Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lying for Jesus . . . What Should We Do?

This logo at the right is taken from a documentary by evolutionists regarding the pro-creationists. However, I'm talking about something altogether different.

I've spoken about this before, but it is the culture within evangelicalism, (while evangelicalism stands strong against sin in the non-believer, in the culture wars) we are very tolerate of lying . . . if that lying is FOR JESUS. This time I am asking the honest question about how do WE respond or what do we do about it . . . if anything? Before I wrote about it to point the problem out (as if I needed to) but now I want to think about how we should respond.

The problem: I’ve been an active member in about 8 local churches over the years (only switching churches when we have moved). Each church seems to have one or more of what I call the SS (super spiritual) people. These people usually have a very extroverted personality. They are usually in some level of attention (I won’t say “leadership” because it can be a singer, music director, etc) where they are up-front most Sundays. Oddly, in the cases I’ve observed, it has never been the pastor (hopefully because they have their lives together much better). However, I do believe that most of the media pastors are of this SS type.

The SS person dominates the prayer chain with dramatic requests. If they have nothing local to pray about they will pray for distant relatives or people they know in other cities with cancer, demonic attacks etc. If there is ever an opportunity for someone to speak out, share a testimony, song, prayer request in front the congregation, the SS person are usually the first to do so.

They also carry a perpetual smile. They speak constantly of God doing this or that in their every day lives . . . and, this is where I believe the lying comes in, they share amazing stories of miracles.

The dangerous thing in these situations is that these SS people are very attractive in the evangelical church. They are (using a high school term) the most “popular” of the church people. They tend to have a following of church people looking up to them as Christian heroes and the example of what it means to be “spiritual.” If the SS person leads a Sunday school class or Bible study, it is the most attended one in the church.

I am most aware of the embellishments or lies in the medical realm because I work in medicine. But if I were an auto mechanic, I would probably raise my eyebrows when they tell a story of how their car was running funny for a week. They took the car to the mechanic and the mechanic found a bird’s nest with four (live) babies inside one of the cylinders. They then explain that God taught them an important message from that experience (you can only imagine).

However, medical-miracle sharing is far more common within the church and that’s why I think I’m aware of it more. I think it relates back to Dualism, where they only see God working in physical healing via supernatural means.

This Sunday I heard a story that makes no sense medically (like the live baby birds living in a running engine cylinder). Now I’m not talking about innocent misunderstandings by the lay person (because a lot of what we talk about in medicine is so complicated). Nor am I throwing doubt on a claim to a medical miracle . . . although I think most of them are lies. But I’m talking about serious embellishments about the details.

The SS people tell these stories that make no sense to anyone who works in the medical field every day. Things like, “My cousin had the type of tonsillitis that was so severe that only one doctor in the world knows about and they had to fly him in from Paris, France to see him in the hospital.” That’s the kind of lying I’m talking about.

So after I heard this nonsensical story, I wanted to talk to the person to try and learn more. Not in a hateful, confrontational way. But in a smiling, “please tell me more” way. I hope to push the details to the point that their stories start to entrap them and that they think twice about lying so blatantly in the future. But I could not link up with the perpetrator, but hope to soon.

But I had a conversation with my wife later. She is a good person for me to use as a sounding board. She is normal. I am not. She makes up the 99% of evangelicals . . . I am a misfit or outcast.

As I relayed the story to Denise (and she too works in medicine) she deeply frowned on me making a deal about it. She, as most Christians would, sees me as being judgmental and making an issue where there is not one. Honestly, she sees me a bit “jerky” in these situations. I don’t mean to be a jerk . . . I just have philosophical concerns.

But I ask myself a much bigger question. If we claim to represent the one, true God and truth in general, why are we so very tolerant to lies among ourselves . . . as long a the lies put God in a good favor (doing miracles)? This even relates back to the image I used at the top of the page. The atheists mock Christianity for lying about creationism. Of course some of this is just bad blood in the culture wars (and the atheists may themselves be embellishing) however, in my humble opinion, I’ve seen the Institute of Creation Research bending truth to its breaking point and same with Ken Ham. But if we tolerate lying among ourselves . . . do we eventually (or have we already) stop living in reality?

But back to the local church and the SS people. As I sit back and watch them gather a cloud of admirers within the church, do I just stand by and smile? Denise thinks I should, as long as that person is bringing glory to God (but is lying bringing glory to the God of truth?)

My present position is to do what I tried to do Sunday. When I sense a very strong possibility that they are embellishing or lying for Jesus, I want to talk to them . . . in a friendly way. I will just push their stories, gently, to the breaking point, where their lies have to either grow or they back down. “Who was this French doctor they flew in . . . I may have heard of him?” would be the kind of question I would ask.

I don’t like lying for Jesus. I used to do it all the time when I was an evangelical. Sure, I still lie and embellish things, especially when I am worked up emotionally about it. “That guy was going at least a hundred miles an hour when he passed me and almost blew my bike off the road!” Okay, maybe he was doing 50. So I am certainly not above lying when I can benefit from it personally (I am ashamed to say). I am also very tolerant to the sins of others, whores, drug addicts, Democrats (pun intended—I did vote for Obama) especially when they know that they are in sin. For them I have great compassion. But the one who claims to be spiritual, but lies all the time, for those I don’t have much patience.

My spiritual heroes in the churches are like the single moms (whose spiritual husbands ran off with his secretary) working two jobs and a kid with ADD and are faithful to God . . . but they are never attention seekers. So we can pray for SS's distant relative because they have a sick dog and is expecting a miracle but the single mom's child, who is recently diagnosed with diabetes is never mentioned. She's my hero . . . as is the old guy, praying every day alone in his house, helping widows all over the place, working so hard he is about to collapse . . . but we never hear a peep out of him.


Budster said...

I'm with you 100% on this. The lies and exaggerations drive me crazy. I got into a big argument with a friend about a faith healer in Africa who supposedly raised someone from the dead. She believed it...then added, "even if it's not true, thousands of people have accepted Christ because they heard the story." I was stunned. It's OK to lie to people to get them to accept Christ?? If we have to do that, our faith isn't worth anything.

Anonymous said...

..."even if it's not true, thousands of people have accepted Christ because they heard the story." -- Budster

That is word-for-word what Mike Warnke's fanboys said in his defense after Cornerstone exposed him as a complete fraud.

Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

It is my experience that there is tremendous social pressure, within the church, to believe everything that "puts Jesus in a positive light." But what about truth? If truth really doesn't matter, then I think I prefer to be a pantheist. It would make my moral choices much easier.

Scott in Boston said...

HUG, I was going to cite the Mike Warnke case, too...but was too tired when I first read this to respond.

I agree, Mike...this "accommodation of falsehood" really rubs me wrong, too...after all, even Paul wrote that if Christ is not risen, then we are most miserable among all people (for believing a lie, I assume is the implication)...would some Christians say, "Oh, but the story of the crucifixion & resurrection is so beautiful, even if he didn't rise from the dead, I'd still be a Christian." ??? That's where that kind of logic leads.

I've often felt that if I hadn't become a Christian when I was a teenager, I might have become too jaded & distrustful as an adult...certainly after exposure to all the "christian crap" on the airwaves, cable, internet, etc....AND in many local churches!

MJ said...

Scott, I agree with:
"I've often felt that if I hadn't become a Christian when I was a teenager, I might have become too jaded & distrustful as an adult...certainly after exposure to all the "christian crap" on the airwaves, cable, internet, etc....AND in many local churches!"

Don Hendricks said...

Ran across a Christian site claiming people are having visitations from the Angel Gabriel who appears in their Truck or Car and says, My lips are on the horn!, and then dissapear. Now this strikes me as either mass hysteria, or downright bandwagon lies to get attention.

Anonymous said...

This is good. How many of those lies I have participated in. *wince, wince* And how many I have believed, swallowing doubts because, hey, God is getting glorified...right?

I wanted to add a flipside to the "believe everything that puts Jesus in a positive light" dynamic, and that is when things happen that DON'T put Jesus in a positive light...such as when things happen to His followers that aren't so pretty, things that they did, such as sexual abuse, etc... We tend to have that "cover it up and slap a smile on top, now it's fixed" mentality, as we've all talked about before, and I think it's born of the very same thing that makes us cover up lies as long as they're "glorifying God."

Anonymous said...

Ran across a Christian site claiming people are having visitations from the Angel Gabriel who appears in their Truck or Car and says, My lips are on the horn!, and then dissapear. -- Don Hendricks

This is a known urban legend, a sub-type of The Vanishing Hitchhiker called "Jesus on the Road". It usually gets attributed to little-used country roads, though locally it's been applied to one stretch of a major freeway (SR22 through Garden Grove).

I first heard of it in a cheezy Christian Bookstore in North Hollywood circa 1978; there the location was a lonely country road in Norway or Sweden, and the "news report" ended with how drivers are now barreling through that stretch without stopping for anything.

Then in the early Eighties, Prof. Brunvand's book The Vanishing Hitchhiker related it as an urban legend. Since then, "Jesus on the Road" has appeared on other sites under "Christian Urban Legends", and Christians are known to be extremely gullible when you push the right buttons.

The version you related is a typical "Jesus on the Road": Mystery hitcher gets aboard, rides for a while, then reveals himself as a supernatural being uttering Words of Prophecy (usually Ye Ende Is Nighye) just before bamfing out.

-- Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

Interesting HUG. I have never heard that precise story before.

There are two question raised for me, the latter more important than the former.

The first question is why are we so vulnerable to these poorly supported stories. But then, every group of people save the most logical (eg. The Great Randi) seems to buy into these.

But the more disturbing thing for me is that we Christians are not allowed to question these stories without looking "unspiritual" So while the majority of church people wouldn't be telling these strange stories, they would be upset that you would question those christians who do. But it seems like the role of the Church is to seek truth . . . thus to question everything.

Scott in Boston said...

I first heard the "Vanishing Hitchhiker" tale in a sermon in Skandia, MI, in the early 80's as a closing anecdote to a sermon. Because the sermon giver was not the main "ruling pastor," but a much more humble man I really trusted, and since he cited it as from a newspaper article, I believed it with delight--yes, and I really WANTED to believe it...and in turn, told others. In this version, the hitchhiker was a young man, dressed all in white, who, shortly after the car resumed its journey, began speaking of the second coming of Jesus. Then after a period of silence, the driver would look behind him to the back seat where the passenger had been seated, only to find an empty seat--with the safety belt loosely lying there--buckled. The alleged sources, according to the article, were toll takers along the New York Thruway, who had heard countless astonished motorists relate the same story with great frequency. Only years later did a friend tell me that it was an UL. What a shame. Such a cool story. But if that ever really had happened, I think we would also have heard of some car crashes, too...but maybe that's another variation on this well-crafted version...