The truth matters.
I confess that it feels disorienting to have arrived in a place where this statement could be widely interpreted as instigating an argument, even among those who would profess to be followers of Jesus today. But, such are our confoundingly polarized times. When you live to see the day that the public relations team for the National Parks Service has been effectively driven underground as if they were sedition-breathing revolutionaries, well... that's something. That ought give one pause. Let's just say that I find myself hugging my children a little tighter these days for some, mostly unarticulated, reason deep within my being.
Scripture, for its part, has a fair amount to say about the importance of an esteem for truth in the lives of those who would seek after God, both in the public and private spheres:
"There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue is but for a moment." (Prov. 12:18-19)
"Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice." (Is. 59:14-15)
We could, of course, go on. In the gospels, Jesus describes himself as the very incarnation of Truth (Jn. 14:6). He speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "Spirit of Truth" (Jn. 16). From the Psalms through to the letters of Paul, scripture itself is referred to as the "Word of Truth". In short, the people of God - students of scripture, followers of Jesus, bearers of the Holy Spirit - have always understood their sense of vocation in terms of bearing witness to the distinction between truth and falsehood in a world crippled by deception and moral blindness. In our current context of extreme social/political polarization and reactionary vitriol, I fear that many of us are in danger of forgetting this very thing. In a world where everyone seems to be shouting at one another, it is easy to settle for what is politically expedient or self-reinforcing, rather than pressing for that which is, genuinely, true and good.
Not that this temptation is in any way new. As unsettling as it may be to realize, the Church throughout history - American and otherwise - has, more often than not, contorted herself to serve the self-reinforcing interests of her day, rather than embody the transforming and deeply counter-cultural way of Jesus. It is our human nature to seek our own defense and interests above all else; even among those who claim allegiance to Christ, we are generally more inclined than not to simply appropriate the name of Jesus in service to our own, natural aims, than we are to surrender those aims for the sake of his purposes in the world.
Case in point: When we and our way of life have felt most threatened by the moral relativism of postmodern progressivism, the Church has been quick to rally to the defense of "OBJECTIVE TRUTH!". But now, in the wake of a populist surge that has come as an apparent scourge upon the power structures of that very same progressivism, suddenly many within the Church seem to be parroting Pilate in response to the errors manifest within this emerging movement: "Truth? What is truth?" We must ask ourselves: if the truthfulness and morality of our leaders is of utmost concern one day, and totally disregarded the next; if our relationship to the truth is of utmost importance one day, only to be tossed aside when it becomes inconvenient, are we truly being faithful, or merely utilitarian?
If we should fail to face this reality - fail to name the abiding temptation to USE Christ, rather than FOLLOW him - we are in profound danger of losing our way, and surrendering our God-given vocation. My driving concern in all of this has very little to do with the goings-on of the offices of national power, as troubling as they often will be to the follower of Jesus; my concern is, primarily and predominantly, for the integrity and witness of the Church. In the end, it matters little who Caesar, King, or President may be. But it matters eternally who the CHURCH is! And the Church is the people of God - the people of Christ, the people of the Spirit, the people of TRUTH - or she is nothing at all.
Regimes will come and they will go. The pendulums of society and politics will swing to and fro, season by season. But Christ remains, Lord and King; the way, the truth, and the life, age to age! May we know Christ, and be so found in him, that history might bear us out to be a people, not merely of our age, interests and cultural moment - but the people of the King.
"Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Gal. 4:16)
Grace and Peace,
The truth matters.