The airwaves and internet are rife with it; for some it has become a way of life: violating the ninth commandment. Moses gave us the prohibition against false testimony—number nine in the Ten Commandments—and in Matthew 15:19 Jesus included false witness in a long list of things that pollute our souls. In honor of all the fake news and other miscellaneous lies perpetrated by politicians and others, let’s call the practice of this the “politics of the ninth commandment.”
Intended as a hedge against lying in judicial proceedings, the broader application covers all manner of lying, Proverbs 6:16-19. False testimony has become a way of life in the court of public opinion but no less heinous than where we are bound by oath to tell the truth.
A number of years ago the Duke University faculty assumed a guilty verdict against their lacrosse team when some were accused of rape. Even before the trial began, many faculty and administration members publically proclaimed their guilt. In time every member of the team was exonerated; the charges had been fabricated. It’s easy to get away with false testimony when you aren’t under oath.
Another form of false witness used by people today is what we euphemistically label “name-calling.” It is no less derogatory and harmful than the formal kind—false witness in a subtle form. For example, to label someone as a racist falsely is no less a false witness against the person than if the person were falsely accused of a crime in court.
Recently in Chatham, New Jersey two mothers approached the middle school over concerns that the religion of Islam was being taught in class whereas other faiths were ignored. Their point was simply that in a history class all religions should be given equal time.
The reaction was swift and verbally abusive. After their appearance at a school board meeting, they were called bigots and xenophobes, and their position was compared to the KKK. All they were suggesting was that one religion in a public school not get preferential treatment. (See the interview.)
The false witnesses didn’t bother to hear their reasons. Automatically the accusations of bigotry began to fly, and as always name-calling was simply an evasive tactic: why engage in a legitimate argument when you can avoid real issues by discrediting someone with a negative label?
Can you imagine the reaction if it had only been Christianity that was presented in that classroom?
The name-callers and false witnesses, whose only effort to promote their agenda is the politics of the ninth commandment, create an atmosphere where legitimate debate cannot take place. God hates it no matter which side of an issue it is coming from.
(See related post on church blog)