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“With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors, but through knowledge the righteous escape.” (Proverbs 11:9)

Corruption in the government at the highest level. Spies implanted in political campaigns of candidates by the FBI. Collusion with foreign governments in order to influence elections. These insinuations are all-too-familiar for those who have lived in America in the 21st century. However, if you go back several generations to the early 1950’s – you will find a man by the name of Joseph McCarthy, a senator from the state of Wisconsin. Senator McCarthy spent almost five years trying in vain to expose communists and other left-wing “loyalty risks” in the U.S. government. In the hyper-suspicious atmosphere of the Cold War, suggestions of disloyalty were enough to convince many Americans that their government was packed with traitors and spies. On June 2, 1954, he charged that communists had infiltrated the Central Intelligence Agency and the atomic weapons industry. Just weeks before, 36 days of televised investigative “McCarthy Hearings” were led by the Senator in which he displayed his bullying style and hysterical behavior. The character assassinations he imposed quickly turned off the audience. McCarthy was thoroughly disgraced when an attorney asked him whether he had any sense of “decency” at all.

Over time, McCarthyism has been used in modern political discussions as a reference to defamation of character by means of widely publicized indiscriminate allegations, frequented with unsubstantiated charges. In today’s society, it is common to observe daily examples of executed attempts to tarnish a person’s reputation. It may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person. Such conspiracy theory plotting is not new; in fact, it’s been around for centuries. People throughout history have speculated on hidden meanings and dared to jump at the potential of juicy secrets. Our society’s nonstop use of social media and obsession with round-the clock news outlets has created an outflow of instantaneous information from which it is difficult to escape. Unfortunately, when these things are unfounded – false narratives are unstoppable, and the reputations of innocent people are irreparably damaged. Frequently Christians have been the focus of these attacks, and even worse – they are sometimes the ones perpetuating them. This directly violates Scripture’s prohibition from bearing false witness against our neighbors (Exodus 20:16). It devalues the name of Christ, who is the essence of truth, and it inflicts pain upon the people involved.

The Bible tells us that the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees was frequently marked by the practice of character assassination with Jesus as the main target. This group of religious intellectuals witnessed His works with envy and heard his instruction with resentment, because they recognized He threatened their position and prestige. Jesus responded by saying: “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach” (Matthew 23:2-3). In fear and hatred, they did all they could to falsify the point of his lessons, attempted to negatively paint His personal character, and began a plot to kill Him (Mark 3:6). David also felt the persecution of false witnesses but fortunately, he knew how to respond. As he prayed to his God, he said: “Arrogant people smear me with lies, but in truth I obey your commandments with all my heart” (Psalm 119:69).

The question must be asked how we separate ourselves from the character assassinations of this world. First and foremost, don’t repeat what you do not know to be true. If there appears to be a degree of accuracy, do as David did . . . listen to your heart and pray for those involved. Don’t become part of the rumor mill, and do not seek to discredit the accused. If you are the target of such allegations, follow this advice – “But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ” (1 Peter 3:16). Consider yourself blessed by the One who knows the truth that will ultimately matter.

REFLECTION: Take time to reexamine your social media interactions and sources for news and information. What habits do you need to consider changing in light of your relationship with Jesus? How can you set an example to not get caught up in hearsay about others that has no foundation of fact?


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