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2016 has been the year where many woke up to the reality of a 'post truth' society. But on top of resisting this culture, the Church must take a hard look at itself if progress is to be made, says Dave Borlase
Today, 'Post-truth' was named Oxford Dictionaries' international word of the year. The phrase is defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief".
It was chosen in the context of Brexit and the Trump victory as both campaigns displayed the hallmarks of post-truth campaigning. But the reaction to both world changing events has also been a demonstration of the post-truth society we live in. The prevailing opinions of the mainstream media and career politicians have been held as absolute truth while dissenting voices - even when in the majority - have been mocked.
In the political arena (and the media’s reporting of it), post-truth has been the reality for a long time. We have seen two of the worst political campaigns in history. All sides used fear over facts and personal attacks over policy.
As Isaiah saw it, so it is in our day. Truth has stumbled in the street.
When Jesus, the embodiment of truth, stood before Pilate and said he had come to testify to the truth, Pilate’s response of "what is truth?" was surely indicative of where so many are today. Jesus was claiming to bring the truth. He wasn't talking about a truth or my truth, but the truth. Pilate’s response was an immediate rejection to this claim of absolute truth.
I believe Pilate is a perfect example of where our society is now. Pilate lived in a sex and pleasure obsessed world, with many religions saying different things, and many philosophies that sought to challenge religious ideas. It was a world that claimed to be developed and forward thinking, yet in reality was cruel, violent and savage. Absolutes were viewed with contempt and scepticism. Sound familiar?
All of us have grown up in a rapidly changing world. Things that were believed to be true when you were born are now not just considered false but unacceptable, and cause for scorn and mockery.
The Church must seek again to be a voice of the truth, to a generation that has been brought up devoid of absolutes.
It's easy to observe how our culture has become post-truth. But has the Church fallen for the same trap? Paul, writing to Timothy, describes the Church as the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). While opinions and different political understandings should be welcomed, accepted and respected in the Church, we are called to something much greater. We are called to be the pillar and support of the truth.
In what is often described as his high priestly prayer Jesus prayed: "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17) Jesus prays this before he prays for unity. Yet often we find God’s clear teaching being jettisoned for a version of unity. The Church must seek again to be a voice of the truth and speak up (even when its uncomfortable to do so). We need to speak to a generation that has been brought up devoid of absolutes.
Social media has given each one of us a platform to be a media outlet. And yet even here, the truth has fallen. There has been a huge rise in so-called 'news websites', that report news that is verifiably not true. Unfortunately, Christians in their enthusiasm often share these false stories and in so doing end up spreading lies and deception.
It is great that Christians desire to be a voice on social media, but we must above all things, be an honest voice. If the Church is going to be the pillar and support of the truth on social media, we must be diligent in checking what we are sharing is actually true. If we can’t be trusted to have checked our facts before we pass on false information, why should our hearers trust us when we share the most important truth of all - the truth of our God and his salvation?
Dave Borlase is the Director of Intercessors for Britain, an organisation that encourages and facilitates people to pray regularly for the nation. He also serves as an Elder at Moreton Christian Assembly on the Wirral, Merseyside
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