Let’s make truth great again

We’re months away from declaring a winner in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, but I’m ready to call the loser in this latest run-up to the White House. Hands down, it is truth.

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Loyalists to HIM or HER are willing to believe the craziest things. No accusation is too far-fetched, no tweet too flimsy to convince, no whopper too big to swallow whole. In fact, the more outrageous the assertion, the more likely it will be accepted and retweeted. Partisan audiences lap up everything and anything that supports their views and truth be damned.

With lies flying like dander off a pair of mangy dogs, respect for the top-of-the-ticket candidates continues to plummet as cynicism soars. And yet, no calls for a truce on truthlessness. No attempts to make truth great again.

So what if candidates and their surrogates are fudging it. This is politics, after all, not real life.

Right?

Wrong!

We can bet that what happens in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and elsewhere on the campaign trail won’t stay there. Mistruth-telling as acceptable discourse will spill over into all areas of life – probably already has. And that worries me, especially in my work with fundraising programs of faith-based nonprofits.

Within organizations committed to encouraging God-centered generosity, truth-telling isn’t simply a good idea, it’s a requirement, an absolute, the only way. Not that sticking to that commitment is easy. The truth can be inconvenient, embarrassing, even boring. The temptation is strong to hide, to obfuscate, or to exaggerate for the good of our cause. As Thom Jeavons and I wrote in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry:

The pressures of generating resources in high-stress environments can sap spiritual reserves. This in turn opens the door to actions that run counter to Christ-like behavior. The differences between what’s right and that which is questionable are dangerously subtle. Gray areas abound in fundraising.

The point about truthfulness may seem obvious . . . but why, then, is it so easy to find Christian organizations that do not provide full disclosure of their financial circumstances and dealings or that supply misleading financial reports? Or to find Christian organizations that paint idealized portraits of the impacts of their programs? Or to find Christian organizations that use ‘representative images’ and synthesize stories for greatest emotional impact?

How well do these organizations represent the One who said “I am the Light and the Truth and the Way” (John 4:16) and who told us that “the truth will set us free” (John 8:32)? We would ask if Christian organizations do not need to be more scrupulous and hold themselves accountable to a higher standard than that set out by the Federal Accounting Standards Board or the Better Business Bureau.

But hey, so what if development folks fudge it. This is fundraising, after all, not real life.

Right?

Wrong!

As Thom and I remind in our book, “How faith-based organizations ask tells potential donors a great deal about what Christians care about, hope for, and believe. Our fundraising messages and methods send implicit and explicit messages about what Christians value and what we as Christians think other people value.”

For those who claim allegiance to God’s way — politicians, fundraisers, all of us — honesty is the only option. Regardless how good and noble the ends are for which we strive, there’s no justifying the use of means that intentionally mislead. There should be fudging it.

Right?

Right!

In a letter to his colleague Titus, the Apostle Paul instructs that “in all things, we should be examples of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (2: 7-8). We are to use, as The Message translation of the passage puts it, words that are “solid and sane” so that “anyone who is dead set against us, when he finds nothing weird or misguided, might eventually come around.”

In short, no fudging. Ever.

That’s how we make truth great again.

For more on truthfulness in donor communications, see:

Explaining a change in plans to campaign donors

Four tough questions behind truth-filled tales of organizational impact

Worldview, theology, and the way we ask

Comments

  1. I like your campaign slogan and your reminders. Blessings on your day!

  2. Dorothy J Gish says:

    You are right on!

    • Thank you for the affirming word, Dorothy. I am deeply troubled by what the tone of this campaign communicates to children. We adults should be able to see through the lies, but the young ones can be confused.

  3. Perry Engle says:

    One of the best commentaries I’ve read in sometime. I knew there were some sane voices out there somewhere, and am so pleased to find that you are one of those voices!

    • Thank you, Perry. I am heart-broken when lies are excused or worse, accepted and repeated, by evangelical darlings of the media. Praise God for our Brethren in Christ two-kingdom theology.

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