The resignation this week of Congressman Anthony Weiner has me thinking about the relationship between leadership and lying.

Sadly, over the years I’ve seen a lot of good people hurt by Christian leaders who were convinced that the success of the mission of their church or organization justified an essentially unjust course of action. You know, it’s the old “Ya gotta break a few eggs if you’re gonna make an omellete” mentality.

In particular, I’m concerned today about the not-all-that-rare practice of Christian leaders deliberately deceiving their constitutents by either lying to them directly, or simply putting a spin on things so as to cause them to believe something that’s simply not true. This deception is supposedly justified by a concern for the greater good. I’m sorry, but this worldly approach to leading others makes me really, really nervous.

Just this morning, my Bible reading caused me to come across Pr. 17:7 which says:

Arrogant lips are unsuited to a fool– how much worse lying lips to a ruler! (Prov 17:7)

This, in turn, reminded me of Lev. 19:11 which seems to decry any kind of dishonest communication between God’s people:

‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. (Lev 19:11)

And, of course, there’s Eph. 4:15 with its exhortation for believers to speak the truth to one another in love, trusting God with the results:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Eph 4:15)

Finally, I’m also thinking today of those various passages wherein the Apostle Paul is careful to insist that he’s practicing what it means to be dedicated to the truth as a Christian leader: Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 11:31; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Cor. 12:6; etc.

Taken together, theses passages suggest to me that it’s simply inappropriate for Christian leaders to ever engage in the deliberate deception of the folks, regardless of any notion of the greater good. Sure, sometimes hard decisions have to be made in the rough-and-tumble, fallen world in which we live and minister. But even these difficult decisions need to be conducted in an essentially just manner, displaying Christian integrity in the process! Even the secular world still seems to understand that it’s unacceptable for leaders to simply lie to their constituents. 

Someone might push back saying, “Yes, but isn’t it OK to lie to the Nazis who are demanding to know if you’re hiding Jews?”  My response, as a teacher of Christian ethics who routintely endeavors to help my students recognize the difficulties associated with an unqualified absolutist approach to moral decision making, is to say: “Come on, apples and oranges!”

So, I’m feeling led today to reach out to any Christian leaders who might stumble across this posting. Are you feeling tempted, for the sake of Christ’s mission, to deliberately deceive those you’re supposed to be serving on his behalf? I encourage you to consider the possibility that in God’s economy it’s never OK for a Christian leader to deliberately deceive his or her followers. Better to trust God with the mission than to begin the practice of deliberately deceiving God’s people. Just tell people the truth (see Matt. 5:37; James 5:12). While it may, on rare occasions, be appropriate to not convey everything you know to the members of your faith community, don’t be too quick to assume that they can’t “handle the truth,” and be very careful that your reticence to be fully forthcoming doesn’t devolve into the use of slippery speech, manipulative language, half-truths, artful re-direction, etc. It’s one thing to withhold information with a truly loving motive in mind, it’s another to proactively engage in strategic attempts to give your followers the wrong impression. If achieving your organization’s mission calls for you to lie to (or even just deceive) God’s people, maybe it’s time for some mission clarification.

Something to think about.