December 12, 2016
“So you are a king?” the Roman governor asked Jesus the day he died. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus responded. And Pilate said, “What is truth?” Truth seems to be in short supply in our world today, even as many people still cling to mistaken convictions and conspiracy theories that are decades old.
- President Obama wasn’t born in the US.
- Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone (or possibly at all).
- Princess Diana was deliberately killed.
- President Roosevelt knew that the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor.
- Elvis never really died.
- The American government staged the 9/11 attacks.
- The 1969 Apollo moon landing didn’t happen.
- Global warming is a hoax.
News can be fake or real, depending on what you choose to believe. Fake news reached a new level this fall, culminating on Saturday, December 3, when Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old man from North Carolina, allegedly walked into the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington D.C. He pointed an assault rifle at an employee and then fired one or more shots.
Evidently, Maddison came to the restaurant in order to investigate a false election-related conspiracy theory spread online that linked the Comet Ping Pong and Hillary Clinton to a child sex ring.
And just this past Saturday, President-elect Trump tweeted, “Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are ridiculous & untrue – FAKE NEWS!”
Confused? I am. For decades, supermarket tabloids have enticed us to buy magazines and newspapers with spectacular headlines and ludicrous stories while standing in line at the check-out counters. Fake news is much more insidious than real news, as alternate online news sources fabricate stories and spread misinformation in order to mislead and/or make a quick buck when others click on the story.
BuzzFeed, a leading independent and worldwide digital media company, reported that by the end of the US presidential election, the top fake news stories received more shares, likes, and comments than the factually accurate news stories reported by mainstream news outlets. Yet other news sources dispute that claim. The top fake news story may have been “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement,” which received 960,000 engagements.
According to some analysts, Russia may have been behind some of the fake news in social media sites in order to influence the election. The impact of these bogus news sites is not only a rise in extreme partisanship but great confusion among people as to exactly what is truth and what isn’t. Even mainstream news sources can be biased. I’m still befuddled myself.
Addressing the proliferation of fake news last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “The bottom line is: we take misinformation seriously. Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information.”
Fake news has been around since the beginning of human history. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world, God calls us to share the good news of the gospel of unconditional love and grace rather than the fake news of despair, hopelessness, and God’s vengeful wrath. I am not confused about that.
When an angel told Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, he thought the angel was giving him fake news because she was too old! Whereupon the angel said, “I’ve been sent to bring you this good news. But because you think it’s fake, you won’t be able to speak until the baby is born. Time out.” After John the Baptist’s birth, Zechariah’s mouth was opened and he prophesied, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
On the night Jesus was born, the angels said to the shepherds (and to us), “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
The story of the gospels is how people responded to Jesus, who announced that God anointed him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And how did they react? Jesus’ own people in Nazareth were convinced that he was a fake, drove him out of town, and tried to throw him off the cliff. The religious leaders were terrified of the apparent power Jesus had over the common people and tried to find ways to stifle his popularity.
A Samaritan village refused to receive Jesus, believing he was a fake. The disciples were furious and wanted to wipe them out, but Jesus said no. Jesus healed a bent-over woman on the Sabbath, saying, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When a leader of the synagogue was indignant by Jesus’ action, Jesus replied to him, “You’re a fake. A hypocrite.” After Jesus was resurrected and the women told the apostles, they claimed it was fake news and would not believe.
In a time when fake news is so rampant and it is easy to become cynical and confused, how do we witness to the truth of the gospel today? There is only one way. You and I have to embody the good news, live the good news, and then spread the good news.
- Any news that dehumanizes, defames, or harms others is fake news.
- Any news that declares some are in and others are out is fake news.
- Any news that is certain God loves some but not others is fake news.
- Any news that glorifies hate, injustice, and exclusion is fake news.
- On the other hand, any news insisting that divine love restores rather than punishes is good news.
- Any news that claims we are saved by God’s grace and mercy is good news.
- Any news that encourages us to create a world where all people, without exception, can fully become who God created them to be by modeling the love of Jesus, is good news.
Even King Herod could recognize the good news of the birth of Jesus as conveyed to him by the Magi. Because he knew it wasn’t fake, Herod was so threatened by the news that he killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.
Will the truth always win? Maybe not in social media or the marketplace. But when we place our trust in Jesus, his words in John 8:32 will reign, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” About that, I am not confused.
Fake news or good news? With God’s help, may we be set free from fake news this Advent in order to share the good news.