Are You a Man of Your Word?
Posted by May 18, 2012on
Is it important to be a man of your word? Are white lies okay?
When Xavier Alvarez introduced himself at a meeting in 2007, he probably didn’t realize he was about to commit a federal crime. “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years,” he told the other water district board members in Pomona, California. “I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy. I’m still around.”
But actually Mr. Alvarez didn’t serve in the military, hadn’t been wounded, and—most important—was never awarded the Medal of Honor. He was convicted of violating the Stolen Valor Act. He pleaded guilty on the condition that he be allowed to appeal on First Amendment grounds. He was sentenced to more than 400 hours of community service at a veterans’ hospital and fined $5,000.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with him in a 2-1 decision, and the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A right to lie?
The Supreme Court appeared sharply divided while hearing arguments on whether the Stolen Valor Act violated constitutional rights.
Some court members said First Amendment free-speech protections do not cover false statements and that they should defer to Congress’ judgment that the lies cause harm by demeaning the system of military honors.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a free-speech advocate, worried about what he called the “slippery slope problem” and whether the government could then make it illegal to lie about a college degree.
The Obama administration has defended the military medal law, saying the government has a strong interest in protecting the integrity of awards to war heroes.
“How about extramarital affairs?” asked Justice Elena Kagan.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor tried out a personal example: “I take offense when someone I’m dating makes a claim that’s not true.”
At the end of the arguments, it was unclear how many of what Solicitor General Donald V. Verrilli Jr. called the court’s “slippery slope” questions were genuine concerns and how many were simply playing devil’s advocate.
It will be interesting to see how the case is finally decided. Will they rule in June that the law against lying is unconstitutional?
Does God tolerate white lies?
What about God? Does He tolerate lying?
After all, didn’t Rahab lie about hiding the Israelite spies, and didn’t God spare her? If you read the account again, Rahab asked for mercy just before lowering the men to safety. She said in Joshua 2:11, “For the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” I believe she was spared because she accepted God and asked for mercy. Likely she did not know God’s laws at the time.
Let’s look at the New Testament to see if white lies are okay. Acts 5:1-9 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied to Peter by saying they were giving the entire proceeds of a sale to the Church. They could have kept back part of the proceeds and lived if they hadn’t lied. God considered their lie to the apostles to be lying to Him, and He took their lives.
As verse 11 says, great fear came upon the Church.
God’s law doesn’t change
Society’s views on what is right and wrong change over time, and society doesn’t really see anything wrong with little white lies any more. But what about God?
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18).
Christ goes on from there to explain the spiritual application of the law. In today’s English, it would be like He was saying He is not changing even one comma. He explained that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, and the Pharisees were meticulous in keeping the law.
We shouldn’t be trying to squeak by, cutting corners or telling white lies.
We need to be aware of how the society around us is sliding down the slippery slope away from God. We cannot start down that slippery slope of compromising God’s commandments without falling.
Tom Moffitt is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and attends the New Orleans, Louisiana, congregation.
For more about lying and the truth, see: