A People Of Lies

A People Of Lies

My wife and I enjoy Broadway musicals. Alongside favorites like Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, we enjoy the musical story Wicked. This interesting prequel to the beloved Wizard of Oz puts a whole new twist on a well-known story. What if, as the musical Wicked suggests, the Wicked Witch was actually a good person who was trying to save Oz? And what if the fates that befell the Lion, the Tin Woodsman, and the Scarecrow were not curses by the Wicked Witch, but her attempt to keep them from being killed by a more sinister curse? And what if Glenda, the Good Witch, was actually a friend of the Wicked Witch and knew the wholesome truth about her but was not courageous enough to confront popular opinion? And what if the Wizard of Oz was actually a fraud, and the father of the Wicked Witch through an adulterous affair?

One of the songs/scripts in Wicked occurs in a conversation between the Wizard and his unknown daughter, Elphaba. She later becomes the Wicked Witch through a series of misunderstandings and half-truths. He explains to her how he came to be the leader of Oz. He never asked to be Wizard; the people just needed someone to believe in, someone wonderful. So this “dime a dozen mediocrity” became the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He posed the idea of a town built of green and postured as their salvation. When challenged with lying, the Wizard said, “Where I’m from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it—history.” This prompts a proverbial song suggesting that whether a person is a traitor or liberator, a thief or philanthropist, a crusader or invader, depends on which label succeeds.

Once we are given the full history of the characters, the truth swivels in the opposite direction. Suddenly, heroes are villains and villains are heroes. The Munchkins are deceived. Dorothy is journeying toward a false hope. And the celebration of the demise of the witch is actually a moment to be grieved, because the only true and just power in the story is dead.

How Do We Become A People Of Lies?

How do we become a people of lies? And more importantly, how do the people of God become so complicit in them that they actually believe they are defending God?

I grew up in southern Mississippi during the 1960s. The civil rights movement was trying to make inroads into a culture steeped in racial prejudice. I saw oppression firsthand. Most of the white churches had already decided that blacks were not welcome. They had a plan in place should any of “them” try to worship with “us.” I heard sermons preached and scriptures quoted defending segregation. But there was one church, a Baptist church on North Locust Street, that opened its arms to anyone who wanted to come.

A brave pastor took a minority stance among his clergy peers. He resisted the downward pull of prejudice and welcomed blacks to worship with his white congregation. The KKK burned his church. There was a charred cross on the front lawn. The KKK offered security only to those who sided with them. And most churches did. How did these Christians come to believe this lie?

The church has been wrong many times down through history. Peter was wrong about loading the cultural law of the Jews on the shoulders of the Gentiles. Christians were wrong in their belief that Jerusalem should be taken by crusaders and the enemy occupants killed mercilessly. The Roman Catholic Church was wrong about the scientific discoveries of Galileo. The Protestant church was wrong about burning martyrs at the stake for positions later embraced as true. The Church of England was wrong to chastise the Wesley brothers, John for preaching in the coal mines and Charles for writing all those worldly tunes. Plenty of preachers have been wrong about end-time scenarios. Christians were wrong to defend slavery and to deny women the right to vote.

It does not surprise me that evil exists in political and economic systems of the world. That is expected. What saddens me is that it exists among the people of God. When God’s people believe lies, we are diminished.

Self-deceived religious people may be the most dangerous people in the world, because they are convinced that their cause is of God and their victory endorsed by God. They are not that much different from the Islamic fundamentalists who will blow up their own bodies and kill everyone around them because they believe they are right. Only the self-deceived in the church do not go as far to destroy.
For holy conversation to occur, we must at least be in touch with the reality that we could be wrong. Holy conversation needs an appropriate modesty that is the opposite of arrogance. We can possess a modest opinion about our “fool-proofness” and still be deeply convinced of our position. It is a difficult posture, but one that can be given us by the Spirit.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. Bev Quevedo says

    Thanks Dan.

    Your words come at a time when ao many are taking such a mean spirited stance on ideas or opinions differing from theirs. We need civil discourse. Thanks.

  2. Ty McCarthy says

    “When God’s people believe [the lie that homosexuality is a sin, and gays cannot be Christian], we are diminished.”

    • Thanks Ty. While one’s sexual orientation may not be a willful choice, I do believe that our sexual activity, heterosexual or homosexual, can be considered a sin if it uses another person, violates the boundaries of marriage, or is not rooted in a lifetime covenant of marriage. I know many same-sex oriented persons who live as vibrant followers of Jesus and would agree that they are in the family of God. My understanding of scripture would be that celibacy is a calling for their orientation. Many Christians disagree with me on this and they remain my friends.

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