The uproar surrounding NBC News anchor Brian Williams is not a national emergency. There are many avenues for getting your news these days, and there are just about as many glamorous, aspiring celebrities who are eager to deliver it. But the fact that the highly regarded journalist has been suspended for six months for fabricating stories and exaggerating details of his assignments provides the church with a teachable moment.
As you surely know by now, Williams blamed “the fog of memory” when soldiers challenged his account of being shot down in a military helicopter while visiting an army outpost. When he offered an apology and a correction, he insisted he witnessed the crash from a following chopper, except that wasn’t true either. By the time sources in New Orleans began to accuse him of lying about his experiences during Hurricane Katrina, officials at NBC had no choice but to try and salvage the credibility of their news division by penalizing such blatant dishonesty.
Nobody ever accused Williams of getting actual stories of combat wrong. And there is no evidence that his coverage of storm damage along the Gulf Coast was not factual. Rather, the details he exaggerated and falsified were mostly about his personal experience in covering such calamities: being shot down upon arrival or seeing a corpse floating behind his hotel. But if a reporter cannot be trusted to be sober and factual about his personal accounting, how can one be sure he is not fictionalizing details to make the news more colorful as well?
Those of us who follow Jesus Christ should keep this in mind whenever we are tempted to take the bait and write off parts of the Bible as “mythical” or “enhanced for dramatic effect.” Making excuses for controversial scriptures has become so common today that even people I respect have begun to drift towards that slippery slope:
- One popular Christian writer has now conceded it’s possible the first three chapters of Genesis are mythical rather than historic. Perhaps Adam and Eve weren’t real, the thesis goes, but there’s still meaning to be found in the myth.
- Others suggest that Daniel was actually written hundreds of years later, meaning there were no amazing prophecies at all; no lion’s den, either. But the message can still be motivating, or so they say.
- Then there are those who suggest that the four gospels are filled with errors because Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were simply human beings who got things wrong due to “the fog of memory.” But that’s only human, right?
The shocking downfall of Brian Williams reminds us all: the message has no credibility if the messenger is unreliable. Assuming the Bible may contain mythical elements, fabricated miracles, and errors of memory will not make the cross of Christ more appealing to secular men and women. Neither will it make the existence of God seem more likely to atheists. But it will leave lost people with more doubts than ever. Did Jesus really die and walk out of the tomb alive, or is the church just a marketplace for false guilt and fairy tales? If it’s all about mythology, why not just call the Psychic Hotline, catch the highlights from your horoscope, and reserve your Sunday mornings for golf?
Lift up the cross!