The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.
It is in the Ten Commandments and Jesus even commands it, but the value of honesty is being routinely disregarded by Donald Trump supporting Christians who call it a value.
The command to love your neighbor as yourself is older than the book of Leviticus and Jesus made this command new as he washed the disciples’ feet saying they are to love one another as he has loved them. This love is not merely a sentiment or even a deep feeling, but a command to action. This love command means to set aside power and status and in humble service tend to the human needs of one another. This is the love Jesus demonstrated that it many continue through those who believe in him.
The 16th century reformer Martin Luther offers insight into the Ten Commandments by showing in his Small Catechism that these commands are not merely shall nots, but have an imperative flip side of shall dos.
In his explanation to the command to not bear false witness against one’s neighbor Luther writes:
We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
Take note of what this commandment implies we must do for our neighbor: come to their defense, speak well of them, interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
Inherent in loving one’s neighbor and not bearing false witness against them is speaking the truth, even if it is a hard truth. This is not permission to be mean for the truth can be spoken in love and with compassion. However, outright lying, in the face of facts in evidence, is a betrayal of this neighbor-love ethic at the heart of the biblical witness.
Being honest with one another is fundamental to a neighbor-love ethic for without honesty there is no trust and without trust there is no love.
Still, this does not seem to stop Christian Trump supporters from spouting all kinds of falsehoods and defending the virtue of their pathological liar-in-chief. From excusing his rape culture and racist rhetoric to denying the realities surrounding the Trump/Russia investigation, his followers have forsaken their values for his con game which they believe to be the only way to “save the country”.
But it is not only the blatant spouting of lies and refusal to accept the truth that is troubling. These same people hold others, especially opponents to their dear leader, like Hillary Clinton, to impossible standards of honesty and transparency. The few days Hillary Clinton “hid” her pneumonia from the American people is a case in point. She was given no grace for medical privacy in the midst of a ruthless campaign schedule in which she showed more stamina in one campaign week than Trump has mustered in his nearly 20 weeks in office. Meanwhile, the current president still has not released a satisfactory medical report or his tax returns. And yet there is no outcry for this information or his lack of campaign-promised stamina and working for the people, evidenced by his frequent vacations, golf outings, short working days, and policies that harm every single person in this country and endanger the already fragile ecosystem of the our shared planet.
This particular kind of lying and dishonesty centered around the defense of a particular political figure not only erodes the Christian witness in the public sphere but democracy itself as these are the seeds of authoritarianism.
Christians who come to the defense of Donald Trump by excusing his lies and quite harmful rhetoric while attacking Hillary Clinton by seeking to destroy her reputation though faux scandals and impossible transparency standards are violating one of the commands they believe should be enshrined in statues and the moral conscience of the country. The ironic hypocrisy here is stunning.
For the health and vitality of our democracy honesty is a bedrock value that must be upheld. Facts cannot be ignored, dismissed, or debated as merely opinion. Whether suited to one’s preferred narrative or not facts must lead the way forward in the pursuit of truth and the making of a more just society for all people.
Lying about the Trump/Russia investigation, climate change, or various types of structural injustice does not show the love Jesus commands and contributes to the harm of people and indeed the whole creation. More it puts our democracy in jeopardy as a government by, for, and of the people presumes and informed citizenry who can agree on a common reality of truth and fact. This is something Donald Trump and his supporters seem incapable of doing.
While the harm Christian Trump supporters are doing to the Christian witness cannot be ignored and may explain the emptying of the pews in many congregations, it is the harm to our democracy and the neighbors of all faiths and none that is most concerning.
Christians are called to set aside claims to power and status and put them in service for the neighbor in need. This is love. Here we discover the truth that enables us to care for country and all creation. Here we are rooted in the value of honesty that empowers us to tell the truth of today and work for a better tomorrow for all.