The 9th Commandment

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I don’t generally watch much television but this morning, because the weather was looking rather uncertain outside, I decided to turn on the morning news and weather report while I was getting ready for work. The news and weather were helpful. The advertising was not.

In fact, I found the advertising disturbing. It seemed to alternate between someone slamming the current President of the United States, Barak Obama, to someone slamming a person from another party hoping to win that office in the next election.

Because I don’t watch TV, this sort of obnoxious advertising is not something I normally have to endure. Of course I have heard about these political ads. But I have not seen them that often.

As the fourth ad in a row came on this morning, I turned the TV off.

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 morning 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 Heidelberg Catechism 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, mute the TV, or not watch it at all. 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.

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Thanks for the post Mary.  I think your analysis of the 9th commandment is right on target.  It is not surprising that much of the political world doesn't adhere to the commandment, but it is distressing that so many of us Christians just soak up the half-true, out-of-context, and mean-spirited stuff that is dished up. 

One of the best pieces of  wisdom ever passed on to me was by a mentor who told me, "When describing an opponent's position, do so with such meticulous honesty and correctness that even your opponent  would have agree that you have accurately stated it."  When I complained that my opponent would then just lie and deny that they actually held such a position, my mentor said, "Then your opponent’s character will be evident to everyone who is paying attention, and you will have won regardless of your opponent's protestations."  Although I realize that this is easier advice to give than to actually follow, I think it remains sound advice and has the added benefit of keeping one within the bounds of the 9th commandment.

I support Paul's comment simply because it's Paul.

First: I agree with Mary’s post.

Second: I wonder if we realize the outcome of what we're doing if we allow for the full theological import of the Catechism. It may well mean that "our guy" will not be elected by following the 9th Commandment. It may well be proven after the election that many people really thought better of the more loving candidate, but those sentimentalities seem to wear out after about 3 years. We should be okay with “our guy” losing in this context, but are we?

Third: Are we allowed to call someone “our guy” if the only choices are unrepentant 9th Commandment breakers? Every remaining candidate in this year’s presidential race has engaged in 9th Commandment-skirting language. How much is tolerable before “our guy” isn’t “ours” anymore?