It’s easy to grow angry and cynical about public discourse. Party leaders contradict themselves after gaining or losing power. Public officials give deeply conflicting reports about the same meetings. Colleagues go from describing one another as friends in one instant to declaring one another enemies who are not to be trusted in the next instant.
We can follow the psalmist’s lead and pray for God to “cut off all flattering lips!” And it is right and good to pray for an end to this sort of public debate. But if we are going to pray this way, we will need to be honest with ourselves: The solution is not for other people to behave more like ourselves.When we throw up our hands in frustration at modern politics and cry, “Everyone lies,” we have to accept the psalmist’s confession of and condemnation for the same thing. “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor,” the psalmist laments, and “everyone” includes us.
If we lived under the sort of media scrutiny that public figures endure, we’d be exposed as self-serving, as spinning the truth to our advantage, too. If we are to heal public discourse, we need to begin by asking our friends, families, and colleagues to call us out when we spin the truth. And when they do, we will need to listen humbly, even when we doubt the purity of their motives. We will need to ask God to purify our hearts so that we speak without flattery and in the service of what is true and good.
We must humbly love the truth, admit the duplicity in our own hearts, and model what it means to speak the truth in love.
- Praise God for never lying, and thank him for making promises and giving warnings that are fully trustworthy.
- Admit to some of the specific ways that you spin the truth to your advantage, and ask the Lord to make your complicity in such behavior more vivid to you.
- Pray that God would help our public figures to be humbler and more courageous before what is true and real. Ask God to help them forge relationships of integrity with colleagues and across the aisle.
SAMPLE PULPIT PRAYER
It is easy to become cynical about all public discourse. Public officials publicly contradict themselves every day, apparently trying to serve their own agendas rather than serving the truth and the public good. We see this, and we grow angry and disheartened.
But we’re also complicit in this—and in this way, our representatives represent us well. When we are caught in a lie, we’re often more likely to spin our account of things rather than admit that we have been wrong. We complain about our political opponents’ hypocrisy while explaining away the hypocrisy of our political allies and champions. We refuse to listen carefully to sound arguments and honest pleas from people we don’t identify with, but we’re slow to challenge friends whose approval we value or people whose support we need. We often marshal arguments that ignore valid counter arguments.
You alone, O Lord, speak the truth. You dealt honestly with those who feared and hated you, even when you knew it would cost you your life. You challenged those who loved you when they were wrong. And one day you will call all of us to face the truth about ourselves: you will bring all of our words and deeds, all of our thoughts and motivations, into the light. One day we will face every occasion when we have fudged the truth to get what we wanted. One day we will face every occasion when we have allowed our fears and our desires to distort the things we have said. One day we will hear our judgements against public officials played back and find ourselves under our own judgement. There will be no more excuses, no more blame shifting, as we stand under your searching eyes.
Please help us to anticipate that day. Help us to speak the truth, to admit when we are wrong, and to resist spin. Help us to listen more humbly and to change our views and our behavior when we must because of what we learn. And when we are convinced that we are right, help us to speak our convictions with grace, trusting you for the outcomes that we seek.
We pray not only for ourselves but also for those whom we have placed in positions of authority in our land. Help them to love the truth and to speak the truth, even when it costs them. Show them how to champion what is real and true in ways that are winsome rather than polarizing. Help them to admit when they have been wrong. In the face of results that aren’t coming as quickly as they’d hope, help them to be patient rather than manipulative. Help them to serve their constituencies but not to fear their constituencies. Forge quality friendships among them—friendships that will help them look together for solutions to the complexities of governing.
We pray in the name of Jesus, who always spoke the truth in love.