February 3, 2014

Fact Checking Prophets

Whether we watched it or not, we’ve all heard the news: the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. We probably also heard another set of news stories: that sex trafficking increases during the Super Bowl. Except, it’s not clear this is true

I am happy to see that church leaders and others are raising awareness of this important issue, but we also need to be careful to check our facts first. It turns out, there isn’t much actual evidence that sex trafficking increases during the Super Bowl (just as there aren’t statistics back up the claim that domestic violence increases during the Super Bowl). The problem of human trafficking is complicated and it is real, and it is much bigger than the Super Bowl.

In our efforts to be a prophetic voice in the world, it can be easy to choose the most eye-catching news, the factoid that’s relevant to the upcoming sporting event or news of the day.

I certainly don’t mean this as criticism of any person in particular. I’m as guilty as the next person in this regard. I have a penchant for polemic, and I occasionally repeat things I’ve heard or post them to my Facebook page that strengthen my case, whether it’s about war or climate change, without checking doing a little fact checking first. And those well-meaning misstatements can have significant negative consequences (as this article reminds us). If we are railing against a problem without really understanding it, people will stop listening to us.

Being a prophetic voice is hard work. If the Church is to speak out against violence and injustice in the world, we must recognize that the problems we face are large and difficult and not necessarily connected to the news of the day.

True peace and justice requires truth. It takes work to get to the truth and time to understand it, and we are called to put in the time.

Being a prophetic voice means wading into the problems of the day in real and difficult ways, it means engaging the issues of poverty and abuse and war and all the uncomfortable facts that challenge us, and it means recognizing that doing the work of God, fighting for justice and peace and working for the poor, is time consuming work, and it’s going to take the rest of our lives to do it.