Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late U.S. Senator, once famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
A sad and disturbing example is the tragic story of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old from Montana who in 1998 was brutally murdered, because — both activists and news media assured us — he was gay. His story was supposed to be evidence of a deep anti-gay sentiment in society — a stain that had to be addressed through hate-crime laws, sensitivity training and other measures. And so Matthew Shepard became part of the cultural narrative, a key component of the reshaping we’ve seen of American public opinion on homosexuality.
But even Aaron Hicklin of the pro-gay publication The Advocate admits that much of the accepted narrative is false. Citing the new book The Book of Matt, written by gay journalist Stephen Jimenez, he acknowledges that Shepard was beaten to death not because he was “gay,” but for “reasons far more complicated” than being homosexual — most likely a drug deal gone bad. Jimenez’s doubts about the narratives go back at least to 2004, when in a 20/20 interview he countered the dominant way of telling the story.
This says something important about the power of story. Whoever seizes control of the story controls the debate — and actual facts become secondary. Another tragic aspect of the Matthew Shepard story is that his murder has been hijacked to serve a cause. And Hicklin actually admits this in his article, when he writes: “There are valuable reasons for telling certain stories in a certain way at pivotal times, but that doesn’t mean we have to hold on to them once they’ve outlived their usefulness.”
So Hicklin thinks it was acceptable to wrongly tell Shepard’s story as long as it was useful for the agenda. Friedrich Nietzsche couldn’t have said it better. He believed that truth was an illusion, so all that was left is the will to power. Use stories to accomplish your purposes, not to tell the truth.
Now my purpose here is not to fight over this already-exploited life and death. Rather, it’s to point out this very real temptation to power, and to challenge us — Christians — to avoid committing the same sin as other would-be cultural power brokers.
There is no justification for telling a version of a story that we know, or suspect to be, untrue, for omitting or embellishing details, for impugning motives, or using any other tactic to hijack narratives, even for a higher cause.
It’s tempting to use cultural narratives this way, and fall into an ends-justify-the-means mindset, especially when we feel we’re in the cultural minority and not playing on a level playing field. Because our “cause is just,” we rationalize untruth.
Examples abound: Christians embellishing their supposedly radical Muslim or atheist upbringing, apologists ignoring evidence that threatens their air-tight case for their position on something, or claims of religious discrimination when there’s more to the story.
But we must fight this urge. The God we worship is always true. He cannot lie, the Scripture says. So neither should we. And when we embellish our narratives to accomplish our “good” ends, we lose sight of the certainty of the kingdom of God. We somehow think the future depends on the outcome of this story or this event.
Christian, let’s remember that we have history’s overarching narrative, the big story, from the master Storyteller himself, the One who is the Truth. This is His world. He made it, and in Christ redemption and the restoration of all things is secure, Paul assures us.
So, yes, let’s tell stories, and especially stories that point to the truth about God in the world and in our lives. But in doing so, let’s do our best, with His help, to tell the truth.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: October 3, 2013