Will the Real Truth-Tellers Please Stand Up?

Of the many differences between this year’s Republican and Democratic National Conventions, there’s one that should be of particular importance to religious leaders: truth-telling.

The GOP event was, sadly, lie after lie. On the first day, speakers repeatedly assailed President Obama for claiming that small business owners “didn’t build” their companies—which he never said.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich took the podium to insist that Obama gutted the work requirements from the 1996 welfare reform bill. False.

Mitt Romney used his nomination speech to say for the umpteenth time that Obama began his presidency with an “apology tour” to other countries. Also false.

The most egregious speech was that of Paul Ryan, who blamed Obama for causing the U.S. credit downgrade, amassing as much debt as “almost all of the other presidents combined,” slashing Medicare in ways the Republicans would stop, and allowing the shuttering of a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. All false.

Such falsehoods aren’t innocuous or trivial; they constitute the core of the GOP case against Obama. Without them, little would be left.

So far, the Democrats’ convention is going quite differently, in that the speakers aren’t offering a stream of blatant falsehoods. Sure, the event has opened with the usual set of bromides that we’ve come to expect from political speeches: The American dream should be for everyone; Democratic positions are not about left vs. right; Michelle Obama’s most important job is Mom-in-Chief. But there hasn’t been much in the way of lying. The Democrats are making their case, and Americans can do with it what they will.

So what’s the role of the faithful—especially clergy—in the face of this truth gap? Shouldn’t they be calling it out? Shouldn’t they mention that some people in our nation’s political debate are repeatedly and shamelessly bearing false witness against others?

This is not a question of theology.  Conservative religionists can still say government isn’t the proper vehicle for charity while liberal ones say social injustice requires us to band together as citizens to promote the common good. Lying to the public, which keeps Americans from making informed political choices, should be off limits in any theological approach. Need I point out the gazillions of Bible passages on this topic?

Religious leaders could take a cue from prophets like Isaiah, who slammed his people for having “made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place.” The prophets’ tradition of speaking truth to power—especially the power structures of our own societies—is not somehow less relevant today than it was in the times of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and all the rest. Indeed, in a society that has democratic features like ours does, we have more of a chance to make a positive difference than in the old days. So when a powerful faction in our country tells lie after lie to con Americans into casting votes they presumably would not otherwise cast, clergy have a prime opportunity to fight back as participants in the prophetic tradition.

Just to be clear: I’m not saying churches should take sides with one party or another in electoral battles. It’s illegal, and rightly so. But religious leaders should be willing as individuals to demand an honest debate. Members of the clergy have tremendous credibility that they could wield to hold officials accountable to the truth while empowering citizens to make sound political choices. But so far I’m not hearing a peep out of those with big platforms. Religious leaders are remaining silent while Americans are effectively being denied the right to a clear understanding of candidates’ values, policies, and track records.

Why the silence? We can only presume that (a) their fear of causing a backlash is trumping the imperative to speak out for truth, (b) their partisan loyalties are blinding them to the fact that lies are lies, or (c) their partisan loyalties make them believe that a little lying is a negligible price to pay for getting the right candidate into office. These are understandable reactions. Very human. But faith demands more. It demands fealty to truth.

Are religious leaders willing to do what faith demands? We’ll soon find out.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Frank

    The simple truth is Obama is not a good president. Vote him out!

    • Jesse Lava

      This article isn’t about being pro- or anti-Obama. Are you OK with lying and deceiving the public?

      • Bobby B.

        I am not OK with lying and deceiving the public, therefore I will not be voting for the Obama-Biden ticket.

      • Tim

        This article was written by one of Obama’s campaign managers. And I only read the first two paragraphs. Talking about miscaritization of the truth

        • Jesse Lava

          Speaking of misinformation….I am not, in fact, associated with the Obama campaign in any way.

      • Frank

        No that’s why Obama needs to be voted off. He sold a huge lie to this country and then got caught. Bye bye!

      • Frank

        And I see that you actually agree with me!

        “In short, we were misled. We were sold two Obamas but only got one. And Obama himself bears responsibility for that deception.

        Not all responsibility; there’s plenty of blame to go around, especially given the weakness of the progressive movement that’s supposed to be applying pressure from the Left and the strength of the Tea Party movement pushing from the other direction. But Obama does have power. He has agency. And he is not who he said he’d be.”


        • Jesse Lava

          No, actually: this post on Patheos is about straight-up lies at the Republican National Convention vs. the Democratic National Convention, which you have not addressed, so we cannot agree. In terms of the HuffPo article, Obama committed a broad act of deception throughout his presidency relative to his campaign, which gave us the impression he’d be a change-oriented moderate-liberal, and he ended up being significantly more establishment-oriented and conservative than he had let on.

          • Frank

            So he lied!

            Either way it does not matter he is a one termer.

  • Jay

    I recommend you go to http://www.factcheck.org. It is a nonpartisan group that points out lies and deception from politicians. They have pointed out lies coming from both democrats and republicans. If you go there, I think that you will find that democrats weren’t holding up the Biblical principals you emphasize either.

  • Pkolb

    You can’t be Catholic and be a Democrat!

  • Why the lies? d) They believe the lies.