You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
We live in a world in which ‘fake news’ has become a mantra, and in which social media are increasingly being held to account for what they allow to be posted. There’s a dilemma as to who monitors and makes a judgement on what people say. Is it government or big corporations? But then, who does the average person in the street trust?
The commandment in Exodus about not bearing false witness comes from another world, a world in which people would have known each other personally in local communities and in which it would have been clear what is false and what is true about the neighbour. To say something that is false would have gone against the sense of visible truth.
The visibility of truth in the twenty-first century has become a different matter. Not only are neighbours not necessarily known as they once were, there is a continuing questioning about what is reported in the wider media.
The Ten Commandments have their starting point in a common origin, that of the one God. Truth is not just a matter of what I on my own might think or believe, or even, make up. Truth is discovered in coming closer to God and to one another. This relational journey involves uncertainty and discovery along the way, as well as a better understanding of how to relate well to my neighbour. It means speaking the words that are gifts of God, not words arising out of my desire to put down the other person.
It is out of this relationship with God that I receive the strength I need to hold back on words that are untrue or hateful, and speak the words of truth that are loving and generous.
Thanks be to you, O God, for truth that is loving. Take from me any desire to speak falsely. Before I speak, may I examine my heart in the light of your love. Grant me the patience I need to grow in knowledge of your truth, rather than leaping to my own conclusions. May my words be generous and kind, to neighbour and to stranger. May I witness to your truth in this troubled and doubting world. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Elizabeth Welch, retired minister, active theologically and ecumenically, member at St Andrews Ealing.