It was late.
The knock on the door of my hotel suite interrupted my settling in after the long day. We were with the church youth group at the annual big youth gathering with the big number results hoped for at the end. It was just beginning. I was already tired and a little frustrated. I answered the knock.
It was one of the college age volunteers who was to help with the sixth to eighth grade age boys. The look on his face said he was troubled. I asked if everything was all right with his group of kids. Everything was fine, he told me. Then he asked, “That story the preacher told, do you think it’s true?”
Ah yes! The preacher’s miracle story. It was the key to my frustration that night. Youth gatherings are plagued by the visiting evangelist. They are usually hired because of their track record of bringing in the numbers of conversions or “pledges of faith.” They get them in some manipulative way. One way is by telling stories about young new drivers or young cancer patients or young accident victims who died after claiming Jesus as their Savior. That is the worst manipulation tactic I know. Another is the miracle story. This one is of the incredible type that includes the following structure. An armed mob decides to run the evangelists out of a village in some country of the Global South – this time it was somewhere in Africa. Someone with a powerful presence intercedes (this time a little old grandma). The armed toughs dropped their clubs (or whatever) and go away. The hook of the story is where the villagers that do speak to the evangelists have no idea who the intercessor was. It is a tale designed to produce chills and wonderment. Such feelings are evidence that it must be true. I answered the question.
“No. I don’t believe it is true.” I said. He nodded and went to his room. I was glad he asked. I did not care if he told any one, “Pastor Don says it’s not true.” Simply because it wasn’t true. I am reminded by Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” I think telling lies to manipulate others into any action, even “making a decision for Jesus,” is wrong. The text quoted above is a warning for those who do that. I do not tolerate lying evangelists.
Lying evangelistic charlatans are the primary reason so many church people fall for the lies of leaders like the President of the United States. Even when people know they are being lied to, they will shrug it off and say, “the other side lies too.” Moral equivalency is based in lying. It is a logically false statement. When a person claims someone is lying the act of claiming another lie has been told (as in “well, what about…”) does not negate the falsehood described by the prior claim. All that is being said here is, “Yes, I know. And I don’t care.” It is similar to the claim a friend made about the Left Behind series. “I know it is radical right wing propaganda. But, if someone is saved because of it, what does it matter eternally?” Why didn’t Jesus think of that? “By lying lips you shall be saved.” Actually I believe he said freedom came with the truth (John 8:32).
The belief in a lie is also wrapped up in the identities people wish to claim for themselves. A person may believe an untruth because they wish to be accepted by others or even rejected by others as a contrarian. A human person may believe a demonstrated untruth because they wish to be faithful, and seen by others as faithful, to a cause whether that cause is religious, culturally traditional, philosophical, or secular is immaterial to the situation. Still a small group of people believe lies in order to maintain the insularity of the group. Often challenged with demonstrable truth as in science or textual analysis or logic such persons resort to tactics like moral equivalency, irrelevancies, ridicule, accusation, and then ultimately violence.
The means of overcoming a lie is to offer unvarnished fact in its’ face. I am reminded of the time two political candidates wrangled over the meaning of the first amendment to the United States Constitution. The debate ended when one candidate read the text of the document out loud in front of an audience to his opponent. The debate ended even though the opponent kept wanting to clarify that the actual text was being read.
Why do they believe lies? It surprises us too often that it isn’t because of ignorance of facts. It is often because of a desired identity on the part of the believer of the lie. It is more often because of a desired goal that can be reached by using a lie. And most commonly it is because the person or group have been conditioned through long habit that the truth or fact does not matter. These are the reasons great evils triumph for a short time.