Celebrating Christmas with members of my extended family, I suddenly found myself having one of those uncomfortable “discussions” about politics. My loved one, who finds herself well to the left of me politically, stated that the military receives too much taxpayer funding. Being generally pro-defense, I asked her, “And how much of the federal budget do you think goes to the military?”
“About 40 percent,” she quickly replied.
Actually, although the United States spends more on its military than the next eight countries combined, the real rate of defense spending is only about 15.7 percent of the $3.8 trillion federal budget. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is credited with saying, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” At a minimum, the first step in resolving many of today’s contentious issues is to agree upon a common set of facts.
Here’s a modest proposal: With cries about “fake news” and the “dishonest media” swirling all around us, I think it’s high time for Christians to take the lead in following the facts, in whatever direction they point. We need to establish a baseline of reality so that people are not simply talking past one another. Blessed are the peacemakers, after all.
A recent article in a conservative-libertarian-leaning website called JustFactsDaily lists five facts not generally reported accurately in most media outlets today: (1) About 11.5% of adult females living in the U.S. say that they have been the victim of a completed forcible rape; (2) government at all levels spends an average of $50,000 for every household in the United States; (3) at current rates, one in every 65 people in America will die from a drug overdose; (4) public four-year colleges spend about $40,000 annually for every full-time student (but only 26 percent goes to student instruction); and (5) people tend to migrate from countries with high levels of government corruption, to countries with less corruption, more press freedom, and more transparency.
JustFactsDaily also lists five prominent falsehoods for 2017: (1) The just-past hurricane season that caused so much devastation was caused by global warming; (2) Donald Trump praised some of the white supremacists in Charlottesville as “very fine people”; (3) the middle class has been stagnant or in decline for decades; (4) police are more likely to use lethal force against American blacks than against other groups; and (5) science proves that more guns cause more gun deaths.
Now it is true that many of these “facts” exposed in the article comport with how many Christians—particularly the ones who voted for Donald Trump in 2016—see the world. But that doesn’t make them untrue. The Christian worldview, like a pair of night-vision goggles, can open our eyes to realities to which our secular neighbors are blind. As C.S. Lewis said, becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is “rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.”
Those who see the world only through secular glasses miss out on a great deal. Some conservative cultural commentators, including radio host Dennis Prager, state rather forcefully that “At the core of left-wing thought is a rejection of painful realities, the rejection of what the French call les faits de la vie: the facts of life. Conservatives, on the other hand, are all too aware of these painful realities of life and base many of their positions on them.” I tend to agree with Prager on this.
And yet Christians of late have shown themselves to be just as susceptible to selectively choosing their facts. Look no farther than our flip-flop on whether public officials who have committed personal immorality can perform ethically while in office. In 2011, only 30 percent of evangelical whites said they could. In 2016, after the advent of Trump, a whopping 72 percent said so—causing the liberal Brookings Institution to ask pointedly, “Have white evangelical voters become born-again converts to situation ethics?”
Too often we’ve become as dismissive of the facts as our political opponents, which can make us look foolish indeed. Sometimes we fall just as hard for “fake news.” We must be scrupulously honest in presenting facts about the world with our neighbors, don’t you think? How, after all, can we really expect them to believe what we say about heavenly things if we play fast and loose with earthly ones? As Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Last year a Christian I respect greatly for his many acts of generosity and evangelism over the years argued forcefully that a certain political candidate credibly accused of sexual improprieties decades before was being framed. He cited a certain right-wing news source (I use the term advisedly) to back up some of his claims.
But after the candidate crashed and burned with voters, the publication’s editor admitted to CNN that its one-sided coverage of the controversy was motivated by a desire to protect the President, and that one of the failed candidate’s accusers actually “had a lot of credibility.” Those Christians who relied on this ersatz “news source,” meanwhile, have squandered some of their credibility.
Christians need not fear the facts, even if they might at times be inconvenient to our agendas. Christ, who claimed to be “the truth,” has no need to defend Himself or His church with falsehoods.
So, in this New Year, let’s resolve to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. As part of this commitment, let’s break out of our personal, social media, and broadcast bubbles once in a while and sample, with discernment, some alternative viewpoints. Instead of a constant diet of Fox News and Sean Hannity, why not occasionally watch NPR and CNN? You may not agree with a lot of what you hear. Indeed, much of it is advocacy disguised as journalism, but you will at least get the other side in its own words and a few facts your go-to media sources may have overlooked.
There are good, fair-minded journalists working even at The New York Times and the Washington Post. Find them. Read them. You might even learn from them.
Even better, you may begin to understand how other people think and feel about important issues. This knowledge may help you to begin building relationships, even friendships, with folks for whom Christ died.
Who knows? You might one day find yourself celebrating Christmas with them.
Stan Guthrie, a licensed minister, is an editor at large for Christianity Today and for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Stan is the author of The Seven Signs of Jesus: God’s Proof for the Open-Minded.