"Thou shalt not bear false witness. . ." — Exodus 20:16
Jim Wallis wants to take Glenn Beck to Sunday school.
On occasion, the Fox News host has spoken of his daughter, who was born with cerebral palsy. According to Sojourners, a faith-based organization Wallis co-founded and leads, Beck recalled last month how doctors warned that the baby, if carried to term, might never walk, speak or feed herself. That was 21 years ago and she is now a miraculous young woman who defied the dire expectations.
Beck has suggested that under health care reform, the government would be empowered to euthanize children like his. But who is Washington to decide whether a life is worth living? "That's for God to decide," he is quoted as saying. "Not the government."
From this, we learn two things. The first is that Glenn Beck believes in God. The second is that Glenn Beck lies. You'd hope those things would be mutually exclusive.
For the record and for the umpteenth time: No version of health care reform being contemplated by Congress mandates death for the old, the disabled or the infirm. That's a canard. It is mendacity, prevarication, a bald-faced lie.
In other words, politics.
The art of the untruth is, after all, the life's blood of governance. As a brief spin through PolitiFact.com, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checking website will attest, no party, ideology or politician has a monopoly on lying. Lying is as bipartisan as it gets.
And yet, the lies that have characterized the debate over health care are in a class all their own — not simply because they are outrageous, but because they are designed specifically to inflame and terrorize. As such, those lies are deserving of special rebuke. Last week, they got it.
Sojourners, which calls itself the nation's largest network of progressive Christians, says its members sent out thousands of e-mails to five of the biggest offenders: Beck, his fellow Fox personalities Sean Hannity, Steve Doocy and Bill O'Reilly, and radio host Rush Limbaugh. Each e-mail said the same thing in essence: stop lying.
Wallis, a celebrated theologian and author of The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America, says Sojourners is trying to redeem things people "really should've learned in Sunday school.
"For example, Sean Hannity said we're going to have a government rationing body that tells women with breast cancer, 'You're dead. It's a death sentence.' That's just not true. So instead, [in our e-mail] we told the story of a real person, a real woman who was denied her breast cancer surgery because of her health provider's discovery of a pre-existing condition called acne."
He adds, "A lot of the things the talk show hosts say will happen are already happening because of the behavior of the health care providers. They're not true because of health care reform, they're true because of the present system."
It is not, says Wallis, his intention to accuse everyone who opposes health care reform of lying. Nor, he says, is it his intention to promote a given proposal. All he's trying to do is reframe health care as the moral issue it is, and restore verities we all learned in Sunday School. Or Hebrew School. Or Islamic School. Or, heck, kindergarten.
That it's wrong to lie, wrong to pick on the vulnerable. And that we have a duty to care for those who cannot care for themselves, the ones Jesus called "the least of these."
Those are simple, sacred and profound principles. But you wonder if the simple, sacred and profound still have power to sway us. Obviously, Jim Wallis has faith they do. I hope he's right. Yet what a spectacular leap it takes to believe the tiny whisper of conscience might be heard over the shrill outcry of America screaming at its mirror.
That is in itself a sobering measure of how far we've wandered from the things we once knew as kids.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.