Presidential Debates and Jesus on the Truth...

DISCLAIMER: This is bound to cause some high-emotions so I'm going to moderate the comments closely. Thanks. I don’t typically do political commentary on the blog, for a whole host of reasons that are unimportant right now, but today I felt like I needed to comment on something regarding last Wednesday’s debate.

I had always heard about the phenomenon of “fact checking” that takes place after a debate. To my knowledge, there are staff on each candidate’s payroll (as well as bipartisan study groups) who take the statements made in debates and then check to see whether or not the statement that was made is based on fact or if it is an exaggeration.

In other words, they look to see if the candidate was telling the truth or was exaggerating in order to win a debate.

Historically this fact checking has revealed several places where each candidate has exaggerated facts, also known as making things up on the spot to win a debate. This year’s Obama-Romney debate was no exception. Though news outlets called the debate a “win” for Mitt Romney, fact-checking revealed that both candidates were exaggerating in several places in order to win the debate.

Perhaps I’m overselling this, but these are the people we are looking to for leadership and direction. These are the people we are also going to critique later on for not keeping campaign promises.

People who have been proven to have exaggerated the truth – or “lied” if we want to be harsh, I suppose – in order to win a debate.

Does anyone else see something wrong with a debate format where the winner and the loser are both lying (opposite of truth telling) and the prize for winning is leadership of a country and the “hope” of a people for the future?

Furthermore, shouldn’t people who follow the Jesus who said “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’” (Matthew 5:37) feel a strong movement of the Holy Spirit as they consider throwing their support and vote behind someone who has actively distorted the truth?

James Bryan Smith in his wonderful book The Good and Beautiful Life has an entire chapter on “Learning to Live Without Lying.” The fact that he had to include this chapter in a book that teaches disciplines for discipleship says a lot about where we are, but this quote is one of the touchstones for the debate fact checking issue:

The radical nature of Jesus’ words (Matt. 5:33-37) was not that we should never take an oath but that all of our speech should be honest, genuine, true, and trustworthy – a yes that means yes and a no that means no. Jesus says that in the kingdom we are obliged to tell the truth in all circumstances, The kingdom does not run on deception. It simply will not. (110-111)

There are many issues to be considered in this election year, I get that, but if we can’t nail down the “tell the truth” issue can people who believe in another Kingdom and have allegiance to the King of all Kings put their energy and hope behind a candidate who needs to be fact-checked?

Can we simultaneously support a kingdom trafficking in untruth while claiming to live in a Kingdom based on Jesus Christ?

Honestly, I’m willing to give the two candidates the benefit of the doubt. There is a difference in lying and just being wrong. Maybe they approximated, maybe they guessed, or maybe they had bad information. However the process of fact checking has been around for a while. But there are paid staff who help the candidates prepare, who know what issues will be brought out and what statistics and data need to be presented at the debate. Furthermore people have Google, they have sources to research what is being said – to guestimate something knowing you’re going to be proven false is an adventure in untruth. It is not an unavoidable circumstance.

I’m not certain that followers of Jesus can go through the Facebook blasting and debate-with-friends-and-neighbors energy over two people who can’t seem to simply tell the truth when they know the truth of their words will be tested later at length.

Perhaps I’m alone in this one, though.  May we know the truth, and let the truth set us free.