Liar Liar Pants on Fire
After a 6 month hiatus I am jumping back into the blogosphere. This is mostly to challenge myself to think critically and hopefully (eventually) theologically. Be sure to subscribe (there's a form on the right side of the page) and join in the fun.
In case you've been living under a rock for the last two weeks, there has been a big to-do over NBC's golden boy Brian Williams. It seems that a recent Stars and Stripes article called into question claims that Mr. Williams was aboard a US Army helicopter that was shot down while by an enemy RPG. All of this occurred while Mr. Williams was covering the war in Iraq for NBC news. The story, like many fishing tales you might hear or even tell, has grown over time from small arms fire to being hit by an RPG. In truth a helicopter was shot down by an RPG with a slight change from Mr. Williams' account: he was not on that particular helicopter. Liar liar pants on fire!
It is easy for many of us to understand that right? There was that time as a kid I went to the gun range with my dad and we were shot at. Well wait a second, now that I really think about it there was a guy two bays down from us firing a rifle so I guess he could have been firing at me right?
Or how about that time I met famous actor Danny Glover. It was on a flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. I had been sick for a week, in and out of the hospital with food poisoning, and when I finally was able to get a flight home Danny and I were row mates on the four-hour ride home. Well, hang on, hindsight is telling me that I was back in the coach section of coach (where you get to help push the plane during taxi) and Danny was up in first class sipping champagne and eating chocolate covered strawberries. Oops. A small oversight on my behalf. No big deal right?
While my embellished stories from my youth and business trip escapades are probably harmless, there is a great deal of harm that can come from a person with the trust of viewers and internet readers misusing that trust to boost their own ego or status as a bad ass journalist who isn't afraid to pick up a weapon and take on Al Qaeda all by himself. Now the internet blogosphere is digging deeper and deeper into Mr. Williams's past to see if he embellished about any other events where his reporting played a key role in the manner that say the US government would respond to a natural disaster.
People who have been given the trust of the public have a responsibility to guard that trust, protect it, and ensure that in all they do or say (especially in regards to their given profession) their words and actions reflect the trust placed in them. In this light, clergy are held to this same standard. It is easy to think of our local pastors to be saints of honesty and integrity but there are times where it maybe easy and convenient to stretch the truth, change the tiniest detail from their last appointment, or to even embellish their graduate school achievements. John Adams said, "facts are stubborn things", and the same is true about losing the public's trust; once you lose it that trust the public or even the most loyal members of your congregation will stubbornly refuse to let you regain that trust.
In the age of the internet this is even more dangerous for professional clergy than ever. Every sermon, blog post, or book can be scrutinized to the smallest of details (in most cases look for where the esteemed pastor can fall). That mission trip where you carried 50 50 lb. bags of concrete mix up a Guatemalan hillside can be verified quickly by pictures and shared journal entries from others on the trips. That is exactly what happened with Mr. Williams. Someone who was in country, at the actual crash site, called BS publicly and now here we are talking about it a decade later, and probably decades to the future. There will be those who will never trust Mr. Williams again, the same way there are those who will never trust Mark Driscoll again for padding his book sale numbers, a lie of commission. Whether you are padding your professional resume, your New York Times Bestseller ranking, or site sats being called for BS publicly can be devastating.
Integrity in any profession is what keeps your professional reputation from crumbling into pieces, leaving you like the other version of Rob Lowe that you don't want to be. Preachers beware, Jesus was scrutinized for everything he preached and there Google was nowhere to be found 2000 years ago. We are preaching in an age where everyone listening has not only the ability to go back and check up on what we have said, in many cases that fact checking can occur in real-time.
We all want our sermons to be captivating with metaphors and stories that grab our audience and prevent them from falling asleep two minutes in. We all want our congregations to think that we are on the cutting edge, that we are willing to do anything (and that we have done everything) in our ministry. We all want to look like a bad ass in our Star Wars robes while preaching the word of God. To that we often tell fishing tales or stretch the truth just a bit to ensure that we get our point across. The problem though, just like Jax finds out the hard was when leading SAMCRO, if you are not honest upfront that small lie can snowball out of control to the point that collateral damage you never foresaw is popping up at every corner.