Fact-checking 101

In a world of “fake news” and “alternate facts,” how can we tell which voices to listen to?

There are many tests we can apply to sort out the messages we hear. We should look at evidence and corroborating material to see if we can discern what is true. We should consider the motivations and known biases of the speaker to figure out why the person is speaking. We should evaluate logic and look to see if what we are being told is consistent and reasonable. I suspect that if these principles were applied fairly and frequently, our society would be virtually unrecognizable!

There’s one more test that that the Bible offers us in Proverbs 12:18: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

We should look to see if the words that are spoken bring healing or needless hurt and violence. There’s another version of this test in Proverbs 10:14: “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” Does this person’s word make the world a better place – or worse?

We must not make the fool’s mistake: “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives though to his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) Be sure to evaluate what you hear. It isn’t necessarily true just because it’s on the television, or the newspaper, or the internet, or the pulpit, or…

Don’t abandon the ship!

A trend that deeply saddens me is the increase in the numbers of those who abandon the church because of the hypocrites, sinners, and creeps they’ve encountered there. To be clear, most church-going people aren’t hypocritical jerks, but as the old saying goes, a bad apple spoils the bunch. Many have a bad taste in their mouth because of the wickedness of a very few.

There are two things that I wish those who have left our number because of the bad apples could hear.

First, I wish they could hear me apologize.

I am sorry that they have been hurt or disillusioned. It isn’t right. The church, though never perfect, is called to be a light in a dark world and a refuge from evil, not a home to it. We simply must do better.

Secondly, I wish they could hear this question: what happens to the church when you leave it because of the sinfulness of a few?

I doubt that many have considered this consequence of their choice. When a good person leaves the church because of a bad person’s behavior, what have they done?

They have actually handed more power and more influence to the bad person.

Their departure means that the ratio of good to bad just tilted a little more towards the bad. There is one less good person whose voice can counteract the bad. There is one less person who can stand up against the wickedness. The chances that someone stops the hypocrite just decreased by one.

If you’ve experienced bad in church, instead of giving up on her, channel your frustration and pain into being the best you can be—and solving the problem, rather than making it worse.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was only fourteen years old, he told his family of his plans to enter ministry. Everyone expected him to follow his father’s footsteps into academia. His older brother was particularly appalled and told him that he should not “waste his life” on such a “poor, feeble, boring, petty, bourgeois institution as the church.” Young Bonhoeffer showed greater maturity than many who were much older in his reply. “If what you say [about the church] is true, I shall reform it!”

Perhaps we can follow in his footsteps and make the church a better place today than it was yesterday. There’s only one hypocrite at church that I can do anything about—and he sits in my spot. Perhaps it’s time I get to work on him.