Recently, Obama gave a speech in which he quoted Isaiah 40:31, a very familiar verse to many. In the quote Obama left out one phrase, “renew their strength.” So Fox News reported that Obama “botched” the quote. I would say this is a good bit petty on Fox News’ part. I frequently quote Scripture from memory, and often paraphrase and summarize. Many of the apostles themselves, when quoting the Old Testament, do the same. As long as the meaning of the text is intact, the quote is fine. I wouldn’t describe that as botching a quote. The change Obama (probably inadvertently) made did not change the meaning of the verse at all. But cheap shots for the sake of generating a story are nothing new.
But here’s where it gets interesting. MediaMatters unloaded on Fox, saying that Fox doesn’t know that there’s more than one version of the Bible. They claimed that Obama’s quote was from the NIV and Fox News’ quote was from the KJV, and that Fox was claiming that the misquote was because he didn’t quote it in the KJV. This is nonsense; the omitted phrase appears in the NIV as well. The slander continues in the comments on MediaMatters, with people saying things like “The dimwitted teabaggers believe Jesus was a white guy with blue eyes and spoke King’s English.” and “A lot of Christians don’t even know about the Apocrypha, or that the Bible was assembled by an assembly of Priests who determined what was and wasn’t “God’s Word” by popular vote.” But that stuff is just run of the mill for the totally ignorant, malicious way that an awful lot of people on the left think about conservative Christians.
But now, a pastor gets involved. Pastor Dan Schultz, blogging at Religion Dispatches, jumps in, repeating MediaMatters’ slander. Both the MediaMatters post and Pastor Dan’s post are linked by the conservative blogosphere, with the result that they are quickly corrected in their own comments. Pastor Dan (unlike MediaMatters, so far) at least has enough integrity to realize that he’s made a mistake and issues a correction. But even in the correction, he can’t help continuing to take shots at Fox, and act as if his error was not as great as theirs-
As several people point out in the comments, Media Matters made a mistake of their own. The President’s words don’t match exactly the NIV, as MMFA reported. He seems to have left out the phrase “they will renew their strength.”
This is somewhat embarrassing.
“Gotcha,” however, is neither a functional equivalent of a smear campaign, nor a moral one. Media Matters mistakenly attributed the scripture quote to the NIV; I saw nothing obviously wrong with that, and failed to notice the omission. Shame on me, but I’m not the one charging a sitting president with misquoting the Bible. Nor does the mistake in versions alter the basic point: Fox News said the president “botched” scripture. He did no such thing. He left out a phrase which changes the meaning of the scripture not at all. However much egg this leaves on my face, it changes nothing about the subject. I apologize for my error, as I’m sure Media Matters will once I inform them of it. I wonder if Fox News will follow suit, or will they allow a false impression about the president to stand?
But Fox didn’t make a mistake, Pastor Dan. Fox didn’t lie about what the President said. They exaggerated the importance of it, true. But you lied. You claimed that Fox did something that they didn’t do. And it’s interesting to me that leftists have just recently (oh, since sometime in January, 2009) rediscovered the dignity of the presidential office, so that exaggerating about a “sitting president” is somehow so much worse than lying about a news organization.
Pastor Dan goes on:
The standard for professional competence in Biblical scholarship is not memorizing random passages instead of, say, the ability to analyze the literary, textual and theological significance of a particular passage. While the NIV rests in my congregation’s pews, Isaiah 40:31 comes up precisely once in the three-year lectionary cycle. Which means, other than being the source of “On Eagle’s Wings,” it’s not exactly a familiar passage. Perhaps Fox News will use this as evidence that I am not in fact a Christian minister, but a secret godless Muslim. I tremble at the thought.
It’s a pretty familiar passage to a lot of us. But agreed, memorizing passages doesn’t prove a real understanding of Scripture. But do you know what does? Not lying about people, and not continuing to divert blame when you get caught in the lie.
Pastor Dan’s actions here are a great example of how gossip and slander work. The only thing that makes this different is that it all happened on the Internet, so he got caught. But you hear a negative story about someone that fits into your preconceived idea of what kind of person they are, and without any proof at all, you repeat that story to others. What Pastor Dan did in the original article was slanderous even if Fox _had_ done what he said they did, since he didn’t bother to check to see whether it was true or not.
The Tuscon shooting was a perfect example of this. The shooting happened, and before anyone knew anything about it, it was already being pinned on the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. Anyone who made that claim proved themselves to be a liar, even if the shooter had been a Limbaugh-Beck-Palin fan and a registered Republican, because they were claiming to know something they didn’t know. They committed slander, falsely accusing a whole political movement of murder, with no evidence- just innuendo.
If I get drunk and go driving in my car, I am guilty of the sixth commandment whether or not I actually kill anyone, because I recklessly endangered people’s lives. Likewise, when I spread stories around about people when I don’t know their truthfulness, I am guilty of the ninth, even if the stories happen to be true. (This leaves aside the question of whether it’s legitimate to spread even true, negative stories about someone if you have no need to do so.) The catechism tells us that one of the duties of the ninth commandment is to “promote and defend our neighbor’s good name.” A good reputation is one of the greatest treasures a man can possess. When we recklessly endanger that reputation, we do a great deal of damage to the man. I would rather someone played with matches in my house than that he spread false stories around about me. Being reckless with the truth about someone else’s reputation is a great sin, and just because I get lucky and accidentally don’t lie some of the time is no defense.
Pastor Dan is a liberal, politically and theologically. He’s a pastor in the United Church of Christ, a very liberal denomination. I would love to pin this somehow on his liberalism. But in my own sad experience, even politically and theologically conservative pastors will all too often listen to very harmful lies, from old friends or family members in churches they used to pastor, if it confirms their prejudices against others or strokes their ego about what a better pastor they are than the new guy. Church members will all too often spread rumors about each other and listen to gossip about church members from others outside the church. It makes us feel superior, more righteous, “in the know”, and also feeds our envy and resentment of those perceived as being more influential or more popular than we are. Gossip and slander within churches and within denominations is among the most harmful of forces, and causes far more ruin than sins we talk more about such as drunkenness and adultery.
Psalm 101:7- “7 He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house: he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.”