Election 2016 and the 9th Commandment

Like many people, I have had more than enough of the presidential campaign this year. In some ways that is true every year, but this year I became annoyed early on. The campaign has not focused on anything of substance. Rather, it has focused on trying to make each other look as bad as possible. I will refrain from direct comment on how much effort that likely took.

Over the past few days, I have completely turned off my radio, not watched TV, and avoided social media. The final game of the World Series was the last thing I watched. Regardless of my efforts, however, my phone still rang with obnoxious advertisements laced with half-truths.

Contrary to popular understanding, the 9th commandment is less about lying in general than it is about slander. The 9th commandment reads: “You shall not give false testimony about your neighbor.” It seemed to me as I listened to the political ads this season that the purpose of these soundbites is to do exactly what the 9th commandment forbids – give false testimony about your neighbor. And if the testimony is not blatantly false, it certainly bends the truth so that those listening will come to pre-determined false conclusions about the person in question.

That seems like a pretty fine line of moral distinction to me. And it seems wrong.

The Christian church to which I belong happens to use a particular 16th century document to help us understand and explain a variety of biblical truths. One part of this document goes through the meaning of each of the Ten Commandments.

Here’s what it says about the 9th: “God’s will is that I never give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor join in condemning anyone without a hearing or without a just cause. . . And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”

Did you notice both the negative and positive force of this explanation? I should not twist someone’s words or slander them. I should guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.

From my limited exposure to political advertisements, it appears that they violate both the negative and positive force of this commandment. And even if one thinks that this explanation of the 9th commandment pushes the boundaries too far, there is always the summary of the law given by Christ. There, after love for God, the second great commandment is to “love you neighbor as yourself.”

In what possible world could those sorts of advertisements be construed as loving one’s neighbor?

So what’s a Christian to do?

Well, at the very least, it seems that we could ignore the ads. But perhaps we should also take care to find out, to the best of our ability, what the truth of any given topic is. With that in hand, we could make sure that any discussions we are involved in do not allow for the slander or defaming of persons from ANY political party, not just our party of choice. By so doing, we show honor both to God, and to our neighbor, his image.

Author: Mary Vanden Berg

Welcome! I am a professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Seminary. I love God and because I love God, I love to wonder about God and the world he created. I am especially curious about questions related to what it means to be human. I am the wife of one, the mother of three + three (since my original three are all married). I am also the grandmother of three. I feel especially close to God when I am camping, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and doing nearly anything outdoors.

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