True story. The fifth grade boy was listening to his teacher give an introductory lesson on evolution. After a while he raised his hand. “I don’t believe evolution is true,” he said. The teacher was not real happy with his contradiction of her presentation. “I have a university degree and I believe in it, so you should too,” she retorted, using the logical fallacy of argument from authority. But her argument was flawed and the boy pointed it out. “Well, my father has three university degrees and he doesn’t believe in evolution. So you shouldn’t either!”
I know the story is true because that fifth grade boy was my brother. Being a bright and generally respectful student, he did not get into much trouble for speaking truth to power. But that was often not the case. Even in the early 1960’s.
About the same time in our family life, we rented our upstairs apartment to a couple. The husband was studying at Penn State for his doctorate in psychology. He finished his course work with very high grades and was an exemplary student. But when he took his orals, he was asked about his underlying belief system. When he said he was a Christian and believed the basic orthodox doctrines of the faith, his committee stopped the interview. After deliberation they told him he had failed. He was forced to leave the university and go to a different institution where he eventually got his degree. In his case, speaking truth to power was costly.
My father was a veterinarian who was employed by Penn State University. Part of his duties was to run an extension service for the state of Pennsylvania where farmers could bring their poultry to the lab and have them dissected to see what was ailing their flock. Dad would diagnose the problem and give the farmers advice on what to do to eliminate the disease. He would also tell them about his best friend, Jesus. Many of the farmers appreciated what Dad said. Sometimes, though, a farmer took exception. Periodically someone would complain. They did not want to hear about God. I remember the day Dad came home and told us that the head of his department came to him with a letter to sign. In it, the letter stated that he would not talk about his faith while on the job. My father thought about it and prayed about it. He concluded that he could not keep quiet about his faith. So he told the department head that he would not sign the paper. He said he had a Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and would not give that up. Observing my father during this rather tense time helped me see that speaking truth to power can be a noble effort. He kept his integrity, but was respectful and resolute. He did not sign the paper and he did not lose his job.
Speaking truth to power has often been a Christian endeavor. Peter spoke truth to the religious powers who told the disciples to stop preaching and teaching about Jesus. “Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him. When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them” (Acts 5:29-33).
Powerful people have often done just what the Jews sought to do; kill the messenger of truth. They did it to Stephen and they eventually martyred all the apostles save John. It is not only the powerful who need to hear truth. Those who are weak need the message as well.
Only a few days ago a group of students at Pomona College declared in a letter that there is no such thing as truth and that in fact, truth is merely a construct to continue to enslave downtrodden minorities. They call for an end to free speech and want to ban anyone from the college who does not conform to their definition of what is acceptable. Here is a group of students so weak that they cannot listen to a voice which contradicts their own ideas. They are like backslidden Israel. “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear” (Zech. 7:11).
It is said of the people of WWII that they were the Greatest Generation. I would submit that we now have the Weakest Generation. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Pr. 16:32). This generation has accepted the lie that they can be all they want to be without the accompanying hard work to get there. They can have what they want without having to pay. They can follow their heart wherever it takes them and they do it with abandon, without any concept of self-denial or self-sacrifice. They think they are strong because they build up their bodies but they are weak because they have not ruled their own spirits. They indulge the flesh in a thousand ways and say no to themselves in nothing.
And they are angry. Try to get them off of their electronic devices and they respond with a snarl. Engage them in conversation and they are sullen. No, they are not slow to anger so they are weaker than the mighty.
Peter prophetically spoke of them when he warned that in the last days “many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Pet. 2:2). The problem is that without the truth, people end up in bondage. The answer to this is to find the source of truth, which is Jesus.
Jesus made it clear that there is a way out of weakness. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Bondage to self and sin is overbearing and eventually too heavy for anyone to bear. The hope for anyone, whether they are weak or strong, is to find the truth and follow it. It is in Jesus. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).