Truth in the Era of Fake News

I was sitting in a cafe in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa. With the Indian Ocean on my right and the towering plateau known as Table Rock to my left, I was deeply engaged in a conversation I will never forget.

 

“You mean to tell me that you actually believe in the concept of original sin and truth?” asked the young and very smart Oxford professor. He asked not with a challenging tone, but in an inquisitive manner. To him, I think, I was a fossil, a relic from years past. He looked at me like I was a museum display. 

 

The conversation never went in a negative direction. We didn’t exchange heated dialogue, like a political pundit show. Instead, we had a robust discussion about truth as the cool ocean breezes crested waves in the distance. As I genuinely engaged in the conversation, I was perplexed. Truth had always seemed like a constant. Just like the waves would constantly break in Cape Town, truth would remain a constant, unchanging force. From the way our conversation was going, I was sorely mistaken.

 

WHERE IS TRUTH?

 

We are in a strange and chaotic time in our American culture. I am not sure if it is because of the widespread access to unlimited amounts of information or the ability to post opinions and thoughts on a whim without consequences. Whatever the reason, truth now is difficult to discern. 

Consider our American political climate. Both sides of the aisle seem to be at impassable odds. One party’s truth is completely different from the other party’s truth. There is a slant or bias to seemingly every item within the news, so much so that unscrambling the messages to get to the truth can be a complex mental exercise. 

There is also culture definition of truth. Truth is relative at best in our culture. In her praise to women coming out against sexual harassment in the workplace at the 2018 Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey stated, “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Now, it is not easy to discern what Winfrey was trying to communicate, but her phrase was quickly adopted within the culture. It is probably art imitating life, because the culture has been steadily marching away from objective truth in favor of subjective whims. 

 

THE CRISIS OF TRUTH

 

While many would like to believe that moral relativism — an idea that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/or universal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical, or personal circumstances — has disappeared from view, it is alive and well. Sexuality is not viewed as binary or even biological. Rather, it is left up to the individual. Right and wrong is left up to the subjective whims of the beholder. Facts are not facts. They are twisted for political gain. Trust is eroding in our nation’s capital, in our schools, in our culture, and even within our churches. Every sphere is dealing with the same epidemic, and every sphere deserves its fair share of the blame.

Take the church, for example. Scandal after scandal has rocked both the evangelical church and the Roman Catholic Church. Whether it is high profile evangelical leaders engaged in inappropriate relationships or the multiple Catholic scandals regarding the priesthood and underage children, the church’s status in the culture has withered. The truth that was preached and was a bedrock in many communities has broken down in light of the many scandals. Truth is certainly a limited resource in our culture.

 

WHAT ARE WE TO DO WITH THIS EROSION?

 

I am beginning to put new landscaping in my home. Because of years of neglect, the home we bought has landscape that is eroding. When I brought a crew out to look at my landscaping, they mentioned that we must do something to stop the erosion before we can fix the landscaping. If not, all the work on the landscape would be at risk. In the same way, the church must stop the eroding truth in its own back yard. 

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak to a church staff in Orlando, Florida. I was asked by one of the pastors what is the most important leadership principle. I quickly referred to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He states:

 

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one (Matthew 5:37) ESV.

 

In other words, make sure that you do what you say you are going to do. I think leaders must make truth a hallmark of their ministry. Churches must do the same no matter who it may offend. When we make truth a priority, and stick by that truth, then we stop the erosion. 

 

HOW DO WE DISCERN TRUTH?

 

Speaking and discerning truth seems simple within the church. But how do we discern truth in a murky culture? I want to finish this lengthy blog by giving you tips that I try to live by daily.

 

1. Pray for discernment.

 

This seems obvious, but I do not know a lot of people who are constantly praying that God gives them discernment as they digest media. Given the murkiness of information out there, we need the mind of Christ in all situations.

 

2. Consume a balanced diet of media.

 

Whether you watch Fox News or MSNBC all day long, neither of their ideologies is going to be perfectly balanced. It is good sometimes to watch the opposite side to see if there are any blind spots you are not aware of when it comes to truth. 

 

3. Try not to demonize people.

 

The quickest way to erode truth is to demonize people. When we label people, it gives us permission to dismiss anything those people say. We live in a polarizing world, and this polarization is hurting the truth in world.

 

4. Walk in humility.

 

While I carry a few degrees, I do not know everything about everything. I try to approach people’s stories, the news, and cultural events with humility. Humility forces me to listen. James tells us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19, ESV). I am convinced being curious and walking with humility will help us get closer to the truth.

 

In a world where truth seems to be a commodity, the church can separate itself by being fully committed to the truth. We must call our leaders to the same standard of truth, and we must speak truth to power no matter who that power is. I believe we have the truth, and we must be a light in the world that blazes the truth in a darkened world. 

 

 

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