Amid our current politically charged environment, we increasingly are facing a battle over truth. Conspiracy theories are seducing believers. There is increasing mistrust among evangelicals of mainstream media. And social media platforms continue to take action to remove false and misleading posts from their sites.
Does truth matter?
Among this backdrop, it can be hard to know what to believe and what the facts are.
In the political arena where winning is often paramount, it can seem like the truth becomes irrelevant. We want to believe the worst about our political adversaries and want to believe the best about our candidates.
We are quick to discount unfavorable stories and news we don’t want to hear. Social media often gives us that power—the power to block sites or individuals with whom we disagree.
As Christians, though, we have a responsibility to something more. As Christians, we are called to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).
Likewise: “Whatsoever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Timothy was instructed to exhort the Macedonians “not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” “The aim of our faith,” he argues, “is love that issues from a clear conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:4-5).
As image-bearers of Christ, we are called to bear witness to the truth, to reject lies and slander, and to act honorably toward others, even those with whom we disagree.
Recognize the agenda of others
As we seek to bear witness to the truth, we first must recognize there are those among us who would propagate falsehoods. It is not surprising to many of us that this especially is true in politics. It also is true in our faith.
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Throughout his ministry, Jesus reminded us there would be false prophets among us, those who would seek to deceive and mislead intentionally: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
We are called to be vigilant and discerning about the truth, to not be deceived and not to deceive others.
Five simple practices
So, then how can we be wise and discerning? How can we know who and what to believe? Here are five simple practices that can help us be better truth-bearers:
1. Understand media biases and sources.—Yes, mainstream news sources are sometimes biased, yet they also hold to long held, deeply rooted journalistic standards. This is the difference between the Wall Street Journal, the National Enquirer or your everyday blogger. Know the difference between news, analysis, opinion and entertainment. Check out the Media Bias Chart for a detailed analysis of different news outlets, and identify those that are reliable sources.
2. Diversify your sources.—Explore how an article is reported differently from different sources. Just as we have a deeper perspective of Jesus through the telling of four different Gospel writers, looking at an article from different perspectives can help us get a more complete picture and a deeper understanding of the issue. All Sides.org is a valuable tool that shows headlines reported from left, center and right leaning outlets.
3. Avoid memes.—Memes can be fun and lighthearted ways to convey emotion, bring humor and create powerful visual imagery. They are not good vehicles for conveying facts or providing context and are ripe for false and misleading information. Truth can be disregarded easily as we wield stingers to score points for our “side.”
4. Respond, instead of react.—It often is wise not to react immediately, even when we are outraged at a headline or offended by a post. Instead of reacting rashly, it can be helpful to slow down and reflect. Sometimes even a quick moment to do some research will show a report to be false. If you can’t confirm something is true, don’t pass it along. Sometimes, that moment of reflection also will change our posture and allow us to respond more honorably.
5. Pray.—Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When you don’t know who to believe or what to believe, pray. God will reveal himself. He will grant us wisdom and discernment as we draw near to him.
What difference does it make?
The way we manage truth affects our witness to the world. If Christians are carriers of falsehood, it makes it much harder for us to have credibility when we talk about the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ.
We are exhorted to be honorable, to put away deceit and falsehoods, and to reflect God’s goodness to the world: “So, put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. … Keep your conduct honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:1, 12).
Jesus revealed himself to be the source of all truth to his disciples: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6).
As we focus on him, we discern truth, we know truth, we walk in truth—truth that transcends political party or election season; truth that transforms our hearts, our politics and our social media.
Erin Payseur Oeth is profoundly interested in exploring faith and the public square. Her day job is helping college students develop civic literacy, skills and practice through community engagement at the University of Mississippi. She also serves as part of the Faith & Deliberation initiative with Baylor University and the Kettering Foundation and has co-authored faith-based issue guides including The Role of the Church in a Divided Society. Although a lifelong Baptist, she currently attends Oxford University United Methodist Church in Oxford, Miss., with her husband Steven. The views expressed are those solely of the author.