Fake news and the influence of the powerful has been around since the first Easter morning.


This is the text for my letter from the vicarage for May 2017.

I am writing this on the day when Theresa May announced a snap general election. Already I am feeling, “No! Not another election!!” We’ve had the Scottish referendum, a general election, Brexit and the American Presidential election. It seems we are now constantly voting for someone or something but are never satisfied with the results.

I am also wondering whether there will be accusations of foreign government cyber hacks and fake news at this general election? Will there be troubling news about powerful outsiders influencing the result of the British general election? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both believed that Russian and British intelligence services interfered in their campaigns. They believe it, but where is the evidence?

We have recently heard lots about fake news and political interference, but these things are not new. There is nothing new under the sun. There was fake news and political interference when Jesus rose from the dead, that first Easter morning.

Matthew reports in his gospel:

While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.” If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ (Matthew 28:11-14)

The guards reported the truth to the chief priests, Jesus had risen from the dead. But the chief priests and elders devised a plan, to say that the disciples stole the body. If Matthew is right, this was a clear case of fake news.

The chief priests and elders paid off the guards with “a large sum of money” and told the guards not to worry, because the chief priests would make sure that the Roman governor agreed that this fake news story was better than telling the truth. The powerful used their wealth and their influence to shape the news to maintain their power and influence.

And so we should not be surprised when worldly forces influence the result of an election, or not. But we should be saddened if there is falsehood. In many countries around the world elections are won and lost through corruption, fake news and wheeler-dealing. In those countries, the majority of people just shrug their shoulders and say “What can we do? We cannot change anything” But Matthew’s gospel ends with a challenge for every reader. Matthew challenges us all to ask, “who is telling the truth?” Is it Matthew, the friend of Jesus and eyewitness of what happened? Or, is it the chief priests, elders and guards? Is Matthew really the liar?

The challenge is for us all to seek the truth, to find the evidence. The death and resurrection of Jesus has conditioned generations of thinkers to ask; “What is truth?” What is the truth?” If Jesus rose from the dead, if it is true, then so is judgement and so I need to make sure I do not bear false witness.

No one needs to shrug their shoulders at an election and say “What can we do?” Christians should point all unbelievers to the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus in the gospels and ask “What is the truth?” The Holy Spirit will bring conviction, belief and the power to speak the truth.

With love, Neil

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