Nightly News host Brian Williams was in a war zone traveling in a convoy of airplanes. One came under attack. It was not the plane in which Williams was a passenger. But over time the story morphed into one in which the aircraft he was in sustained mortar fire. Or something like that. The allegation is that the story was therefore falsified by a person of trust, a network news anchor.
He certainly embellished the story. Or fell victim to false memory syndrome. As a result, he’s been suspended, without pay, from hosting the NBC national newscast for six months.
Some say it’s the end of his career.
For readers here, I couldn’t help but notice the similarity between Williams’ embellishment and Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism, though in Driscoll’s case, it may have been but one of many issues that brought down the end of the Washington state megachurch franchise known as Mars Hill.
But when it comes to embellishment, we do this don’t we?
By this I mean both we as individuals, and we as the church.
Individually, we paint an artificial picture of ourselves on social media. We idealize our children’s accomplishments and our recent vacation. We make sure our profile picture minimizes silver hairs or bags under the eyes. We minimize reports of failures and defeats.
Corporately, churches are known for enhancing numbers: Attendance figures, budgets, baptisms, altar call responses, and the number of kids on the Sunday School bus. Whether you call it an ethical lapse or deliberate dishonesty depends on how you interpret what’s been said, where you set the bar, or perhaps recollection of your own failings in this department.
It’s certainly akin to the fishing story; each time around the size of the fish caught gets larger and longer.
We can avoid being guilty of deceit or falsification — those are harsh words after all — by using terms like “approximately” or “as I remember” or even the euphemistic “evangelically speaking;” but the fact remains we tend to recollect the data in an upwards, not downwards direction.
So we need the Brians and the Marks; they serve to remind us that being ‘lax with the facts’ can catch up to us, that sometimes we have to pay the price for not being people whose accounts of things are reliable and dependable. We have to face the consequences of what scripture might describe as not ‘letting our yes be yes and our no be no.’