This article first appeared in the Reflections column of the Erie Times-News on May 20, 2017.
About 2,000 years ago, in a backwater of the Roman Empire called Judaea, lived a ruler named Pontius Pilate. The people were angry about the power of a distant government that paid no attention to them, an economy that perpetuated an enormous gap between the rich and the poor, tax burdens that were unsustainable, and debt that ruined lives. They wanted scapegoats, and Pilate was happy to have them take out their wrath on someone other than himself.
One spring, the religious authorities handed over a troublesome rabbi to Pilate. He questioned him, trying to determine if he deserved to die. The rabbi, whose name was Jesus, told Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate replied with a question. “What is truth?” he asked.
Today, our president and many elected leaders remind me of Pilate. They would like us to believe that the truth is hard to pin down, that there are “alternative facts” and therefore they do not have to be straight with us. It is easy to understand why. No one wants to tell the truth to angry people, and many of us are angry.
According to a recent Public Religion Research Institute report, nearly two-thirds of white working-class Americans, many of whom are Christians who supported President Trump in the last election, believe that American culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s. Sixty-two percent believe that newcomers from other countries threaten American culture. And six in 10 white working-class Americans “say that because things have gotten so far off track, we need a strong leader who is willing to break the rules.”
The survey tells us the truth about ourselves. But it also tells us that we are straying from the truths taught by the world’s great religions. A leader who bears false witness — who does not acknowledge that we are bound to one another and must care for one another — leads us away from the kingdom of God. We need to reject lies born of fear and political expedience and choose instead to follow the truth that will set us free.
The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.