The Truth About Lying

While Brian Williams has been skewered for falsely recounting a story about being in a helicopter hit by ground fire in Iraq in 2003, the disgraced NBC News anchor is certainly not modern culture’s only poster child for lying. Tragically, the examples are legion.

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• Not long after Williams apologized and was suspended, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald admitted that he lied about serving in the special operations forces—a claim he had made to a homeless veteran. According to reports, McDonald graduated from Ranger School but never actually served in a Ranger battalion or any other special operations unit.

• About the same time, a scathing study by the U.S. Army War College reported that Army officers routinely lie. Dishonesty and deception” are widespread, the study showed.

• As opening day for the 2015 Major League baseball season draws near, one of the biggest clouds ever hovers over New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. After defiantly denying in public that he had used banned performance-enhancing substances, baseball’s highest paid player reportedly told federal drug agents and prosecutors behind closed doors that he had indeed used steroids. Rodriguez received immunity from prosecution in exchange for confessing. His admission rang familiar to when Mark McGwire came clean five years ago. McGwire had previously misled Congress about his steroid use, but in the end, he acknowledged he had used the drugs, even as he eclipsed baseball’s single season home run record in 1998 while playing with the St. Louis Cardinals.

• Without question, one of the biggest perpetrators of falsehood has been former professional cycling icon Lance Armstrong. Viewed as larger than life, he inspired the nation by overcoming cancer that developed after the second of his eventual seven Tour de France championships. But his career was constantly engulfed in controversy, as doping accusations swirled around him. Like Rodriguez and McGwire, Armstrong fiercely defended his innocence, only to crash and burn when he finally divulged that he had been telling “one big lie that I repeated a lot of times.” Steroids stripped him of all seven Tour titles, and Armstrong was banned from cycling.

• The financial world was rocked in December 2008 when Bernard Madoff ’s Ponzi scheme—the biggest in history—collapsed, victimizing thousands worldwide. One author later portrayed the imprisoned stockbroker as the “wizard of lies.”

• Brian Williams may be the latest journalist to be discredited for twisting the truth, but back in 1980 Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke drew outrage when she fabricated a heart-wrenching tale about “Jimmy.” Cooke wrote that the 8-year-old boy had fallen prey to a mushrooming heroin trade throughout D.C.’s impoverished neighborhoods. After admitting that the majority of her reporting was false—and that Jimmy was a fictitious character—Cooke resigned, and the Pulitzer Prize she had been awarded was returned.

• Politicians are often linked with lying. In January 1998, President Bill Clinton famously told the country, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Seventeen years later, David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s campaign advisor in 2008 and 2012, claimed in his book Believer that candidate Obama lied about his views on gay marriage to get elected to his first term. And one of the most infamous lies of the last century was “I’m not a crook.” Those words of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal still echo across time in the American psyche, and the effects of that lie linger as cynicism toward our elected officials.

While it’s easy to identify the lies of public figures—and collectively point fingers—could the lying tendencies of our cultural icons and political leaders really just be a reflection of us? The book The Day America Told the Truth would certainly indicate that. According to the book: 91 percent of Americans admitted they lie regularly; 86 percent admitted lying to their parents; 75 percent admitted lying to their friends; and 69 percent of Americans admitted they lie to their spouse.

A 2002 University of Massachusetts study found that 60 percent of people lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two to three lies. And, according to a 2004 Reader’s Digest poll, 93 percent of Americans reported being dishonest at work or school, and 96 percent reported lying to close family or friends.

What can one conclude? Christian ethicists, commentators and counselors told Decision that America is suffering from an epidemic of lying. Janet Parshall, who has been broadcasting from the nation’s capital for more than 20 years, believes America has morally acquiesced and allowed the tsunami of postmodernism to overpower its society and worldview.

“One of the marks of the postmodern era is that we no longer believe in a transcendent, moral code of absolutes of what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Parshall, whose latest book is Buyer Beware; Finding Truth in the Marketplace of Ideas. “When we fall out of love with the truth, we don’t care about it any more.”

The result, Parshall said, is a plunge toward moral relativism that’s characterized by the practice of situation ethics. “Any means whatsoever is justifiable as long as I get to my desired end,” she explained. “So, if my goal is X, and I have to kind of walk around the truth and twist it and bend it a little, that’s OK as long as it gets me to the goal that I want. We’re doing what’s right in our own eyes, unfortunately.”

Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters, said that with situation ethics, certain things are no longer always wrong, depending on the context. “One of the first casualties with that ethic is going to be truth,” said Johnson, who previously taught ethics before serving as president of Criswell College.

“When the ends justify the means, it creates a climate where lying becomes the norm,” added June Hunt, a leading biblical counselor and founder of Hope for the Heart.

And lying leaves victims in its destructive wake. “Many Americans are living under the illusion that lying causes no victims,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “When, in fact, lying has victims, starting with the conscience and the integrity of the liar himself or herself. We must realize what lying does to one’s own soul.”

Deep inside the darkened soul, myriad rationalizations for lying are found. The need to look better than we are, and thereby to impress and feel accepted by others. The need to get a promotion or better job, therefore manipulating the truth in order to succeed. The need for self-protection to escape punishment and guilt. The list is endless.

“Deep within our hearts, God has placed three inner needs—the need for love, significance and security,” explained Hunt. “Consequently, when we lie to others, typically we’re trying to get one of these inner needs met … illegitimately.”

Hunt emphasized that the problem goes much deeper and that Americans didn’t create the art of lying, a sentiment echoed by the other three Christian experts interviewed for this article. “Lying originated with Satan, who Jesus called ‘the father of lies’ in John 8:44,” Hunt said.

Parshall added: “Ever since we walked out of the Garden of Eden, culture at large has been permeated by an acceptance of lying. What makes the 21st century different is that with the advent of a 24/7 news cycle and being so globally interconnected, lies are more often repeated and more easily exposed than they’ve ever been before.”

So, what’s the hope then? The cross and the Gospel, the four leaders agreed.

“We must be honest about our sin,” Johnson said. “We must not cover our sin but own up to it, confess it and repent from it. We must believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s the truth, and there’s forgiveness and freedom in that.”

Therefore, it’s incumbent upon the church to herald the glorious and powerful message of Jesus, who said of Himself in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (NKJV).

“Since Jesus lives within every authentic Christian, we are called to reflect His character,” Hunt explained. “We will never develop integrity if we live with a lifestyle of lying, deceit and hypocrisy. If we want to attract others to Christ, we must go to war and fight to be a person of total integrity. We must become like Him.”

Moore said Christians must exhibit truth-telling, shedding God’s light in every nook and cranny of darkness. “It’s certainly bleak out there, but no bleaker than any other time in history,” he said. “The answer to that dilemma is for believers to model what it means to be truth-tellers, which means to be prophetic. We often think of that in terms of telling the future, and sometimes the Bible includes that. But being prophetic means to speak truthfully with a word from God in all situations.”

The challenge of Christians, Parshall said, is to help people fall in love with Jesus and to demonstrate that love by consistently spending time in His Word and faithfully being obedient to it.

“When I love Christ, the natural extension of my life will be to replicate what He has told me in His Word,” she said. “The Scriptures say that ‘out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.’ If God’s truth is written on the tablets of our heart, then what comes out is going to be, in fact, truth.”

So when Parshall sits before the microphone, before she hits the “on” button, she always prays Psalms 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (NKJV). D 2015 BGEA