By now the whole world knows of Hilary Clinton’s mistaken claims about her visit to Bosnia. Here is the BBC’s summary of what happened.
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has said she made a mistake in claiming that she came under sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia in the 1990s. “It proves I’m human,” she said in Pennsylvania ahead of the key primary election vote there on 22 April.
Her aides earlier admitted she “misspoke” in claiming she and daughter Chelsea “ran with our heads down” when arriving in Bosnia in 1996. Aides to key rival Barack Obama argue she overstates her foreign experience.
In her speech last week, Mrs Clinton said: “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.
But a video clip played by CBS on Monday showed Mrs Clinton and Chelsea walking across the tarmac smiling and waving before stopping to shake hands with Bosnia’s acting president and meet an eight-year-old girl. (BBC News, Tuesday, 25 March 2008, https://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7313117.stm)
It’s hard to imagine that she made this mistake on purpose. In the Darwinian world of American politics where everything takes place under the unflinching eye of the media, such mistakes are immediately punished, especially coming from one who is running on a platform of experience and trust. We can only guess that she really believed what she said, that her account of her landing in Bosnia was what she remember as having happened.
I must be able to trust my leaders and so I put a high premium on leaders being truth tellers. The American public must decide as to what this episode tells them about Hilary Clinton. But my first reaction on reading this account was this — we do this in church all the time.
In our desire to give God the glory, but often driven by the desire to promote our church/ministry/denomination/school/self, we embellish our testimonies to make them sound more dramatic, believing that what is more dramatic must be more divine. We would never tell outright lies but a chap healed from a simple cold becomes a person healed from a deadly pneumonia. One conversion and three rededications becomes four conversions. A meeting of eighty becomes a meeting that “roughly” attracted two hundred. We tell our embellished stories long enough and they become true for us. The heart is indeed devious above all else (Jeremiah 17:9), God forgive us.
God is a big God. He doesn’t need our help to testify to His reality or to His greatness, especially the kind of “help” that comes from embellishments that end up distorting the truth. Indeed the Clinton episode should serve as a reminder that self-serving embellishments are in the end self-defeating in a world where little is hidden from the media, or the next chap with a camera phone.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the liberties taken by politicians and the church. We live in a world where a market driven consumerism is ubiquitous, a consumerism characterized by competition and promotion. We not only tolerate, but have come to expect some degree of self-promoting embellishments from the many firms pitching their goods and services to us. This is business as usual. Unfortunately it has also become life as usual, both in politics, and if we are not vigilant, in the church as well.
Self-promoting embellishment that distorts the truth is something foreign to the Scriptures. We have just celebrated Good Friday and Easter. The defining event for Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Richard Bauckham has pointed out that the gospel accounts of the resurrection remain the least adorned of the many gospel testimonies.
It is well recognized that the narratives of the passion and especially the crucifixion itself constantly quote or allude to the Old Testament, especially to the words of righteous sufferers in the Psalms. There is an intertextual network that serves to interpret the passion of Jesus by setting it within the experience and the expectation of Israel.
But when we read on to the accounts of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances there are hardly any such allusions. The stories show little sign of following literary precedents, and standard narrative motifs, the building blocks of many an ancient story, are rare …
We seem to be shown the extraordinary novum, the otherness of resurrection, through the eyes of those whose ordinary reality it invaded. The perplexity, the doubt, the fear, the joy, the recognition are those of deep memory, mediated, to be sure, by literary means, but not entirely hidden behind the text.” (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006, pp. 504-505.)
The gospel is true. And that is enough. Therefore we see the apostle Paul working hard to ensure that both his motives and his methods were pure. He takes pains not to “sex up” the gospel message for any reason.
For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 2:3-7a NRSV)
Now here is a passage worth printing out and pasting all over our lives. Here is a passage worth noting and living by. Otherwise, when we are tempted to crucify Hilary Clinton for her recent “misspeak,” Jesus may well say: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8: 7b NRSV).