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When it comes to e-mail, believers should speak — and forward — the truth in love

I wish someone would make it harder to forward e-mail. Maybe the option could be buried under some submenu on our mail programs.
Or how about this: When you click “forward,” a confirmation window pops up: “I hereby certify that I at least made some sort of token effort to check the accuracy of the information I’m sending.”
I doubt that would do much to stem the tide of forwarded messages that clog my inbox — especially during an election year.
Recently, I received an e-mail with the subject line “Barak Hussein Muhammed Obama, President USA?” (The misspelling of “Barack” and inexplicable use of “Muhammed” were the first clues that little truth followed.)
The message claimed that the Illinois senator is linked to a tribe in Kenya responsible for the recent violence there. In the U.S. election, Obama “will use the same tactic, crying rigged election if he doesn’t win and possibly cause a race war in America,” according to the e-mail.
Ken Beckloff, a longtime missionary to Kenya, already had received the e-mail and wrote a response. He stressed that he wasn’t endorsing a presidential candidate, but he felt he had to reply to the message, which he called “a combination of outright lies and half-truths.” Beckloff makes regular trips to Kenya and said the recent violence there didn’t result from the actions of any one ethnic group.
“The violence was horribly wrong,” he said, “but people from several tribes … are responsible. And not all members of any tribe are responsible.” Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ crossed ethnic lines to protect members of other tribes from the mobs that burned homes and butchered the innocent.
Even if the violence were the fault of one tribe, it’s ridiculous to predict that an American
presidential candidate would start a “race war” since he descended from that tribe.
I suppose I should be prevented from running for office, lest I pass legislation to pillage the British Isles in the proud tradition of my viking ancestors.
In the interest of bipartisanship, I looked for e-mail rumors about Republican presidential candidate John McCain. One rumor alleges that McCain said, “I am a war criminal. I bombed innocent women and children,” to Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes.” The statement actually was part of a confession the North Vietnamese forced McCain to write as they tortured him in captivity during the Vietnam War. There’s also a bizarre rumor that questions McCain’s U.S. citizenship. (He was born at a Naval base in the Panama Canal Zone.)
If we would take just a minute to check claims against the facts, a lot of e-mails would go un-forwarded. I highly recommend the Web site www.snopes.com — a great resource for debunking “e-myths.”
But I suspect the intent of forwarded e-mail — just like gossip — has little to do with facts. We all bring preexisting biases to what we read. When we find a piece of information that fits into our view of the world, we forward it to other, like-minded believers. We take comfort in our preconceptions — even if they have little basis in truth.
Even half-truths are dangerous. They mislead. They split churches. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul urges believers to stop behaving like infants, “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Instead, we’re to focus on Christ and speak the truth in love.
Are we applying that standard to our e-mail?
CONTACT [email protected]. See the full text of Ken Beckloff’s response to e-mail rumors at www.christianchronicle.org.

  • Feedback
    Thank you! I’m no fan of our president’s policies, but the Bible does say “Do not bear false witness”. People who forward e-mails full of lies and half-truths are doing just that–bearing false witness. No one deserves that, especially not our President.
    Tina Seward
    North Atlanta Church of Christ
    Norcross, GA
    April, 8 2010

    It is really sad that some members (including preachers and church leaders) of the Church of Christ have willingly participated in the deliberate spreading of racist and false e-mails regarding Sen. Obama. They do so without a twinge of the conscience. This is what happens when people immerse themselves into conservative politics. It becomes their religion. It is an affliction that blinds them to what is ethical. In fact, it appears that in many places we preach a religio-political message.
    September, 19 2008

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