For the past few weeks, I’ve heard and read what was “really” going to happen at the Inauguration on January 20th. Donald Trump would sit out the inauguration and instructed people to stay home because it would be a giant sting operation. Mass arrests would occur, bringing down a giant pedophile sex-trafficking ring. This is part of a larger story about a pedophile ring reaching into the highest levels of government. These rumors have their origin in Qanon, which has undoubtedly already started publishing reasons for why that didn’t happen (or that they did, but we were shown fake videos).
Like a virus, those stories spread themselves through society, particularly among conservatives. They’ve been subtlety kindled by talk radio and politicians. They’ve even been shared by Christians and pastors in bible studies and churches, on social media, and with the neighbors to whom they minister.
Those arrests did not happen. The stories were lies.
But they were more than just #FakeNews. They worked to divide neighbor from neighbor. They misled people—causing some to take preparation measures. They promoted fear and anxiety. In some cases, they slandered and libeled neighbors, spreading accusations without credible information. They’ve strengthened a dangerous precedent for making dramatic truth claims without evidence, insisting that “the other side” must prove them false.
I’m frequently wrong. I’ve spread false stories. When I’m corrected, I seek to make my apologies as public as my lie. I’ve been corrected in things I’ve said in church, apologized, and addressed it. I recently shared something false in an elder meeting. After realizing it was false, I immediately emailed the elders to apologize and linked to the true story. I’ve been corrected on social media—and then removed the post, publishing my correction and confession. If it turns out that there were/are mass arrests at the inauguration, I’ll publish the truth and admit I was wrong.
It never feels good to find out you were wrong—especially when you spread false information that harmed a person or whole groups of people. But, as a Christian, I claim to be a messenger of truth, an ambassador of the Truth incarnate in whom there is no falsehood.
If you listened to and believed some version of these stories, today is a good day to stop, reflect, and repent.
To what voices were you listening? Why did they appeal to you? Will you continue to trust them?
To whom did you spread these stories? Why did you spread them? What effect did this have on your neighbor’s life? What effect did this have on your neighbor’s reputation?
Do you need to repent? Repentance includes not only a change in thinking and behavior; it includes correcting the wrong you did. If you shared a falsehood on social media or in an email forward, repentance admitting that and sharing the truth through the same means. If you shared a lie in a sermon or a personal conversation, you should go back to that audience and acknowledge the deception.
What effect did this have on your witness to the gospel? As Christians, we claim to know the truth, speak the truth, and invite people to join us in believing the truth. In fact, we believe that Jesus Christ is God-in-the-flesh, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, lived a life without one sin, died under the wrath of God, rose from the dead on the third day, bodily ascended into heaven, reigns at God’s right hand, and will descend bodily from heaven to reign on earth and make all things new. That’s a huge claim—one that our neighbors will naturally find unbelievable (in many senses).
If our neighbors watch us buy into and attempt to convert them to massive conspiracy theories and fake news, why would they believe us about the Gospel? How many times does the shepherd boy cry “WOLF!” before the townspeople stop believing him?