Posted in theology

There’s another way to bear false witness

By Elizabeth Prata

Social media is great! I like it. You can see how friends and family who live far away are doing. I enjoy seeing their kids get older as photos are posted year after year. We can celebrate each other’s accomplishments. People share tips and recommendations. People encourage each other. We become aware of needs we can fulfill.

But one thing I do not like about social media is the tendency for people to pass along gossip from comments and to circulate false information from poorly researched ‘news’ sites. People do that a lot.

Since the advent of the internet, there has been opportunity for people without credentials or training to call themselves journalists. Organizations write the news but they are really just anonymous gossipmongers. If I’m in a charitable mood I’d say it’s because these less than credible organizations are simply inexperienced with how to gather news properly, or they are inexperienced at how to write news well.

More often, these less than credible news organizations actually have an agenda. It’s that they want to influence you. They want to pollute the public square with twisted facts, spread misinformation, or confuse you.

There is a reason these people and organizations have an agenda of spreading false news. A populace needs solid information they can trust for several reasons. One is to have accurate information so they can be a good citizen. They need to trust the people they elect and in order to elect people to civil service we need credible information about them. We also need good information in general to be a good citizen. Trying to live our lives but never trusting the information or the people we live with in our spheres creates confusion then anger, angst, and eventually defeat and retreat from public life, saying “What’s the use?” Tyrants arise out of an apathetic citizenry. A lot of bad is done behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms.

During wartime, the Propaganda ministry was booming. There is a reason why. Flooding the culture with false and/or confusing information does our head in. Wars are won with guns, but also with words. Currently, the war has merely shifted to peacetime. Though guns may be absent, never doubt that propaganda under the guise of news” is part of an ongoing campaign to win power. Christians should be careful not to participate in it.

Christians bear a special responsibility not to fall into the trap of disseminating bad information and helping people with less than credible bad motives pollute the civic arena. We are supposed to be better than that. Jesus said,

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wary as serpents, and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16).

I love this comment on the Matthew 10:16 verse from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary. It’s excellent:

'be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves'—Wonderful combination this! Alone, the wisdom of the serpent is mere cunning, and the harmlessness of the dove little better than weakness: but in combination, the wisdom of the serpent would save them from unnecessary exposure to danger; the harmlessness of the dove, from sinful expedients to escape it. In the apostolic age of Christianity, how harmoniously were these qualities displayed! Instead of the fanatical thirst for martyrdom, to which a later age gave birth, there was a manly combination of unflinching zeal and calm discretion, before which nothing was able to stand.

Further, we are supposed to be in the world, NOT of the world. This same principle stands for us as social citizens IN the world. Passing along unsourced and poorly written news or memes is being a person OF the world. Just because a news article tickles your fancy or aligns with your presuppositions or opinions, does not mean you should pass it along.

People who constantly circulate this kind of stuff remind me of the verse “For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires,2 Timothy 4:3, where they don’t want (or don’t know how, to be charitable) to do the hard work of critical thinking, analysis, or evaluation, but instead just gravitate to news articles that make them feel good, confirm their own notions, or satisfy some kind of lust of the flesh.

If a Christian is constantly promoting news that’s based on opinion or at the least is non-credible, it’s a sure bet she’s also gravitating to less than credible Bible Studies that rely on emotion and opinion, too.

Christian ladies, we need to be more thoughtful in evaluating information. We need to be careful before we press ‘send’. We are not supposed to bear false witness. We’re not to be passing along unfounded news, unsourced gossip, and unfactual information is in a sense bearing false witness against our neighbor.

So, to the practical part of this post. How are we to test if the news we circulate is factual? I was a journalist who worked for newspapers for 6 years. I was selected to participate in Bloomberg News Training. The Society of Professional Journalists/Bloomberg News “Training On The Go”. TOTG was a journalist training program led by leading national journalists from a variety of media. Participation depended upon completing an application and invitations to selected participants were extended to a few chosen applicants. I was also a three-time New England Newspapers Award winner, twice for writing and once for general excellence in advertising. I’m not saying this to boast- I desire the reader to know I have been trained and I’m credible to say these things. I am not a hypocrite speaking out of two sides of my mouth. These concepts are dear to me.

Here is a chart I found helpful.

We are called to be in the world and in so doing we must be the best Christians we can be. Good citizens, models of propriety and honor. Critical thinkers, wise but harmless. If a Christian can’t evaluate a secular piece of trash writing, how will she evaluate a nuanced doctrine from the Bible? If people who twist the Bible are called “unstable” (2 Peter 3:16), how unstable is a believer who passes along twisted worldly facts? That same verse calls such people ignorant. Yet believers are called to be wise.

The Bible says in Proverbs 12:18, There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing. On social media, pressing send without proper vetting of the information is speaking rashly.

Friends, before you press send, THINK (of your neighbor). EVALUATE (the information). ASSESS (whether to pass it along). Be wise and harmless.

Posted in discernment, theology

There’s such a thing as fake [Christian] news

By Elizabeth Prata

Introduction

We hear a lot these days from our President about ‘fake news.’ Wikipedia defines this new term fake news as,

Fake news or junk news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media

I’m sure you’ve all seen examples of this. Fake news is news that the mainstream media publishes which turns out to have been twisted or are simply untrue.

Well, there’s fake news in the Christian world too. Sometimes it happens due to ignorance. Not that the person passing it on is an ignorant person, but is perhaps ignorant of the scriptures. Sometimes it happens because someone is lazy and doesn’t dig, research, or think it through. Sometimes it’s carelessness. We see examples of the carelessness aspect via Jess Pickowitz’s eye-opening examples in her series called, “Meme Heresies.” We women tend to pass along the beautiful scripture quotations on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram etc., but many of these contain heresies of their own, as Jess points out. She says,

#MemeHeresies is an effort to correct heresy with biblical truth and encourage women to reflect on the theological implications of what we’re sharing in the fast-paced world of social media.

Example of Fake Christian news

Well as I said, it happens in the Christian blogosphere media too. In 2007, John Piper wrote an article called,

The Morning I Heard the Voice of God

It began,

Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o’clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.

The essay continued in this vein, with Piper extolling all the virtues and wonders of hearing the voice of God. It wasn’t until near the end of his essay that the punchline became evident, Piper was writing about hearing the voice of God via his own scripture reading that day. The article was actually a rebuttal to an article that had appeared in Christianity Today that week written by an ‘anonymous middle-aged professor of theology’ at a ‘well-known university’ and whose name was ‘on the masthead of CT’. Anonymous had written that he had actually heard the voice of God and it had been specific. He was commanded to give all the royalties of his book to a certain needy student.

Piper’s article was a rebuttal against this kind of extra-biblical communication. (Though Piper certainly doesn’t let us down. In typical Piper fashion he fails to state outright that extra-biblical revelation isn’t true because it destroys the sufficiency of scripture, but wishily-washingly says that ‘when’ it happens it should not supersede our joy in His written word…)

Anyway, Piper stated,

I grieve at what is being communicated here. The great need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his word personally and transformingly in Scripture. … It has increased my love for the Bible as God’s very word, because it was through the Bible that I heard these divine words and through the Bible I have experiences like this almost every day. The very God of the universe speaks on every page into my mind — and your mind.

Yet the person/s writing at a blog called New Calvinist, a Dr. ES Williams and friends, apparently did not read to the end of the article or missed the punchline. He spent a long essay “debunking” Piper’s stance, a stance Piper didn’t even hold. However, you as a reader would not know that unless you took the time to also read Piper’s original essay the Anonymous Professor was contending against.

Williams’ essay was a thorough and blow-by-blow takedown of Piper’s hearing from God stance that seemed legitimate because it contained scripture. And also because it was written in elevated language.

Fake Christian news exists, so how do we practice discernment and get wise against Christian fake news?

Debunking Fake Christian News

1. It seems to not need saying, but it does: when you read Christian blogs or news sites, have your Bible handy. Or have a Bible tab open on your screen. Look up the scriptures used in the article and determine if they are the right address, the full scripture, and used in context. Many times, one or all of these is incorrect. I always double check my own scriptures when I write, because a numerical typo in a scripture address will bring you to a completely different scripture. And typis ar eazsy to make, lol.

For an example of a scripture used out of context, in a book I’m reading now, the scripture referenced is Matthew 18:20 ‘where two or more are gathered.’ The verse is used to buttress the author’s point that wherever two or three are gathered, the Holy Spirit and/or Jesus is there with them. Yet that is not the point of the scripture. It’s about church discipline.

One off-reference is not a reason to throw away an entire book, but it’s the start of a discernment path. If an author uses one scripture out of context or to make a wrong point, what else might there be in the book/article/pamphlet etc? Discernment is usually a gathering of a preponderance of evidence, weighed against the Scriptures, and used in a prayed-for wisdom.

2. If an article is mentioned in your news story or blog essay, then go ahead and read the original article the author is quoting. Context is important in studying the scriptures, and it’s important in judging Christian news, too.

3. Look up the author by simply googling his or her name, see what comes up. Read reviews of your author on Amazon or Goodreads, I usually look at the 3-star ones. The middle of the road reviews tend to be more even-keeled with credible pros and cons.

4. Look up who the author pals around with. Is his book recommended by credible authors, or non-credible ones? If you look on the back of a book, or at the blogger’s blog roll, you’ll see and understand a lot of where this author is coming from by whose names are there.

5. You can read the “About” page of the author/s blog or his bio at Amazon or wherever. You can also do the same with a Christian News Outlet author’s hyperlinked name. When the author page of the news piece you’re reading comes up with a lot of headlines like “So-and-So exposed!” or ” You won’t believe…” then you know they like to use hyperbole to make their case or to entice readers. The point should be the glory of God and the deepening understanding of the reader of our Savior, not clickbait.

I’m sure you can think of many other ways to spot and combat fake Christian news. The biggest thing is to stay in the Word. Studying the real thing always reveals the fake.

real fake

Posted in news, theology

Please don’t repeat fake news, here’s how to spot fake news

I was a journalist for over 6 years, working for weeklies and dailies. I can attest to the fact that most newspapers have an obvious liberal slant. They don’t see it, and they would deny it.

Add to the mix widespread social media and unscrupulous liberals who really do stop at nothing to push forward their talking points. I can attest to the fact that the liberal worldview, which is satan’s, has minions that promote or engage in violence, lie, cheat, and generally do anything to ensure both the squashing of the Christian worldview and to push forward the liberal world view. We’ve seen that on television broadcast news. It’s the same in newspapers. I knew some newspapers that just made up stuff. I wonder how they justified it.

Sadly, there are few sources for a conservative to turn to receive unbiased news with no agenda behind it. We can always ready past news and future news in the Bible, I guess!! LOL.

If we want to be responsible citizens of God’s Kingdom, we don’t want to perpetuate lies, either. We need to engage in the world, but responsibly.

Facebook seems largely a woman’s domain. Many men on that particular social media are strong witnesses for Christ, but they can also fall prey to a liberal trap.  A lot of these fake news items arise from Facebook and then get pushed into other mediums. Please sisters, don’t forward or like news posts that are false. We can’t fall into the trap of fake news. Before you share or tweet or like or forward or message, lol, stop a second and think. We can’t be perpetuating lies. Here is a helpful schematic to run through a thought process to see if the news item is true or false.

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. (Proverbs 26:4)

fake news

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

The worst example of fake news

There is a concern with #fakenews these days. It’s news that is written to be deliberately misleading, biased, or circulated knowingly with purposes to outrage or confuse. This isn’t new. The old Soviet Union Communists of the 1950s were great at propaganda, which is what fake news used to be called. They were masters at spreading disinformation.

The Yellow Journalism age of the US in the late 1800s was another era of patently fake news, sensationalized simply to sell more papers, protect reputations, or to build reputations. (“Puff Graham“)

Fake news has been with us a long time. I can point to a very early example. Certainly the worst:

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15).

Fake news has been with us since forever. It has certainly been useful to the lost, greedy, and craven. Isn’t it wonderful to know that there is one source to which you can go that will always be reporting the truth?

bible with glasses 2