Scripture: Amos 7:10-17
Rand Corporation, the Santa Monica-based public policy think tank, recently came out with a report that describes what it considers “the gravest danger facing America.” It identified that problem as ‘Truth Decay’. Truth Decay is described as the erosion of truth. Describing this phenomenon, the agency noted that in America today “everyone has their own facts.” “When every has their own facts, nobody really has any facts” and “our democracy grinds to a halt.” Rand believes, that “polarization inflamed by truth decay is the gravest danger facing America.”
That very thoughtful information provides a good pathway into our text today as we look at “Truth and Justice in the Age of Alternative Facts”.
The person of Amos
· A shepherd from Tekoa, a village about 10 miles south of Jerusalem.
He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam in the 8th century (Scholars point to the time between 785 -745 BCE)
Amos was a shepherd who tended his sheep. Some scholars think he was more than just a shepherd, probably more of a businessman who probably owned, raised and dealt in sheep, although we have no way of measuring his wealth.
He wasn’t a conventional prophet, and never saw himself as one – in fact when asked he said quite clear “I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I am just a man whom God has given a message to share with Israel.”
Israel has prospered under Jeroboam the king, and the king and his allies have become carried away by their prosperity. They had trampled on the needy and oppressed the poor with their wealth and power.
The prophesy of Amos
In Amos 8: God showed Amos Israel as ripe fruit. That was emblematic of the fact that God’s judgement was near. Remember Amos’ statement that “God will not do anything without revealing it to his prophets.”
Israel in its prosperity had forgotten God and has thrown away virtues. Character, morality didn’t matter anymore. Justices became a commodity for the highest bitter. The rich exploited the poor.
Perhaps the most troublesome was that priest who should awaken Jeroboam consciousness to his moral decay, has become complacent. Amaziah the priest wined and dined with Jeroboam; religiosity thrived but what came out of the pulpit was not truth but alternative facts.
One question the church must ask itself today is: “Are we Amos or Amaziah?” In our quest to preserve those things we consider dear, have we gone into bed with those whom we are called to speak the truth of God’s word to? In our quest to preserve what we consider our identity, have we become vessels of bigotry.
Amos was a country boy who was not afraid to speak truth to power. He did not dress like Amaziah, he did not talk like Amaziah; he did have the theological language, nevertheless he had God clearly and wouldn’t not sugarcoat God’s word to Jeroboam.
He was not in it for the meal ticket it offered; not for the position, prestige and power. The niceties of language didn’t matter to him. He clearly recognized who he was called to be – a servant and a voice of reason, a conduit of God’s word to a straying Israel.
Amos’ message to Jeroboam was simple – God is not impressed with your economic achievements as long as you use that prosperity to oppress the poor.
We cannot be celebrating economically prosperity when we are at the same time cutting welfare program for the poor among us. We cannot be celebrating welfare for the wealthy while welfare for the poor is vilified.
Amos’ message to Bishop Amaziah was simple – silence is complacency. You can’t wine and dine with a king that oppresses his people. Amos’ message to Amaziah – you can’t keep quiet when Jeroboam boast of the deals in Wall Street when racism, police brutality and terror grow in Main Street.
If you listen to our major television stations today, you will wonder whether you are in the same country. The reports are so remarkably different that now more than ever so difficult to tell which is the truth.
Truth Decay occurs when we no longer agree on the difference between fiction and facts; a time when leaders only listen to what they want to hear and not what they should hear; when those entrusted with the assignment of making public the truth abandon or crucify it on the altar of self-interest. When leaders ally with messengers whose perspective align with their viewpoints.
It is period described by some as the post-truth era; an era characterized by distortion, deception, and bald-faced lies. "Post-truth" was the Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of 2016. According to Ralph Keyes, “In the post-truth era we don't just have truth and lies but a third category of ambiguous statements that are not exactly the truth but fall short of a lie. Enhanced truth it might be called. Neo-truth. Soft truth. Truth lite. In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction.”
It is a troubling time for those men and women of good will in our media institutions.
In an era when success is measured by clicks and views, the challenge for many journalists is how do we maintain professional ethics while also ensuring that they appeal enough to earn the clicks and eyeballs. Finley Peter Dunne, popular Chicago journalist, once said “the job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I would contend that the statement in many ways represents the assignment of the church today. It is certainly the assignment that we see Amos doing in the text we read. For Amos, to serve God is to practice justice. Justice is based on truth. It is black and white and no grays in between. Truth in the law means objective, reliable facts that can be admitted as evidence. It is not fiction.
One of the ten commandments in the Bible is “Thou shall not be false witness.” Lies is false witness that thrives on self-delusion and bigotry. It is the root cause of the racism, classism and greed we see today in our culture today.
Justice and truth
For Amos, it was truth as demanded by God and not as colored by personal interests or rewards anticipated. We remember Jesus statement – “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” The truth we are called to tell is that which is redemptive, restorative and transformative, and not that which further enslaves. It is truth not as we want it, or define it, but truth as the Holy One of Israel has commanded. This is the difference between Amos and Amaziah.
In this time of Truth Decay, as people of God, we must ask ourselves the question – Who do we want to be – Amos or Amaziah?
There is no justice when justice exists only for the highest bidder. There is no justice when justice exists only for those with connection to power. The command in Amos is to have justice flow down like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. The oppression and injustice Amos found in the Israel was evidence that righteousness had been thrown away as something worthless by those who were in power. When truth no longer mean anything and when truth have alternatives or variations, our society suffer decay.
We are called to be Amos to our generation. We are called to project the truth of God’s word without loyalty to anyone other than the one who has called us. Glory to God. Amen