In a commencement address at Rice University in Texas on May 8, 2018, the former NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, told a graduating class that his nation is experiencing an “epidemic of untruthfulness.” He characterized what is happening in Washington and the countless evasions as “an endless barrage of lies.”
He reminded the graduates that they signed an honesty code when they enrolled in Rice University and had affirmed that code many times since. His concern was that they take the code with them into the workaday world.
He was concerned with good reason. When the moral standards of society sag, truthfulness sags too. It was in such a perilous time that the prophet Isaiah said to Judah, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20). His warning was that the nation’s moral compass was damaged.
Honesty is not required just randomly here and there, from time to time. Whatever our function in society, whether we are parents, administrators, salesmen, teachers, or ministers, the call for honesty confronts us daily. Honesty is a critical requirement woven into the warp and woof of human existence.
If a secular voice like Mayor Bloomberg’s acknowledges the low state of honesty in society and calls for an upgrade should the issue not be of special concern to Christians?
After all, we are followers of Jesus who is the embodiment of truth. Again and again he introduced his sayings with the declaration, “I tell you the truth.” He both was, and he spoke truth. Furthermore, our Scriptures call us incessantly to the practice of truth. Paul exhorts, You must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to (your) neighbor (Ephesians 4:25).
Truth is not always spoken in the same tone. It is sometimes spoken gently, as in the reporting of a death; sometimes firmly when checking a lad’s homework; and sometimes painfully when speaking of a child’s waywardness. But truth must be spoken. Untruthfulness breaks God’s law and eventually exacts its toll.
Moreover, the concept of truthfulness does not exist in isolation. A host of related words bring home to us both the force and the reach of this word — words like integrity, virtue, reliability, righteousness, uprightness.
Even if we are not dispensers of what Mayor Bloomberg called “an endless barrage of lies” there are many ways we might fall short of truthfulness — by remaining silent when we should speak up, by spinning half truths, by exaggerating for effect, by omission of nuance. We speak glibly of white lies and polite lies and evasive lies but in using them we play with fire.
Who of us will ponder deeply our truthfulness and the above companion words and with unblinking confidence say, “In every situation, that’s me”? Only when we commit ourselves seriously to truthfulness do we learn how difficult it is always to tell the truth. Even when we tell the truth we do so by the grace of God.
Mayor Bloomberg made a sorely needed point: we are living in times when honesty is not cherished and dishonesty is easily excused. The Scriptures alert us to this even among believers when they say, Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight. (Proverbs 12:22)
I offer this further comment to the mayor’s excellent address: one can be committed to truthfulness without being Christian, but one cannot be Christian without cherishing truthfulness. The psalmist prayed, Lead me in your truth and teach me. (Psalm 25:5)
Photo credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Public Domain (via flickr.com)