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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When we are misquoted

So Archbishop Justin makes the lead on this morning’s Radio 4 news. Significant. What is worrying however, is that he also makes the front page of the Daily Mail and Daily Express. What the Archbishop is saying is that it is understandable to be fearful of large-scale immigration. Speaking of the refugee crisis facing Europe he says: "This is one of the greatest movements of people in human history. Just enormous. And to be anxious about that is very reasonable.” In some ways Justin is saying the obvious. "Fear is a valid emotion at a time of such colossal crisis.” And it is a colossal crisis with vast numbers of people on the move, not only from Syria and Iraq but Afghanistan and even Pakistan. And that’s not counting those, usually from Africa, simply seeking a better life. The only response which has any prospect of success is for everyone to do something. As the Archbishop himself says “A problem of this scale can only be dealt with by a response on an equally grand scale right across Europe, and we have to play our part.” He urges us to do more. But sadly that is not going to happen. Most countries in the EU are resistant to accepting not just migrants but refugees. Also most people fleeing conflict know where they want to go. Witness Calais. So what do you do then? That is the intractable problem facing our politicians. (They need our prayers). However the problem for our Archbishop is that his comments are being taken out of context. It’s one thing to say that you are worried, fearful even, of allowing more refugees into our communities. But that is not saying that you don’t allow any immigration at all – which is what some parts of the press want him to say. So the Daily Mail proclaims our Archbishop has "experienced a dramatic conversion to common sense.” The Daily Express, in a leading article, says Mr Welby deserves to be applauded.. No one likes being misquoted. That fine journalist, Robert Fisk, for one: “The biggest problem I have in journalism is being quoted or misquoted and then being asked to defend something I haven't said.” But being deliberately misquoted is inevitable when you are in the public domain. And that, of course, includes Jesus. His opponents frequently tried to get him to say something which they could then present as undermining the Jewish faith or urging rebellion against Rome. But Jesus shrewdly avoids being misquoted – through teaching in stories and by speaking in the third person about the Son of Man. And in our Lent book Tom Wright says on page 30: “So (Jesus) answers the question not by saying something but by doing something.” It was difficult for his opponents to pin him down, even at his trial before the Sanhedrin. “Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against Jesus: ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.”’ Yet even then their testimony did not agree.”(Mark 14:57f) The apostle Paul was dogged by deliberate disinformation: he still is. His views on the freedom of God's grace were continually misrepresented. And so Paul often seeks to put on record what he actually said rather than what his opponents said he said. So he writes to the Romans, for example: “Some people are actually trying to put such words in our mouths, claiming that we go around saying, “The more evil we do, the more good God does, so let’s just do it!” That’s pure slander, as I’m sure you’ll agree.” (Romans 3:8, Message translation) The moral for us is simple and clear. We walk in the truth. We refuse to misquote or distort what others say for our own ends. Albert Einstein observed “Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.” Finally I quote the apostle Paul, accurately, when he writes: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)

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