Headlines are king when it comes to writing. When I worked as the news editor during college, writing headlines was a skill I was consistently trying to hone. I needed to make them catchy enough to get someone to read it, without giving too much away so people wouldn’t want to read at all. With headlines, you want to be edgy and thought-provoking.
But headlines come with a great danger, especially in our day and age in which information comes at us constantly. Often times, and I’m guilty of this myself, we read headlines and act as if we have a good grasp of a situation. When our time is at a premium, we often don’t have the time, or don’t want to take the time, to really look into news stories.
This happens most frequently on the campaign trail. Candidates makes speech after speech, do interview after interview, and after a while are bound to say something that isn’t as clear as it should have been, or was simply not well thought out. When these slip-ups come, they are normally made into pithy headlines that oversimplify a candidate’s argument, which means that, in essence, their comments are being misrepresented. The danger comes when we only read the headlines, making decisions about candidates or stories without really hearing all that a particular person has said.
I’ve noticed this most recently with presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, though no doubt it happens on both sides of the aisle and from every news outlet. I’m not interested in getting into the details of Dr. Carson’s comments on voting for a Muslim for president or his comments about the potentially diminished impact of the holocaust if the Jews had been armed. What I’m more interested in is how we as Christians interact with controversial comments like this, which I would argue are more often than not misrepresented by media outlets to develop catchy headlines and interesting television.
As we move more deeply into the next presidential race, I’d ask you to keep these biblical principles in mind as you engage with friends, family, and even opponents on a wide range of candidate issues.
Don’t misrepresent the other side
In a recent podcast released by The Gospel Coalition, Tim Keller, Michael Horton, and Matt Chandler discuss how Christians should approach disagreements. However, Michael Horton said something that is applicable to our present issue as well. Horton links our misrepresentation of opponents with breaking the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false testimony against your brother.”
Then he states a rule he gives to his seminary students: “If you write a paper where you are critical of a particular person…you have to state the position in terms that that person would recognize before you earn the right to critique it.” It will often take more time than we’d like to get a person’s position right, but let’s honor truth and God’s commandment to us by understanding and relaying the other side clearly and truthfully. We won’t always do this intentionally, which is why the next principle is important.
Hear the other side before you critique them
Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” We are a culture that has so much access to information, and yet we usually get our information from second or third-hand sources. We read a blog that cites a news article that quotes an analyst who paraphrases what someone else has said. As much as it is possible, let’s hear for ourselves what other people say in the context of their conversation. I can imagine a lot of things that I say day in and day out that, if taken out of context, I would not want to be broadcast as my position.
So instead of just reading the headlines, open up the article and see if you can find the transcript or audio of the interview. Rather than settling for you neighbor’s recitation of what a talk show host said somebody else said, try to find out what that person actually said. Before you begin weighing in on an issue, listen to the source. That leads me to my last principle.
Sometimes it’s best just to keep silent
Proverbs 17:27-28 reads this, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Sometimes it’s best not to weigh in on an issue at all. If you don’t know the truth or the context, it’s better to say so than to perpetrate a half-truth. Sometimes it’s good and right to be outraged by something, but let’s make sure it’s worthy of such a response first.