Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor-Exodus 20:16
"If you don't have something good to say about someone, come sit next to me." -Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of TR and wife of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.
"If you don't have something nice to say about someone, by golly, let's hear it." -Editorial Policy of the now defunct Fort Worth Press
"Never let facts get in the way of a good story." -Comment overheard on the sidewalk in front of a baptist church, 1889
Soon it will be time to write of faithless men. Tremble.
A first year seminary student learns the distinction between personality and character. Personality is a "play-acting word." Actors in a Greek play could act as various characters without a change of position on stage or costume. They simply move colored, shaped masks to face front, indicating a change of roles, from masculine to feminine, from happy to sad, et al. To change the mask is to change persona.
When I hear someone ask, "Don't you think he has a pleasing personality?" I always wonder "Which one?"
Character comes from an older word meaning "etched" or "carved into." The concept is black letter plain. A man's character is cut into him. He may learn the art of compromise but compromises grudgingly and always with the intent to advance his cause, which is, itself, to find the greater good. He has certain core values he will not compromise; not for advancement, not for fellowship, not for material gain. He may hold an office but he is neither an office seeker nor an office holder.
Character is what you are. Personality is the role you play. A statesman is a person of character. A bureaucrat is a "player." If you follow a player, you should not complain about being "played." In fact, you should plan for it.
In a time of crisis, the nation or the organization in crisis can call on its most able citizens. In fact, it will seldom have to call. Good men rush forward, sacrificing all for the good of the many. After a few years of crisis, when the worst is past, the real heroes go back to private life. Then come the carrion eaters, the scavengers, the job seekers, the men who defend their mendacity as necessary to the survival of the institution. They are the great pragmatists, the practical politicians, oblivious to all but their desire to hoard power.
The person of character seems oddly out of place, standing still as he does, while all around him churns in turmoil. He is like the great tree, withstanding one more violent rage gust, while more malleable men blow around him, moved by the direction and ferocity of the winds of time.
The False Witness can lie about his own reality. He can lie about what he sees in front of him. He is the most dangerous kind of liar, that one for whom the words he speaks become true just because he speaks them. His word is truth and his gospel is peace. He can listen to the testimony of other witnesses only to regard their testimony as somehow worth less than his own words.
The BGCT employee who tried to get my present church not to call me as pastor failed because the people who called me talked to me. At my insistence, we spent hours together. I asked them to ask me every question and then to call others and ask them for more questions. Truth won out because it got a good hearing.
He told them he had never heard of any candidating pastor who wanted to make himself so available to a church. He said it proved I had something to hide.
How do you argue with such a rationale? The man wants to make himself transparent and vulnerable. He must be a villian.
How many times does truth get a good hearing? How often does truth get to speak at all?
Most of us fear this; if people get to know me, they will not like me. Some of us get past that fear to the next and higher fear that our craving for approval will cause us to commit heinous acts against our own conscience, the ones that damn the human soul. We fear our own disapproval, then, more than we fear the loss of another fellow's support.
The false witness deifies himself. That is, he makes himself the author and finisher of the fact, if not of the faith. A lying witness serves the Sanhedrin. He meets the needs of those who need a story to support their position. Personality has a position to protect. Character has a cause to advance.
The false witness reveals his inner neediness. The militant missionary apostle Paul says of himself that he has learned to abound and to be abased. Sadly, this is sometimes taken to mean he has learned just to take what comes, like some pathetic pawn in a cosmic game he does not understand.
In fact, I think Paul's assertion means he has learned self-control in times of prosperity and fortitude in times of need. He is a man of character, not a victim.
Warren Buffet, the investor, says he has an inner scoreboard. This inner scoreboard is not touched by the ups and downs of the market, or the vacillations of his personal fortune. He keeps score for himself, rather than let his friends or his critics decide for him how he is doing at the moment.
There is a huge distinction between personality and character. Faithfulness demands character, not a nice smile.
Soon it will be time to write of faithless men. For awhile, we will speak instead of the little gnats of hypocrisy attracted to the sweet savor of the body politic. Innuendo, insinuation, the eager whisper in the uncertain ear, the easy settlement of complex situations; all will bear our scrutiny.