Truth is a big topic, both in our modern culture and in Christianity. To be honest, it could cover several posts (and likely will over time), particularly as we examine the odd juxtaposition of current white evangelical Christian culture essentially abandoning any desire for truth in an effort to faithfully support Donald Trump.
That last sentence probably lost a good chunk of potential readers, but that actually proves my point as you’ll see if you keep reading.
I was raised in the white evangelical Christian culture, and one of the key tenets that came with that was a devotion to absolute, unchanging truth in the face of a culture that was all about relativism (white evangelical Christian culture devotes almost endless effort to creating these misleading dichotomies that set us up as victims in a massive “us versus them” battle against pretty much everyone else). As culture shifted to question truth and reality, I was taught that Christians believed in the absolute truth of God. That doesn’t change. There is no moral relativity; good and bad are foundational. As is truth.
Truth is mentioned throughout the Bible, and it’s pretty often associated with God, either as something that pleases God or as an intrinsic aspect of Godself. In the Armor of God passage of Ephesians 6, Paul tells us to “stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”
Growing up, I remember learning about the Armor of God and the specific role each piece of armor played in protection. I don’t recall exactly what was said about the belt of truth, but I know belts are designed to keep your pants from falling down. Without a belt, you risk your pants falling to your ankles, which both exposes you and will likely prompt you to stumble and fall to the ground. Both of those things are embarrassing and invite ridicule.
Truth requires consistency, although the same always go in reverse. We see this in the example of Mark Galli’s now-infamous Dec. 19 editorial in Christianity Today, where he quotes a 1998 CT post specifically calling out “the President’s failure to tell the truth” and “unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him [that] have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.” Those statements were originally used to call for the removal of Bill Clinton from office at a time when virtually every evangelical Christian leader and republican politician spoke about the dishonesty and immorality disqualifying someone from holding a leadership position.
Galli’s entire point in last month’s editorial is we held a previous president to one standard, and consistency necessitates that we use that same standard today. The result might be inconvenient politically, but the consequence of not following the same pre-established code of conduct is the embrace relativism when it benefits you while otherwise decrying it. That is hypocrisy.
Truth is difficult, because it is not always clear. There can be (but not always are) shades of gray and issues of perspective in truth. It can be exceedingly complicated, and even the mere thought of such a thing can lead to scoffing derision. We see this (or something similar, depending on the connotation your read into it) in Pilate’s response to Jesus in John 18:
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
Jesus came to testify to the truth, a concept that is absolutely foreign to Pilate. In fact, Jesus takes this idea of testifying to the truth even further 10 chapter earlier, when he speaks to the followers who believed him and said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
The truth will set you free. What does that even mean? I think we’re seeing a perfect example of what that means in our modern political climate. We have a president who has made more than 15,000 false or misleading claims since taking the oath of office (and that doesn’t include the last three weeks), who antagonizes any effort to seek truth in his administration by claiming absolute immunity and (unconstitutionally) refusing to release any relevant documents or allow anyone with firsthand knowledge of key events within his administration to testify. This all from a man who has said of the fifth amendment (allowing people to remain silent rather than speak at risk of self-incrimination): “The mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
He and his staff aren’t taking the Fifth Amendment because they’re unwilling to even sit before a congressional body and be asked questions. Based on Trump’s own reasoning, the only reason they would do this is because they are guilty. If republican congresspeople and senators genuinely believe he is innocent, why don’t they want documents released and witness testimony shared that corroborates and proves that?
What we are seeing is people who support Trump actively wanting NOT to learn the truth. To that, I ask why?
As Christians, we are called to seek the truth. Proverbs 13 tells us that “the Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy,” and 1 Corinthians 13 explains that “love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Jesus himself told us that the truth will set us free.
I asked above what that means. It means the truth exposes. It places things out in the open. From there, we can respond and move on. The opposite almost always grows into something uncontrollable, as our quest to hide the truth leads to piles of increasingly larger lies piled on top of lies that all threaten to destroy our house of cards and expose our hypocrisy. So why do Republicans not want the truth to come out? Why do white evangelical Christians continue to passionately support and defend Trump despite his unceasing un-Christlike words and deeds and efforts to withhold the truth?
In a sad irony, it’s because we haven’t yet recognized just how much our abandoning of truth has cost us. Truth is a belt, one we’ve stopped wearing. Our pants are around our ankles, our bare bottoms are exposed, and we’re stumbling over our own hypocrisy. We might not see it as we keep our eyes focused on our “savior,” Donald Trump, but the rest of the world does.
So many of Galli’s words are convicting and true if taken seriously. “If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?”
Whether or not we want to admit it, the world has seen our hypocrisy for what it is. As much as we want to blame others, the massive and ongoing decline in self-identified Christians in our country is our own fault. Why would anyone else look at us tripping on our own self-righteousness with pants around our ankles and have any desire to join that? Why would they see any reason to believe anything we say or do when they see how swiftly our beliefs and actions change when we find someone like Trump to follow?
“The truth will set you free.” It’s not too late to repent. Let’s seek Jesus and the truth, regardless of any embarrassment it may cause us. It’s our only hope.