“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic”—John F. Kennedy.

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At a recent meeting of my presbytery (district church council), one of the preachers present got up and quizzed a commissioner (representative) to last summer’s General Assembly of the PC(USA) about the opening worship. He complained that he had read that the service made a bald political statement (in favor of gays) because it featured “dancing girls wearing rainbow stoles” and because the Table and the cross were both draped with rainbow cloth. He demanded to hear what the commissioner knew about that and what he thought. The man replied only that “we don’t do it like that” in his home town and church.

The intent of the preacher was to stir up yet again suspicion and distrust. Look at the General Assembly! It tolerates lascivious, provocative movement by “dancing girls.” It’s not a religious body, because it promotes the completely political agenda of granting gays and lesbians the right to marry and/or be ordained as elders and ministers! The use of rainbow cloth proves where their loyalties lie! So don’t give money to those idolaters! Question everything! Be on guard because those liberals will corrupt your children and teach them to follow the ways of the God-hating culture!

But guess what? The reality is not so sensational. I went to YouTube and found the 220th General Assembly’s opening worship. Yes, there were young women dancing as part of the processional. But they were tastefully dressed in pure white albs, and besides, dance is recommended over and over in our “Directory for Worship” as enacted prayer and a way of proclamation of God’s Word. They were indeed wearing rainbow stoles, but of only three colors (yellow, red/orange, deep blue), not the many hues of the typical gay pride flag. Does any display or use of a rainbow now signify support of gay marriage? How about the lady I saw in the post office the other day wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt with many colors splashed on it? May I assume she was a lesbian? And of course, the rainbow stoles or the colorful cloth on the Table could not possibly remind us of the rainbow throne in Revelation 4 or the bow in the clouds after the Flood! (The cloth draping the Table seemed to be kente cloth, by the way. If you would like to watch the service, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E72DcVm55J4; the processional starts at about 9 minutes into the video.)

All these details about a Presbyterian meeting are no doubt of interest only to a few Presbyterians. But the larger issue I want to lift up here is how the incident at Presbytery illuminates the tactics of false witnesses, AKA, liars. All these methods are classic.

First, attribute insincere, subversive, malicious or evil motives and/or intentions to those with whom you disagree, while proclaiming the purity of your own heart. So, the General Assembly worship planners and the ministers, elders, musicians, and others on the chancel were not really interested in worshipping God (whatever they said), but in promoting a “political” message of diversity, tolerance, fairness, and inclusion, since God is not interested in such things and Jesus never taught or modeled them. 

But the Westminster Larger Catechism, a traditional Presbyterian standard, reminds us that the ninth commandment (“you shall not bear false witness”) requires us  to have a “charitable esteem of our neighbors” which leads us to a “ready receiving of good report and unwillingness to admit an evil report concerning them.” We are forbidden from “misconstruing intentions” and are warned against “thinking or speaking too highly…of ourselves” and “aggravating smaller faults ((that is, blowing things out of proportion)…unnecessarily discovering of infirmities” and “raising false rumors.”

Next, liars, false witnesses, state the facts, but spin them in such a way as to arouse doubt, suspicion, malice, and hatred in their hearers, all to the benefit of the false witness and his or her agenda. Yes, the procession was led by choreographed females wearing rainbow stoles, twirling colored streamers. But the term “dancing girls” was supposed to conjure images of scantily-clad, lewd bimbos. The mention of rainbows was intended to play on the fears of traditional, conservative churchgoers that their marriages were being undermined by two women wanting to wed or that a gay man would soon be imposed on them by a hierarchical church system as their pastor.

Liars can state facts, and do, but there is more to honesty than a list of numbers or a report on an event. Honesty is about having a true and pure heart, out of which comes a desire for the building up of our neighbors and for the common good, not for the promoting of our own interests.

The Larger Catechism is again helpful.  Someone may speak “the truth,” it reminds us, but do so “maliciously to a wrong end or perverting it to a wrong meaning or in doubtful and equivocal expression, to the prejudice of truth or justice….” Truth-telling is more than stating facts; it’s making sure the truth serves the purposes of the Truth, who embodies love and justice.

Finally, liars, false witnesses, depend on their hearers not being interested enough to follow up and find out the real story or else not having resources or time or energy to track down what really happened and then give a meaning to it. They want people not to know the truth, but to be made afraid or angry. They count on the parochial vision of their hearers, that the latter’s frame of reference and depth and breadth of experience will not extend beyond the way people believe and act in one town or one church. Liars count on people being small and reliant on “those in the know” to tell them how things really are. They do not want anyone to think or explore or examine for himself or herself.

So, in the case of the church assembly, don’t say to the audience: “The whole opening worship service is on YouTube, and you can see for yourself.” No, just expect everyone to trust you, the speaker. That way the members of the audience can go about their pressing business without having their little world intruded upon.

False witness is bad enough in the media and in the courtroom. But when it happens in the church, where people are supposed to emulate the One who said he was “the Truth,” it’s inexcusable.

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.

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