To Tell the Truth

Growing up in South Carolina wise people said, “You can always tell when a politician’s guilty as charged when he attacks the newspapers.”

This past January Donald Trump did something unprecedented in the American presidency; he told his two thousandth lie.  Of course there’s a connection between Trump’s prevarication and his animosity toward the press.  In an earlier complaint about the President’s lack of veracity (“To Tell the Truth,” April 20, 2017), I noted that we can be thankful for many in the American media who keep telling the truth in a time of lies.  In that post I gave Alabama’s John Archibald particular praise.  I got to know John when I was bishop in Alabama.  After a particularly inspiring piece of reporting (on Alabama’s corrupt state government), I took him to breakfast to praise him for his work.  Without John’s truth-telling about Roy Moore and Robert Bentley, Alabamians would have been clueless about the corruption in state government.  Without John’s columns on immigration in Alabama, the Episcopal and Catholic bishops and I would have never won our suit that overturned Jeff Session’s draconian, unconstitutional immigration law.

It was recently announced the John Archibald was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Dana Canedy, administrator of the Pulitzers, cited Archibald’s “lyrical and courageous commentary rooted in Alabama but has a national resonance in scrutinizing corrupt politicians, championing the rights of women and calling out hypocrisy.”

Of course, that which particularly pleases me is that John is the son of a United Methodist minister.  His father gave a courageous witness in the Sixties.  John has readily acknowledged how his father taught him right from wrong, the importance of speaking the truth to power, and showed him what courage looks like the face of a corrupt culture.  When many Alabama Christians were championing the cause of Roy More last fall, in a December column John rebuked them writing, “The church was the single most defining part of my life, and that of my family. My dad, Robert Archibald Jr., was a United Methodist preacher. And so was his dad, Robert Sr….”  John has steadfastly stood up for the little guy, the oppressed and the dispossessed – lessons he seems to have learned in his dad’s churches.

Among the columns cited by the Pulitzer Prize Committee were two John wrote in support of the #MeToo movement, including those who came forward in the Roy Moore scandal:

“This is a moment, I keep believing. It’s a cultural awakening and the start of a change. We fail when we say boys will be boys. We hurt when we question what a woman wore when she was assaulted. Those who blame the victims – who call them whores and tramps and sluts – are as guilty as those who commit the acts. It’s not just about the past. It’s about the future. So forget about politics, for now. This is bigger than that.”

Among the many disturbing aspects of Trumpism is that there are Christians who excuse and even defend Trump’s regime.  It’s a shame that many Christians are dependent upon secular reporters to tell the truth that we ought to be hearing from our pulpits.  Jesus Christ is not only the way and the life but also the truth.  Church is where we come not only for comfort, consolation, and support but also for truth.

Some of us believe that amid the lies, the sex scandals, and the sleaze and the apostasy of churches and clergy who excuse it, this could be a great opportunity to recover a sense of the difference that Christ makes in our assessment of and participation in the world.  Jesus Christ is Lord and all other presumed lordlets of the right or of the left are not.

Congratulations, John Archibald.  You may be embarrassed by my praise.  But can’t your poor old church, so beset by failure and compromise, be forgiven for taking pride that we had a hand in helping God produce a teller of the truth in a world of lies.

Will Willimon

3 thoughts on “To Tell the Truth

  1. Calls like yours to the ministry to call the church to a prophetic role in our country must be heard everywhere. Thank you Bishop Willimon so much, Dr. Terry White


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