False Pretenses

I just posted about the controversy regarding the indictment of people involved with the undercover videotaping of Planned Parenthood last summer.  It’s a curious legal situation to be sure, and a lot is riding on it for both supporters and critics of Planned Parenthood and abortion.  But I started thinking a bit about how a Christian should feel about all of this.  Is there a problem with misleading people or misrepresenting yourself?

It’s certainly true that Scripture condemns lying and dishonesty.  But does that mean it’s never OK to lie?  I think we need to acknowledge first of all that we live in a fallen world.  Which means at times we will be faced with paths that don’t necessarily allow us to remain completely free from the guilt of sin.  I don’t think that refusing to tell a lie when you know it could save someone’s life keeps you innocent in God’s eyes.  What is our goal in life as Christians?  To love God and to love our neighbor.  Because we are sinful people in a sinful world, I think that sometimes this means we will sin in order to fulfill the latter command.  This does not justify our sinfulness in the eyes of God – it doesn’t make sin into not sin.  But it is the honest recognition that sometimes our sin might lead towards ends that are less sinful.  Refraining from acting because of a fear of sin could lead to greater damage to our neighbor than if we just go ahead and sin.  This is the conundrum that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to sort through in his decision to take an active role with people plotting to kill Hitler.

So is it sinful to lie about your identity in order to secure an interview or discussion with somebody?  Sure.  Might that be necessary in order to stop a greater evil?  Possibly.  As with all of our actions we must be aware that sin is always lurking within and behind them.  Even worship is tinged with the sin of pride or ego or vanity or any number of other possible culprits.  If I think that what is at stake is my purity I’m mistaken – I’m not pure.  My purity comes from Christ.  My righteousness comes from Christ.  Everything in and of myself is sinful and broken.

Biblical injunctions to honesty are real.  I could probably argue that many of them are intended against those who would use dishonesty to harm or abuse or take advantage of someone else, but ultimately what the Bible calls us to is purity and holiness and perfection – which is impossible for us to attain on our own.  It might be necessary to sin in order to accomplish a greater good.  I still remain sinful.  I still may need to face the consequences for my sin temporally.  But if I try to take refuge in my righteousness rather than deal with the dirty reality of a shattered creation, I’m still lying – I’m just lying to myself.

2 Responses to “False Pretenses”

  1. Lois Says:

    Seems to me the sticking point here is, can we really always recognize the “greater good”? What about what Paul says about doing evil that good may come of it? And, in fact, did any good come of it?

    Those of us who already believed abortion is a particularly vile and cruel form of murder still believe that, those who originally believed it is a matter of a woman’s authority over her own body still believe that; what was accomplished?

    • mrpaulnelson Says:

      Agreed, discerning the greater good is always dangerous and fraught with shortsightedness, particularly when we use it to justify sin.

      In this case, I would personally argue that perhaps people – as a result of these videos and events – became aware of potential (or actual) abuses and mispractices through a federally funded entity. Causing people to question the stated raison d’etre of PP has good value in my mind. While minds may not be changed (though I have no way of knowing that is the case), at the very least we can push dialogue on whether PP should receive Federal funding.

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