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The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon

The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at The Divinity School, Duke University. He retired after serving eight years as Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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Will Willimon: Don't. Lie.

December 01, 2017


When he received an honorary degree at the University of Aberdeen this past summer, my friend Stanley Hauerwas gave what may be the shortest commencement address on record.  He said, in about five minutes, "Do not lie."

Jesus said that he was not only the way and the life but also the truth.  Christians don't lie.  We don't lie because lying is the death of human community, or it's impossible to be with one another in relationship when there is a pattern of lying. We don't lie because it's our job to show that Jesus Christ makes possible lives of truth in a world of lies. 

Years ago, Sissela Bok wrote a great book that I keep on my shelves and read repeatedly:  Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life.   She has a great study of the damage that lies work when they are told by doctors and lawyers.  Lying denies people the truth they need to make good decisions.  Bok says that lying is never, ever, permissible.  As a pastor, I heard Bok say that when I say, "I didn't tell them the truth because I'm such a nice person and I'm trying to protect them," is deceit of the worst sort.  

Stanley told the graduates of Aberdeen that which should be preached to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump, Ivanka, Shawn Spicer and all the others in the Trump administration whom we now know, from a truthful federal prosecutor, are liars:

I....hope you will demand that our life together be forged by the desire to live truthful lives.  Lies make our lives ugly, robbing us of our ability even to trust ourselves.  As graduates of the University of've been put on the path to being at home in truth.  That is no small thing. Never take it for granted.  To live in the truth will give you a life which may be difficult but one that will make possible your ability to look back and want no other life than you have lived.   As my friend, Sam Wells, suggests the only things that in our lives will last are those things that embody the truth.  So a well-lived life will not be determined by how thick a person's CV may be, but rather those aspects of one's life that abide in the truth. 

So again I say to you, "Do not lie."

When he lied about his past, his adultery, his business, his commitments, his faith, I confess that I said, "Well, what do you expect?  He's Trump."  But at some point the lying became ugly and I saw the damage it was doing to America's moral fiber.  Why, looking at Huckabee Sanders and Trump do I think of Matthew 15:19?  "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders."  Check, check, Trump and his family, and administration.

I work with young people.  It is so important to tell our youth the simple truth that in the present political moment is a truth that has obtained new importance: Don't lie.  Don't lie.

From Will's bog, A Peculiar Prophet

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