What is one of the first things you learn about socializing in middle school? There are some people that will tell just about any story they hear. It doesn’t so much matter if the story is true or false. The minute they hear it, they want to tell someone. These are naturally the people that you learn not to tell secrets to, but the funny thing is that they do not even need your true secrets to start spreading stories. They will tell whatever they think they know or might have overheard thirdhand.
Why do they do this? They like to be the ones to tell the story first. They want to get all of the popularity, prying questions and attention for knowing something that no one else knows.
The problem is that sometimes they are entirely wrong. They tell stories that are nothing more than false gossip. It hurts someone’s reputation for the time being, but eventually, that person gets their life back when the truth is revealed. Over time, the gossiper is exposed for what he or she is. People start to learn not to trust that person. After you are wrong enough, people simply stop listening.
This is something we all learn in middle school. I’m sure you were there at some point. Maybe it hit reality for you in high school or college, but you have all been there. There are people who just want to have a story to tell, and truth is a secondary concern. We know how to react to people like that. We just stop listening eventually, or we take what they say with a great deal of caution because we know it very well might not be true.
Why then, if this is something that we all understand literally from our preteen years, does it seem like our media had a hard time grasping this concept?
You all have probably heard about the Washington Post being sued for their coverage of the Covington High School debacle. They ran the story before they had a responsible amount of facts, and they ended up having to post this editorial essentially apologizing for their negligence.
Of course, it took a great deal of time to post a correction, and they posted it late on a Friday afternoon, after the majority of the weekly news cycle was done. They are not fools. They knew what they were doing. They were apologizing because they had to, but they tried to do so in the least damaging way possible.
How much different is this than middle school? Maybe that pressure to be the popular kid who broadcasted the story first got to them. Maybe the desire to find a story that fit into a particular narrative and made them even more popular was too tempting. I don’t know why they did what they did. They are professional journalists, and they should know better regardless of what the motivation was.
I’m not so much worried about going to the nuts and bolts of everything that the Washington Post did wrong. You can find plenty of other websites that talk about that, and that is not really what I am trying to focus on. They are, for our purposes, a cautionary tale of what we need to avoid as Christians.
There are similarly basic things that we learn in our Christian lives. It is kind of like how you learn the basics of not becoming the chief gossip in middle school. These are skills that we develop, and in our Christian lives, they help us start down the road towards being like Christ. They are the fundamental building blocks that we try to build on top of. As we grow and mature, we hopefully continue doing better and better. That is the beauty of the Christian walk. It is a journey where hopefully we get closer and closer to our destination as we continue learning.
However, sometimes we might be walking along just fine. We might be working hard. We might feel like we are getting closer to God, and that is a wonderful thing. However, we find ourselves doing things that we know we shouldn’t do. Like I said, we all know that the professional journalists at the Washington Post know better. Even outside of just the life experience that teaches us not to be the gossiper who runs without news, they have been professionally trained, and there is no reason that their judgment should lapse like it did.
How often do I judge my own Christian life by the same standard though? I became a Christian as a very young child. I am nowhere near perfect by any means, but I would say that in the over two decades that I have been on this journey, I certainly have a more mature faith than I had when I was a child. The comparison is not perfect to the staff of the Washington Post, but I think you can see the similarity here. I realize how bad it is when they mess up at their jobs, but I often times brush off my own shortcomings about much more eternally significant things.
Of course God will forgive me. That is not the question here, and that is not what I am worried about per se. I am grateful for His graciousness and mercy. Rather, I am more worried about my own tendencies to not take my own shortcomings as seriously as I take other people’s.
Jesus talked about taking the log out of your own eye before you worry about the spec in someone else’s. This verse is often times taken out of context to mean that we can never speak truth to anyone else until we are perfect. Of course, since none of us are ever going to be perfect, the implication is that we never should speak truth. There is no way that is what Jesus was implying by this passage. However, the point is well taken that we need to remember that self-reflection is necessary for the Christian. We need to take our own sins seriously.
This is not about letting people off the hook or failing to hold people responsible. That is also a necessary part of the Christian life. We have to help people see the truth whenever we can with love and kindness. However, I hope that in our lives, we can remember that even as mature Christians, we can mess up on the basics. We can fail Journalism 101 like the Washington Post did. When that happens, we don’t want to be the ones who fail to own up to our mistakes. Instead, we want to be the ones who go directly to God, confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. When we hide it, like Jonah, it often times gets dragged out in particularly unpleasant ways. The Washington Post is feeling that right now. If they had just reported responsibly the first time, I would not be making this comparison in this blog post because it wouldn’t be valid. It wouldn’t make sense.
I think we need to have a few practical applications steps before we wrap this up.
First, let’s make sure that we are moving in the right direction. Obviously, we have to learn those life lessons early. Like you learn things about gossiping in middle school and what happens to people who tell stories that turn out to be false, our Christian life starts with learning some foundational truths about the way the world is. Let’s make sure that we have at least made that decision. Let’s make sure that we are walking after God before we move on. That is eternally important.
Second, let’s make sure that we are watching out for motivations to fall away. We have to be cautious. There are plenty of ways for us to lose our way. Like the Washington Post must’ve felt, there are definitely pressures on us to do the wrong thing, even if it seems to have some accompanying benefits. We need to have the strength to stay the course and not compromise for short-term gain.
Third, it is important for us to own up to our mistakes. The Washington Post story is made worse by the fact that it was only pulled out of them by the threat of legal action. Let’s be better than that in our own personal lives.
This is a tough topic for a lot of people, but it is important. We find it really easy to criticize other people. Sometimes that criticism is justified when it is done with love. However, we also need to be very sure that we look at our own lives just as often, if not more often. If we don’t, we are going to be crippling ourselves, our witness and ultimately our effectiveness in the kingdom of God. As Christians, that ought to be the last thing we want to do. Shall we do better than going forward? I hope the answer is yes.