I’ve always thought it fascinating that two key figures in American independence—John Adams and Thomas Jefferson— died on the same day, and that day was July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence that they both signed.
But that was the second time Thomas Jefferson died.
In July 1800, newspapers picked up the sad story that Thomas Jefferson had died. It was first reported in Baltimore, but it spread like wildfire and other newspapers in our young country carried it. This news was especially troubling because Jefferson was running for president.
- The Federalist party really hoped it was true, so that John Adams could be reelected and Jefferson’s party, those pesky Democratic-Republicans, would step out of the way.
- The Democratic-Republican party screamed “Fake News!”—or “The Press Doth Tell Tales!” or whatever they yelled in 1800—and claimed it was a Federalist trick.
Spoiler alert. Jefferson wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t fake news. It was … shall we say, misinformed news. Thomas Jefferson had a slave named Thomas Jefferson, and it was the enslaved man who died. So … someone named Thomas Jefferson did die at Monticello. That much was true, but no one bothered to check the facts.
It happens today. In fact, it happens quite frequently. We read something on social media and hit the SHARE button because it’s a fascinating story. But who checks the facts?
On the other side of the equation, we automatically dismiss other news stories as fake news because we don’t like what it is reporting. It doesn’t set well with what we want to believe, so it must be fake. But who checks the facts?
Christian, can I talk to you for a minute? If my social media feed is any indication, Christians are some of the worst at retweeting/sharing without first checking the veracity of what they are sharing. Subconsciously, we don’t worry about fact-checking because … well, doesn’t it just sound like something Biden/Trump/Pelosi/Name-your-own-opponent would say?? I’m not asking you to drop out of politics or cease to have an opinion. I’m asking you to think before you post.
I’m also not saying politics are not important, but for the believer, the kingdom of God is of greater importance. I love this country, but it will eventually go the way of other great countries and empires. The kingdom of God is eternal. The “politics” of God’s kingdom come before American politics, and we better think critically and ensure that what we post does nothing to dishonor our King.
What are the politics of the kingdom of God? Righteousness, integrity, and truth. There is no room for—indeed, no need for—hyped-up news or fake reports when we’re dealing with matters of the kingdom of God.
No one has ever been won to the kingdom of God by political rants and irresponsible Facebook shares. Quite the opposite. Our mean-spirited approach to “the other side” only alienates people. And what does it matter if we’re right about American politics if we miss the greater need to be like Jesus: full of grace and truth?
Allow me to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13: If I speak absolutely-correct political views but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of understanding all the implications of diplomacy and political decisions, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my opinions, and if I give over my sharp political retorts to the public forum of Facebook but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Want to make a difference in this country? Live like Jesus and live for Jesus.
And that’s the truth.
SOURCE: Charles Warren, Odd Byways in American History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1942), pp. 127–35.
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