech and listen to Rush Limbaugh, and to share his own opinion and opposition to Mr. Obama. What isn’t acceptable is to back that opinion up by believing in a lie about the Obama’s hatred of white people. While I firmly disagree with it, it seems perfectly acceptable for Mr. Barton to promote an ideology of the US being a Christian nation. But it is completely unacceptable for Mr. Barton to use falsehoods to promote that perspective.

And this lack of truth and the acceptance of it, I can’t help but worry, leads to far more serious distorted ideologies and wrongly placed beliefs that can lead to such horrific incidents such as that which took place in Wisconsin earlier this week and other forms of violence and injustice.

After getting riled up this week about these radio segments, I was thankful to attend a program last night at Marble Collegiate Church hosted by its GIFTS ministry welcoming Matthew Vines. Mr. Vines speaks eloquently and assertively to what the bible does and does not say about homosexuality. As an evangelical Christian he holds the truth of the scriptures as a primary concern and exemplifies speaking truth to power. I highly recommend taking the time to view his on line video presentation.

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