With only accusations, none of which was supported by evidence or corroberation, one political party tried to use a massive public relations campaign to derail another political party’s Supreme Court nominee.
Sadly, we live in a time when America has fractured into two polar opposite tribes. Both tribes are guilty of advancing lies to achieve a political advantage. Regardless of which tribe one ascribes to, “Thou shalt not bear false witness…” is a Mosaic Commandment that has been largely cast aside. Still, Christians must be faithful to truth-telling regardless to today’s temporal norms.
It is a daunting task to live today by a decree that is four-millenia old, but it is what Christians must do if we are faithful to the Bible. There are Christians inclined to the political right and left who are striving to emulate Jesus Christ, which makes the treatment of words particularly tricky. How does a Christian conduct their use of language while being bombarded with falsehoods by most of the media, and indoctrinated in school classrooms from 3-K to PhD? Not surprising, the Bible has the perfect answers for Christians to deal with this challenge. The lie industry, also known as public relations, doesn’t have to control the thoughts of those who refuse to let it.
James, half-brother of Jesus, illustrates the precarious position that our frail humanity places us in.
James 3:9-11 “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”
This passage is particularly helpful when Christians look for a side to identify with. The more you choose to ascribe to membership in only the temporal left or right wing, the less you put God in authority over your life. Watching the left and right wing public relations machines churn out hot-button news and social media volleys is how the two tribes try to hook followers to their cause. While each tribe offers stimulus that can appeal to various Christian ideals, neither tribe can be a valid center for a Christian’s life. The valid center of a Christian’s life is Jesus Christ, whose ideals are today partially co opted by public relations pro’s employed by both parties.
I should mention early on in writing this that I learned PR from the U.S. Dept. of Defense Information School in the mid-1980’s. I look back on that instruction with genuine trepidation, as it set me on a path to rationalize using whatever words necessary as a means to support what I wanted. Even now I have to regularly, prayerfully, check myself for a lack of humility and empathy when communicating about contentious topics. Scripture and prayer, as well as being in community with other growing Christians helps a lot. While Bible-led Christians have Scripture as a touchstone, “truth” is rarely a priority acribed to public relations practice.
Most Americans know the content of the 9th Commandment, even though they don’t know what the 9th Commandment is or where it is located.
Exodus 20:16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
(worth noting: we are all each other’s neighbor)
What the effect of public relations has done to the English language is immeasurable. Not only are public relations practices and techniques encouraging people to lie, it also teaches its practitioners to obscure the presence and content of a lie. 3900 years ago this practice didn’t have it’s modern label “public relations”, but it was alive and well when Solomon wrote about it:
Proverbs 28:13 “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.”
Public Relations (PR) is about all concealing transgressions. Individuals and institutions employ PR when they want to cover up what they have done, are doing, or will do. Control of academic and media outlets, paired with skilled PR folks, has made the concealment of falsehoods easier to see, or to ignore, depending on one’s political inclination.
Leftist political operatives in media and academia do a fantastic job of getting their well-tailored story marched out with the discipline of a North Korean military parade. The right wing commands comparatively little national media and academia, so they’ve left themselves largely defenseless against their political rivals on campus and in the legacy media. The disparity of PR power between the two sides has become a source for great division between the political left and right in America. PR has created such toxicity, that communication between those with political differences is extremely difficult. Even trying to engage in discussion outside of one’s “tribe” often invites hostility.
Christians have a unifying set of moral standards in the Bible. Non-Christians have no set of unifying moral standards. Several Barna Group studies indicate that, statistically, Christians and non-Christians sin quite similarly and in equivalent numbers. Regardless of the demographic, the sinning is about the same. The big difference is that Bible reading and believing Christians have a central touchstone to measure their thoughts and actions. Non-Christians can refer to any random, scattered group of writings and teachings, and acquire their own personal group of touchstones to measure their thoughts and actions. Non-Christians can rationalize a group of relativistic standards and claim authority for what they think and do… and advance their authority with public relations.
The key to effective public relations is proactivity, rather than reaction. The most effective proactive method of advancing a message through PR is by defining the terms of an argument and then publishing your point. Let’s take a bipartisan look at some examples of how thought leaders have used terms they have defined to alter the reality of several ideological debates past and ongoing in the United States:
Liberal PR Term Conservative PR Term
Pro-LGBT rights Anti-family
Elevated Body Mass Index (BMI) Overweight, Obese
Torture Enhanced Interrigation Methods
Undocumented Person Illegal Alien
Chemically Dependant Addicted
Has Special Needs Mentally/Physically Handicaped
Climate Denier Climate skeptic
Using politically correct language can feel more comfortable, but we use it at the risk of being dishonest or misunderstood. It might feel nice to call an agnostic “kind” and “spiritual”, but in truth they are lost. If you curtail expendatures, are you being a good steward and budgeting your money, or are you just not paying your bills? If you tell an enterprise that they are serving people with special needs, should you get some wheelchairs, or should you print the literature in braille? Political correctness might give you a warm feeling, or put you in hot water… metaphorically speaking.
In conclusion, our focus should be communicating they way Jesus taught us – kindly, but truthfully. The Bible gives us a clear message about being clear in our messages. Philippians 2:1-13 (especially 2:2-4) gives us an excellent instruction on tuning our hearts and minds to that of Christ. The whole passage is worth reading and re-reading. If we set our hearts to love as Christ did, and as He taught us, truth becomes easy to hear and to say.
Philippians 2:3-4 “…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
I look forward to reading your comments. Thanks for taking time to read this post.