You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
“The truth…and nothing but the truth.” Anyone who has stood in the witness box in court will know that this part of the oath can prove challenging. In our adversarial legal system, faced with an eager barrister keen to devalue statements delivered, we may grapple with the temptation to embellish our evidence in order to strengthen it.
This inclination to add or manipulate details is evident in public life at large, especially when there are so many outlets for information and disinformation. Material that is genuine can be abused until its original intent is altered beyond recognition. Hardly a day passes when we are not exposed to “selected truths” bound up in parcels of opinion and malice and used in ways that diminish any value.
Certain politicians regularly tell us only the part of the truth we need to hear, thus failing the “nothing but the truth” test and causing potential long-term damage.
Some campaigners take serious scientific reports about, for example, coronavirus then extrapolate a single part to issue statements that mislead the gullible and may even cost lives.
People in the public eye have their reputations trashed when newspapers and social media take honest and harmless things they have said and twist them beyond recognition.
I suggest we have two responsibilities as Christians in relation to the ninth commandment.
The first is to say or write nothing but the unadorned truth at all times, with the obvious caveat that we do not upset others by telling them frankly what we really think about their horrible – sorry, treasured – new furniture!
The second is to do everything in our power to sift fact from fiction; disseminate only that which we know or have good cause to believe is true; and resist any temptation to pass on gossip and hearsay.
Dear Lord, in a world filled with lies and half-truths, may we stand out as people who can be trusted in the words we say, in the words we share, and in the actions we carry out. Amen