22 Aug 2010

Can Christians Lie to the State?

Religious 4 Comments

Robert Wenzel emailed to ask me my thoughts on this issue, in light of the Roger Clemens “controversy.” (I am putting that word in quotation marks, because I can only chuckle when people in Congress are outraged over lying.)

Specifically, Clemens is in trouble because he testified under oath that he didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs, but his former friend and teammate Andy Pettitte said in his own written testimony that Clemens had admitted in 1999 or 2000 that he (Clemens) had in fact done so. What complicates all this is that Pettitte was a vocal Christian, and so Wenzel wants to know what I think about all this. So here are my quick thoughts:

* Anytime a vocal Christian gets caught doing anything wrong, people will bite his or her head off. Check out this analysis (which Wenzel also supplied), especially the reader comments. Yes, it’s true that Pettitte was a bit squirrelly in his pseudo-apology, but give the guy a break. If the media’s running around saying he used steroids, when in reality he used human growth hormone for two days TOTAL in his entire career, while recovering from an injury, then yeah I think that’s relevant to point out to his fans. (I’m assuming he’s not lying about the details.)

To be clear, if a Christian is going around saying, “I live a better life than you do, I am a better person than you, you should feel guilty,” then that is not only objectively false but it’s not Christian. I grant you that many Christians do act like that, and it’s obnoxious as well as counterproductive. But on the other hand, a lot of non-Christians love to pounce on the obvious fact that Christians can’t live up to the perfect life of Jesus, as proof that it’s not really a model after all. (For example, remember when people went nuts when that beauty pageant contestant was discovered to have posed for racy pictures, after she had the audacity to say that in her upbringing, she learned that marriage was between man and a woman? The critics either implied or outright said, “Ha ha, there’s no problem with gay marriage after all, because the girl who repeated what the Bible seems to be saying upon a literal reading, was caught participating in bikini ads. QED.”)

* For sure, Christians don’t have an obligation to OBEY the State, if the rulers are commanding something that is contrary to God’s commands. For example, the “three wise men” didn’t go back to Herod and tell him where to find the baby Jesus, even though he told them to.

* Jesus Himself didn’t directly answer the questions put to Him by Herod and Pilate. But He didn’t actually lie to them. So if you want an analogy with your income taxes, it wouldn’t be underreporting, but rather writing in the line for your AGI, “Why don’t you tell me?”

* There are examples of Biblical figures lying all the time; e.g. Abram tells the Egyptians that his beautiful wife, Sarai, is his sister (so that they don’t kill him and take her). God then intervenes to extricate Sarai from the awkward situation. However, we have no report of God ordering Abraham to lie to Pharaoh et al.; in context it seems that was his own “bright idea.”

So in conclusion, I think Pettitte could have refused to speak of his knowledge of Clemens’ drug use, but I don’t think he could have lied in good conscience to Congress about it. (Side note: Some Christians think that it is blasphemous to take oaths, so when they testify in court they need a special wording etc.) Can anybody point to a Biblical episode where the Godly thing to do, was to lie to the authorities?

We talked about this one day in a Bible study class, and we got into the hypotheticals. This is surely apocryphal, but one guy said he had heard a story of Christians in Nazi Germany who were hiding Jews. The Nazis knocked on the door and asked if they were harboring Jews. The homeowner couldn’t lie, so he truthfully said, “Yes, two are hiding under the dining room floorboards.” But the Nazis assumed he was joking and moved on to the next house.

4 Responses to “Can Christians Lie to the State?”

  1. david says:

    I suppose it might depend on whether:

    a) it was your choice to appear before the inquisitor;

    b) the inquisitor had a legitimate right to seek the answer; and

    c) whether some evil would flow from either a truthful answer or a refusal to answer.

  2. Dave says:

    The story about the Nazis is from The Hiding Place. Great book.

    The classic example of lying in the Bible is Rahab in Joshua 2. She lied about the spies leaving, when she had really hidden them in her house. This action saved their lives. There is also the example of God ordering a deceptive ambush at the city of Ai. Is that lying?

    Here’s a debate about this, if you’re interested: http://www.reformed.org/webfiles/antithesis/v1n3/ant_v1n3_issue.html

  3. Perry Mason says:

    What a great post. There is a wealth of literature on this point (the morality of lying, if ever), and it was vigorously debated in the middle ages. I like what was written by Acquinas, who allows for misdirection and equivocation (while keeping the golden rule in mind), but not for a direct lie. It makes sense to me, as you should never let the evil ones (the State) make a liar out of you. This was a perilous position at the time, as many of the more conservative minds in the Church felt that one must be completly forthright, even under an unjust inquisition. The Scholastics address the few biblical examples of lying as well.

    It also has occured to me that one reason the neoconservatives are so boldly two-faced is their Straussian belief in the noble lie. That is, they have convinced themselves that any lie they tell to advance their agenda is in fact a good thing, as it is for the greater good.

  4. Bryan Rosander says:

    I think that there is a difference between Rahab / WWII and the question posed. in the Rahab / WWII situation, the “liars” had philosophically defected to another nation during a state of war.

    There seems to be grounds for some deception outside of war, including hiding Bibles, your purpose of travel (witnessing, not teaching English, though you are coming to teach English as well), and using disguises.

    On the other hand, Peter’s thrice denial of his own loyalty to Jesus was a clear case of bad deception.