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Not if we love truth, says Professor Robert P. George.

An excerpt:

We must not forfeit our standing in the debate as the tellers of truth.

Does this place us at a disadvantage in the struggle?  Someone will say:  the entire edifice of abortion is built on a foundation of lies--lies about the the biological status of the human being developing in the womb (“a mere clump of undifferentiated tissue, no different than a mole or a fingernail”); lies about the number of maternal deaths from illegal abortions prior to Roe v. Wade; lies about the so-called “medical necessity” of partial-birth abortions; and on and on.  Why should we deny ourselves the use of weapons that many on the other side wield freely?  Do we not deeply disadvantage our cause and, in that way, sin against its unborn victims by refusing to lie?  Are we “keeping our hands clean” at the price of putting off the day when outfits like Planned Parenthood will be dumped onto the ash heap of history?

I understand the impatience; indeed, I share it.  The edifice of abortion is indeed built on a foundation of lies.  And in working to protect the victims of abortion, it is frustrating to hold ourselves to standards that so many on the other side freely disregard.  But there are no moral shortcuts to victory in this struggle.  A culture of life can only be built on a foundation of truth.  Lying may produce short term victories, but it will, in the end, frustrate our long term objective.  Respect for life--like respect for every other great human good and every other high moral principle--depends on love of truth.  Our efforts in the cause of life and every other worthy goal will, in the end, prove to be self-defeating if they undermine love of truth.

You can read the whole thing here, as well as a debate on the issue between pro-life philosophers Christopher Tollefsen and Christopher Kaczor here, here, and here.

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73 thoughts on “Should Christians Support Lying to Expose Planned Parenthood?”

  1. Andrew says:

    God supports lies and lies himself in the Bible in the context of warfare. This is such a context.

    1. Andy says:

      You’re making two tenuous assertions here, and presenting Scriptural evidence for neither.

  2. JMH says:

    This is a good question to raise, but I’m inclined to disagree with George. The Kaczor article linked above raises a good point:

    “Finally, Tollefsen’s principles would seem to prove too much. They would seem to exclude undercover sting operations undertaken by law enforcement. They would exclude infiltrating a terrorist cell. They would exclude spies working to foil enemy battle plans. They would exclude investigative journalism that cultivates trust with the object of investigation. It could be that morality demands an end to all such activities, but it seems more likely that such activities are ethically permissible for serious reasons.”

    It seems to me that the Live Action project is along the lines of Elisha’s deception of the Syrians in 2 Kings 6. That’s even more the case when they’re willing to post the unedited video, showing that they’re not taking things out of context.

    1. Andy says:

      “They would seem to exclude undercover sting operations undertaken by law enforcement.”

      Indeed – operations that often involve significant other moral compromise. Even from a completely non-Christian perspective, there’s good reason to question undercover sting operations.

      “They would exclude infiltrating a terrorist cell.”


      “They would exclude spies working to foil enemy battle plans.”


      “They would exclude investigative journalism that cultivates trust with the object of investigation.”

      i.e. Investigative journalism that feigns friendship in order to advance a career?

      As others have pointed out, the ends do not justify the means, as the utilitarians would have us believe (and the antinomians would like to believe).

      1. JMH says:

        Andy, you’re calling names and, ironically, not offering any Scriptural arguments yourself. Kaczor is showing what consistency requires of the argument that lying is never permissible under any circumstances. (Surprise birthday parties would fall under the same condemnation.)

        The ends do not always justify the means, certainly. But the ends are relevant to the question of whether the means are sinful.

        1. Andy says:

          Hm? I didn’t call anyone names – I wasn’t implying YOU are an antinomian or utilitarian, merely that we need to be cautious not to adopt their reasoning.

  3. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour (Exodus20:16) That in and of itself should put us on the proper path regarding this issue. We are responsible for making the right moral choices even when the opponent does not. Yes, they are our neighbors, but we can not sink to their level in order to get the results that we would desire. The end does not justify the means.

  4. As I read the article, I could not help but come to the same conclusion that JMH just quoted. This line of reasoning would seem to rule out deception of any kind whatsoever. It would certainly condemn Rahab’s handling of the incident with the spies.

    I think that if we make this the standard, no Christian police officer could serve as an uncover officer with a clear conscience. Is that where we want to go with this?

    1. I’ve not yet had a chance to read the articles, though JMH’s Kaczor quote gives me pause about how black and white the issue is.

      But on the issue of Rahab, is it possible that the passage about her is DEscriptive and not necessarily PREscriptive? (Honest question — not some passive-aggressive rhetorical baloney)

  5. That should be an *undercover* officer.

  6. Gary Dobbins says:

    Abortion is a symptom, not a root cause, of sin.
    As Christians, we should be seeking out and working to cure the underlying cause.
    As with drugs, punishing the users and the dealers they support doesn’t fix the problem, it only masks the symptom.
    Abortions are not something a woman *wants* but rather is something she feels compelled to seek because of something society lacks.

    We lack a system of support, understanding, and knowledge.
    As a church, we should work to support a societal network of teaching, to educate kids about sex so they understand its role in life.
    We should support families so that they can in turn support their kids, who in turn would be less inclined to seek comfort in the wrong ways.
    Chasing abortion as a preventive measure merely keeps us from applying our efforts at the real entry of the underlying sin. Disintegration of families, poor societal norms, and the continuance of guilt as a teaching method.

    1. Abortions are not something a woman *wants* but rather is something she feels compelled to seek because of something society lacks.

      I strongly disagree with that assertion. A woman who hires someone to dismember her baby is a heartless, ruthless murderer.

      Paul described such women well: They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29-31 ESV)

      Fortunately for those who have killed their babies, and for the rest of us, God is rich in mercy so that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9 ESV)

      1. Wow – a pendulum swing from one over-generalization to another. Too depressing for me. Time to unsubscribe to this thread.

      2. Gary Dobbins says:

        consider (Matthew 7:1)

  7. Jeffrey Brannen says:

    Is it possible that a 2 Kingdoms approach here would help make some sense of the matter?

    In the Common Kingdom, deception (spying, undercover operations, etc.) are part of the tools of the civil government to catch those who are harmful to the state.

    In the Redemptive Kingdom, deception is out.

    What do y’all think?

    1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      Definitely has possibilities!

      Is it okay for a Christian Counter-Terrorist agent to lie to a terrorist to find out the location of ticking time bomb that will kill tens of thousands of innocent lives?

      FWIW, I wouldn’t condemn the Christian Counter-Terrorist Agent for lying to a terrorist.

  8. CG says:

    I’m surprised people are suggesting we should take our moral cues from the actions of Canaanite prostitutes rather than what the Bible clearly spells out elsewhere – yes, Rahab converted, but that doesn’t whitewash her dubious actions.

    To be fair, I can see a case being made for things like, “What about getting Bibles into Iran?” or “What about hiding Jews during the holocaust?” (Although I think those questions create a false dichotomy – assuming that those things couldn’t also be accomplished through truthful means.)

    I think we need to set a precedent of honesty and forthrightness, instead of engaging in deception and fostering a culture of mistrust ourselves. We need to trust that a sovereign God is able to work his will just as effectively through honest and upright followers as through deceptive and “undercover” followers.

    When we think to ourselves, “but this is the way we HAVE to do it if we want to succeed,” we should examine ourselves to see if we’re lacking trust in God’s sovereignty.

    It would be erroneous of us to say, “If Rahab didn’t lie about the spies, they wouldn’t have escaped.” We simply don’t know that, nor does the Bible say so. It simply factually records that she lied, and leaves us to draw moral conclusions from elsewhere in Scripture (where we are informed that lying is wrong).

    Likewise, it would be wrong of us to conclude, “The only way to get Bibles into Iran is by deception,” as if God’s sovereignty somehow stops at the Iranian border. Or, “Lying is normally wrong, but it’s okay to lie to people we consider really bad, like Nazis,” as if we can freely adjust God’s moral precepts on a case-by-case basis, at our whim.

    At best, it seems we may omit information (such as the Hebrew midwives did in Ex 1, or God’s instructions to Samuel in 16:2). But to say that exposing abortionists is a “warfare context” and that all sorts of otherwise unacceptable actions are suddenly therefore permissible takes multiple leaps that can’t be supported with Scripture.

    I mean, seriously, when you argue that exposing abortionists is a “warfare context”, aren’t you suggesting that it might even be okay to kill abortion doctors? Are they enemy combatants? Or are they grievous sinners in need of a great Savior, the Spirit of truth, the fountain of life?

    1. JMH says:

      CG, come on. You’re the only one talking about killing abortion doctors. You’re also assuming that those who support Live Action’s work are saying sin is OK “on a whim.”

      What we’re saying is that there are times when Scripture seems to permit deception in the service of justice. That’s what happens when we infiltrate terrorist cells, do sting operations on drug dealers, and all sorts of similar situations, and there are examples in Scripture.

      As CMM notes below, there are those who are actually making decisions about which is worse– deceiving a Planned Parenthood worker or standing by while PP victimizes young women. Then there are those of us who comment on blogs wondering if that’s OK. There are thoughtful ways of asking these questions, like those demonstrated in the articles JT quotes.

      1. CG says:

        “there are those who are actually making decisions about which is worse– deceiving a Planned Parenthood worker or standing by while PP victimizes young women.”

        Yes. And I’m saying this is a false dichotomy to assume these are the only two options, rather than a third way that fights victimization of women (and child murder) without engaging in deception and falsehood.

    2. God didn’t just tell Samuel to omit information. He told him to say something false about his motivation for being there. He was there to anoint David, and God told him to say he was there to make a sacrifice. That’s clearly a lie.

  9. Kara Chupp says:

    Really appreciated JMH’s comments…
    Food for thought.

  10. CMM says:

    There is a difference between going “undercover” to expose wrongdoing, and building your whole argument, or in this case, movement on a lie. People reacting negatively to Live Action’s methods seem to be stretching this a bit, implying that their methods discredit the whole pro-life movement. Their arguments are built on a lie, they just used deceptive methods to expose wrongs. I think we need to keep it in context.

    Also, it’s easy to play armchair quarterback, sitting behind our laptops and criticizing how everyone else is playing the game. I personally find these complaints to be more than a little arrogant.

    1. CMM says:

      *I meant “Their arguments aren’t based on a lie, they just used deceptive methods to expose wrongs.”

  11. Nathan Wandell says:

    Going back to Rahab for a moment.

    If her actions were in fact sinful, then four quesitons must be answered?

    1. Why was she rescued from the destruction that came upon Jericho?
    2. Why is she included in the genealogy of Christ?
    3. Why is she included in the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11?
    4. Why does James say she was “justified by works” when she sent the spies out by a different way?

    While what she did may seem dubious, it seems Scripture takes every opportunity possible to honor her actions.

    Based on Scripture’s handling of Rahab’s actions, I have no problem with Live Action and their methods used to expose the evils of the pro-choice movement.

    1. Robert says:

      The Bible does not say anything good about her lying to the men who were looking for the spies. In fact, a lot could be made of the fact that in James it only mentions that she sent them out by another way. Hebrews only says that she wlecomed the spies in peace and that she did not perish because of her faith.

    2. CG says:

      1. Why was she rescued from the destruction that came upon Jericho?

      First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that Rahab was not saved because of her works, but because of God’s grace working through her faith. Secondly, the things that Scripture praise are her faith, her welcome for the spies and her joining herself to the covenant people. Scripture nowhere praises her for lying.

      2. Why is she included in the genealogy of Christ?

      Because of God’s grace.

      3. Why is she included in the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11?

      Because, by God’s grace, she believed in God’s promises and joined his covenant people.

      4. Why does James say she was “justified by works” when she sent the spies out by a different way?

      Because “justification by works” in James’ context means that her works proved her justification. Are you interpreting James to be saying that Rahab was justified by her lying?

  12. steve hays says:

    Some helpful analysis by John Frame:

    Must We Always Tell the Truth?

    John M. Frame

    The third and ninth commandments, especially, commend the truth to us, as do many other teachings of Scripture. God is a God of truth. He doesn’t lie (Tit. 1:2, Heb. 6:17-18, Num. 23:19). He wants us to image him in that as in other ways. Note the biblical polemic against lying in such passages as Psm. 31:18, 63:11, 101:7, 119:29, 163, Prov. 6:17, 12:22, 19:5, 9, Zech. 8:16, Eph. 4:25, 1 John 2:21, Rev. 21:27, 22:15. Satan is the father of lies, John 8:44, and sinners are dominated by lies, Rom. 1:25, 3:8-18, 2 Cor. 4:2-4, 2 Thess. 2:9-12. Scripture condemns false prophets, who tell lies about God, Deut. 13:1-18.

    But there are other passages in which people mislead other people without incurring biblical condemnation. Note:

    1. Ex. 1:15-21, the Israelite midwives in Egypt.

    2. Josh. 2:4-6, 6:17, 25, Heb. 11:31, James 2:25, Rahab’s deception. Note that apart from what Rahab told her countrymen, even hiding the spies amounted to a deception.

    3. Josh. 8:3-8, the ambush at Ai. As John Murray recognizes, God himself authorized this deception.

    4. Judg. 4:18-21, 5:24-27, Jael and Sisera.

    5. 1 Sam. 16:1-5, Samuel misleads Saul as to the reason for his mission.

    6. 1 Sam. 19:12-17, Michal deceives her father’s troops.

    7. 1 Sam. 20:6, David’s counsel to Jonathan.

    8. 1 Sam. 21:13, David feigns madness.

    9. 1 Sam. 27:10, David lies to Achish.

    10. 2 Sam. 5:22-25, another military deceit.

    11. 2 Sam. 15:34, Hushai counseled to lie to Absalom.

    12. 2 Sam. 17:19-20, women deceive Absalom’s men.

    13. 1 Kings 22:19-23, God sends a lying spirit against Ahab.

    14. 2 Kings 16:14-20, Elisha misleads the Syrian troops.

    15. Jer. 38:24-28, Jeremiah lies to the princes.

    16. Luke 24:28, Jesus acts as if he intends to go further.

    17. 2 Thess. 2:11, God sends powerful delusion so that his enemies will believe a lie.

    Nevertheless, the predominant view among Reformed Christians is that we should never tell lies under any circumstances. This view was held by Augustine and has more recently been defended by John Murray in Principles of Conduct.

    Murray explains the above passages by the following principles: (1) In some of them, such as #2, Scripture commends what the liar accomplished without commending his/her lie. (2) As in #5, it is legitimate to withhold the whole truth from someone, but not to misrepresent. (3) As in #3, we need not always act in ways consistent with the mistaken interpretations of our acts made by others (in this case, the residents of Ai).

    The first explanation is inadequate in regard to Rahab, for what Scripture commends is precisely her concealment, her creating a false impression in the minds of the Jericho officials.

    As for the second principle, we can grant that it is sometimes right to withhold truth. But the question is whether it is ever right to withhold truth when withholding it may reasonably be expected to create a false impression in someone else’s mind. If it does, as it did in 1 Sam. 16:1-5 and other passages on our list, then it can scarcely be distinguished from lying.

    And the third principle depends on a sharp distinction between words that mislead and acts that mislead. Murray is saying in effect that we should never mislead with our words, but we may mislead people by the way we behave. That distinction is not cogent.

    And none of these explanations helps us to understand why God himself deceives people in passages #13 and #17.

    Charles Hodge says that we are obligated to tell the truth only when there is a “virtual promise.” Essentially, Hodge here is placing the burden of proof on those who wish to require truthfulness. But it is not clear what a virtual promise is, or what the criteria are for concluding that one has or has not been made.

    Meredith Kline explains the biblical examples of deception as “intrusion.” In his view, the ethics of the end-times differ from the ethics God has given to us in the law and Jesus’ teaching. In normal times, we are to love our enemies and protect them. But in the end times, the enemies of God will have neither a right to life or a right to truth. Now sometimes, Kline says, the end times enter our present time (and so “intrude”). The intrusion is a time of divine judgment, and, in that time, it is legitimate to kill the opponents of God (as did Joshua and David) and also to withhold truth from them.

    Scripture, however, does not distinguish two different ethics. Some of God’s commands (like God’s command to Joshua to kill the Canaanites) are for temporary situations. And Kline is right to say that often those situations are instances of special divine judgments. But capital punishment and just war are also subjects of regular, normative ethics. There are times even in advance of final judgment when the wicked deserve to lose their lives. Perhaps even such “normal capital punishment” can be assimilated to the intrusion model, but if so we need to know that intrusion is a normal part of our ethical life, as limited and defined by God’s revelation.

    It does appear that the Bible passages listed above all have to do with the promotion of justice against the wicked who are seeking innocent life. Whether or not we speak of these as intrusions, we should note that in the ninth commandment the requirement to tell the truth is conditioned on a relationship, that of “neighbor.” In context, that relationship is specifically legal. The neighbor is the defendant, and the individual “you” is called to the witness stand, in which he must not lie.

    This is not to say that the commandment is limited to legal witness, for many other Bible passages, as we have seen, condemn lying more generally. But in these passages, our obligation to tell the truth is based (as in the ninth commandment) on a relationship. In Eph. 4:25, the relationship is our union with one another in Christ.

    Now when one person seeks illegitimately to take the life of another, are the two people neighbors, in the sense of the ninth commandment? The Good Samaritan parable does, indeed, extend the meaning of “neighbor” to all needy people who cross our path. But in the situation where someone is seeking to destroy innocent life, rather than to help and heal, does such a neighborly relation exist? I think not. At least, I doubt that those who misled others in the seventeen passages mentioned earlier were in a neighborly relation to their opponents. Certainly those who deceived in those passages didn’t think so. And I think Scripture concurs in their judgment.

    There are also other, more trivial situations where questions of truth enter the discussion. Is it wrong to mislead people as a practical joke? No, if it’s a sort of game that will bring enjoyment; not if it hurts. Is it wrong to engage in the flatteries that are a normal part of social etiquette (“Sincerely yours,” “I had a lovely evening.”)? In my judgment, many of these phrases have come to mean far less than a literal reading of them would indicate. Since everybody knows that, it is not hypocrisy to use them that way.

    1. Randall says:

      It seems to me that the Exodus 1 passage is directly on point…the midwives lie to Pharaoh to prevent sex-selection abortion/murder at birth of male infants. And not only do they avoid negative consequences, but the passage goes on to say “So God dealt well with the midwives…and gave them families.”

      The real outrage should be the murder industry that abortionists propogate and the lies they tell us to cover their tracks and use our money for their gruesome deeds that, in most cases, simply are the result of individuals’ selfish desire to prioritize their own pleasure.

      1. CG says:

        Did God bless the midwives because:

        A) they refused to obey Pharaoh’s murderous decree, or
        B) because they later lied to Pharaoh when he asked for an explanation?

        Clearly, the answer is A.

        Yes, abortion is an outrage, and the Hebrew midwives’ refusal to go along with Pharaoh’s command is inspiring. But that doesn’t mean that their later deception should be emulated, too. (That is, if they were lying it all – it is possible, of course, that their explanation to Pharaoh was true.)

        1. Jeff Schultz says:

          I understand your reluctance to sanctify dishonesty, but with all due respect, I think you’re splitting hairs and not reading the text as written.

          If God had honored the midwives simply for refusing to kill the babies, then there’s no need to insert verses 18-19 with the midwives’ dishonesty. And it seems clear from the text that they are lying. There’s no reason to believe Hebrew women delivered faster than Egyptian ones — especially since the mention of God’s commendation (v 20) follows immediately from the midwives’ statement to Pharaoh (v 19).

          We are then told that the midwives did what they did because they feared God. If they were telling the truth to Pharaoh (that they couldn’t kill the babies because they were already delivered by the time they got there), that statement makes no sense. Gleason Archer suggests that the midwives were simply delaying their arrival so as to be too late to kill the male newborns. That also doesn’t seem to make sense. Pharaoh wasn’t commanding partial-birth abortion, but the murder of newborns. He doesn’t care whether that happens. The midwives’ excuse only seems to make sense if they are saying that by the time they arrive, the babies have already been born and hidden away.

          What seems to be the most plain and straightforward way to read the text is that the midwives assist in the births, but refuse to do what Pharaoh commanded. They have to give a reason for their disobedience, so they lie in a way that will protect themselves and the newborns. Because they feared God in doing so, he blessed them.

          The babies were saved because the women lied to Pharaoh. The midwives lied to Pharaoh because they feared God. God commended their actions.

    2. Jeff Schultz says:

      Frame’s analysis is helpful. Thanks for sharing.

      I think it’s very important to underscore that as Christians we are people who love and practice truth. Yet we live in a sinful world and may come across extreme circumstances (the Nazi asking if you’re harboring Jews, the drunk husband asking where the keys to the car are) in which we know others would use the truth to do evil. In those rare cases (and Exodus 1, as noted, is a perfect example), I do not think we do wrong to withhold the truth, dissemble, or even lie to prevent evil. But I think we have to be very cautious with this and not for easy excuses to justify dishonesty.

      I am about 80% in support of what Live Action did, although others have pointed out they did not need to directly lie. They could have spoken in hypotheticals (“Let’s say I had underage girls working in the sex trade…”) and likely achieved the same results.

  13. Kara Chupp says:

    Stan–respectfully–I disagree with your generalized description of women who’ve had abortions as “heartless, ruthless murderer”(s.

    Abortion is murder. But not all women even understand when they make their choice, exactly what they are doing. Killing a baby.

    I hate abortion. But I have compassion for the many women who choose that path because they believe the lies propogated by abortion clinics/doctors/the media. And then they must live with the painful consequences.

    One of our daughters was saved from an abortion because of a woman who shared with our daughter’s birthmom as she made her way into an abortion clinic. Through that woman’s kindness, she had to face the fact that the life within her was truly a baby.

    She wasn’t a “heartless, ruthless murderer”….just a scared, young girl who needed someone to come along side, give options, and help her value the precious baby, who is now one of God’s greatest gifts to us.

    1. Kara (nice name by the way; the name of my future daughter-in-law),
      I will grant you that there may be one or two woman out of a thousand that has no idea that when they’re pregnant it means there is a baby growing inside of them.

      I propose that a scared, young girl who has been having sex knows exactly what is going inside her uterus. That’s why she’s scared. The thought of killing a child can scare some people. Scared or not, to deliberately decide to pay to have her baby murdered is not act of an innocent child with angel wings. It’s the act of someone who is willing to murder another person in a vain attempt to escape a perceived hardship.

      Such girls and women are slaves to sin. Heartless and ruthless describes well those who are in bondage to corruption and even if we’re not currently in such bondage there was a time when we were.

      To be sure the Abortion Industrial Complex engages in mass propaganda to take advantage of the sinfulness of girls/women. The Abortion Industrial Complex faces certain doom.

      1. growing in her uterus not gowing

  14. Ryan says:

    Were Christians wrong in lying to protect Jews from Nazi soliders who wanted to put them in ovens?

    I view the exposing of abortion factories and their genocide of babies as similar to Nazis wanting to put Jews in mass graves.

    I am open JT to hearing an argument in how God would have wanted a German citizen to turn over Jews to Nazis in the name of truth.

    1. I was thinking about making the same point. A Nazi comes pounding on your door demanding to know where some Jewish children are(hiding in your closet). You tell the Nazi soldier some lie to get him to go away. Should that be confessed as a sin, I think so, but telling the truth and letting children get murdered seems far worse.

      1. Jeff Schultz says:

        I don’t think lying to the Nazis to save lives is even a sin to be confessed. I would say that any authority which demands information to be used to unjustly kill others is an unjust authority and has no right to that information. In fact, one could argue that lying to the Nazi in that case is the best way to love the Nazi, since you are refusing to aid him in committing an evil against his own soul.

  15. Caleb Land says:

    To me this is so easy.

    Were German Christians who were involved in the resistance against the Nazi’s wrong to lie about the hiding places of Jews, no. Because? Because lives were at stake and, in the words of Douglas Wilson, there is a deeper right than being right. The right of saving a life is deeper than the right of telling the truth in that situation.

    A better question in a difficult moral dilemma than ‘what is most wrong’ is, ‘what is the most LOVING thing to do?’ It is more loving to lie in order to save the lives of innocent babies and expose the corruption of evil ones. To bring wicked people to justice and stop genocide.

    Would we talk about patience if these were one and two year old babies being murdered by the thousands every day? I don’t think so. We talk of patience because even we don’t really view these murders as murders of “real” people. If we did, we wouldn’t be so patient.

    I applaud Live Action for Doing Something and not just talking about it. For acting as if there really are lives at stake. Good for them.

    1. CMM says:

      “Would we talk about patience if these were one and two year old babies being murdered by the thousands every day? I don’t think so. We talk of patience because even we don’t really view these murders as murders of “real” people. If we did, we wouldn’t be so patient.”

      Very nicely put.

      1. CG says:

        If you saw real children (say, two-year-olds) being killed, what would your response be?

        – A) Appeal to the divinely-ordained authority to intervene
        – B) Intervene yourself (physically if necessary) and rescue the children
        – C) Pretend to be one of the child-killing band, so as to infiltrate and discredit them, hopefully preventing future murders down the road.

        I would argue that the Bible leaves A and possibly B open to us, but C seems to be not only the most circuitous, but also the least virtuous.

        1. Capt Ed says:

          The suggestion that a proper response to the murder of 2 year olds would be to pray about it — sincerely makes me feel sick. That kind of “virtue” lacks courage, love, goodness — it is just so weak.

          1. CG says:

            I did not say pray about it (although I do think prayer is a valid response). Appealing to “divinely-appointed authority” means “call 911″.

            As for me, personally, I would probably intervene physically. Hopefully while praying. Hopefully while some other onlooker calls 911.

  16. CG says:

    “I would say that any authority which demands information to be used to unjustly kill others is an unjust authority and has no right to that information.”

    The Bible doesn’t give us grounds to do this. See 1 Pet 2:17b-18, “Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.”

    God tells us to be subject, even to UNJUST authorities. However, what it DOES tell us to do is obey the higher authority (God) when the lower authority contradicts him.

    Thus, when the Nazis come pounding on your door, the fearful human response is, “I don’t know where they are.” But the Christian who fears neither death nor any earthly power says, “Though you kill me, I will not tell you, for I must obey God rather than men.”

    1. CG says:

      In other words, we have two options:

      – we can lie – offending earthly authority AND heavenly authority.
      – or we can truthfully decline, offending earthly authority, but adhering to heavenly authority.

      “Yeah, but they’re worse” is not a justification for wrongdoing.

      1. Jeff Schultz says:

        Is that all the Bible has to say about our response to authority? I think it’s clear that we are under no obligation to obey a law or authority which would require us to disobey God or violate conscience. If the authorities demand that we tell the truth in service of evil, then we are no obligation to obey that unjust, ungodly command.

        And what if those aren’t the only two options? What if the king would use use our honesty to bring about the suffering and death of others?

        And I don’t think anyone is seriously arguing “They’re worse than we are” as a justification for dishonesty. That’s not a fair representation of others’ position.

        1. Andy says:

          Yeah, Jeff, I mentioned that in my comment up one further when I said, “God tells us to be subject, even to UNJUST authorities. However, what it DOES tell us to do is obey the higher authority (God) when the lower authority contradicts him.” I cited 1 Pet 2:17b-18 as an example of this.

          1. Jeff Schultz says:

            Andy — are you CG as well?

            While a simple rule-based morality seems obvious(“always tell the truth,” “always obey authority”) it doesn’t do justice to the whole of the Bible’s instruction and example, doesn’t include all the relevant scriptures on moral obligations, and doesn’t help us deal the application of principles to specific situations.

            Simply repeating the reference to 1 Peter 2 doesn’t really answer the questions I addressed in response to your mentioning it in the first place.

    2. Jeff Schultz says:

      Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple. “Are you harboring Jews?” demands a simple yes or no answer. One can refuse to answer, but that in itself is an answer, and one that’s as likely to lead to the deaths of others as a “yes.”

      And I think Frame’s analysis above gives us a number of examples in which dishonesty in the face of evil sadly ends up being the least bad option available.

      1. CG says:

        I still don’t buy the notion that “Their worse evil leaves me with no option but to commit lesser evil.” This seems to rule out the possibility of a sovereign, promise-keeping God who tells us he will never tempt us beyond our ability to resist. So many of the comments here today almost seem to adopt a deist perspective, where God is a distant observer, not involved in day-to-day events, and basically leaving us to muddle about as best we can.

        If the Nazis (hypothetically) came to my door and ask, “Are you harboring Jews? Yes or no?” I hope that I would have to strength to say, “Yes, and so far as God grants me the strength, you will not harm them,” and entrust ensuing circumstances to God. Maybe the officers will feel the need to call reinforcements, allowing those in my house an opportunity to escape. Maybe the officers’ convictions will be pricked, leading them to repentance. Is anything impossible for God? I hope in that situation, I wouldn’t try to weigh the pros and cons of evil and lesser evil, but rather, wearing the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness, I pray that I would stand in that evil day, and stand firm.

        By saying, “If I don’t do such-and-such, then such-and-such will happen,” I fear I would be making too much of my own foreknowledge, and not enough of God’s.

        When the apostles and martyrs down through history took their stand for the truth, they didn’t stop and calculate “Will my commitment to truth cause suffering that might be avoided if I lie? How will my widowed wife and orphaned children get food?” etc. They simply affirmed the truth, acknowledging that everything else was out of their hands, and trusted it to God.

        “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
        or his ear dull, that it cannot hear.”
        – Is. 59:1

        1. Jeff Schultz says:

          I certainly agree that God does not place us in a position where we are forced to sin. I believe that there may be cases where we best follow, honor, obey, and glorify God by choosing the least bad of many bad options. Such is life this side of the Fall.

          I do not believe that the Hebrew midwives sinned in lying to Pharaoh. I do not think Athanasius did wrong, when asked by his pursuers if Athanasius was near, to reply “He’s not far ahead of you.” He had no moral obligation to give information which would lead to his unjust arrest and death.

          If we may disobey unjust commands for the sake of obeying God, can’t a command to tell the truth in furtherance of evil be unjust? If Christians can support a theology of just war — the organized killing of thousands or millions of fellow human beings — is it so hard to imagine that there can be a Christian defense of just dishonesty in service of defending the innocent from death?

          I do not believe it would be sinning to intentionally deceive an unjust authority which would use the truth to do evil.

          1. CG says:

            “is it so hard to imagine that there can be a Christian defense of just dishonesty in service of defending the innocent from death?”

            I am open to this possibility, although of course with the caveat that although things like Just War theory are Scripturally-derived, they are not authoritative in the same way that Scripture is.

            Still, when it comes to the notion of “just lying” I’d have to ask, then, at what point do we draw the line? If it’s okay (or even our duty) to lie to prevent unjust murder, is it okay to lie to prevent unjust injury? Is it okay to lie to prevent burglary, or hijacking? Is it okay to lie if it brings about financial gain to the church? Is it okay (or even our duty) to lie if it results in conversions to Christ?

            I’d be very concerned that it turns into a utilitarian calculus, where lesser bads are justified if they can reasonably be expected to result in greater goods.

            1. Jeff Schultz says:

              Thanks for the response. I share those concerns and caveats.

              I think the answers to your questions would fall along the same lines as provided by the restrictions around just war itself.

              The concern over utilitarianism is a valid one, but that’s always the case with moral reasoning. God has not given us a rule for every possible circumstance we will encounter. He has given us law, goals, values, virtues, principles, examples, instructions — and sanctified wisdom. I don’t think there’s any avoiding proper moral casuistry which takes all those into account in specific circumstances.

            2. You don’t have to be a utilitarian (or for that matter a consequentialist) to think consequences are morally relevant. There are views according to which they never are when there’s a duty not to do something, e.g. Immanuel Kant’s view. But W.D. Ross proposed a view according to which duties are very serious but can sometimes conflict with each other, and in such cases one duty can become more important than the other. So the duty to save a life, for instance, might be more important than the duty not to lie. The duty to protect innocents might become more important than the duty not to kill combatants in a just war.

              In the end, he wouldn’t treat them all as genuine duties. They’re prima facie duties, and the ones that are your actual duties in a particular situation are the only ones that we morally ought to follow. This view is clearly deontological and not consequentialist. Yet absolutists (which isn’t the opposite of relativism; it’s the view that there are never exceptions to moral principles) regularly confuse it with utilitarianism or with relativism, and that’s just uncareful.

  17. JMH says:

    Now you’re drawing a false dichotomy. You’re also begging the question, as your first option assumes the point in dispute. You assume that a lie in this case offends heavenly authority. That is what’s in question.

    The contention several of us are making is that in this case, a lie does not offend God and is not wrongdoing.

    The multiple examples from Scripture that people have cited here suggest that there are some instances in which God commends deception for the purpose of bringing about righteousness.

    1. CG says:

      It does appear to be a false dichotomy, so let me make clear that there are other moral options besides lying to the Nazis or telling the truth:
      – we can retreat/run away
      – we can simply not provide any answer at all
      – etc.

      And yes, it’s begging the question IF one believes lying is not always wrong. But a lot of people in this thread are arguing, “Yes, lying is wrong, but it’s not as bad as _____.” So, in response to them, it’s not begging the question, because they’re agreeing with the initial premise.

      I’ve already addressed some of the Scriptural references (arguing that the Bible commends the Hebrew midwives, Rahab, Jeremiah, etc not for their deception but for their other, virtuous actions).

      Of that list, the only Scriptural references provided that seem to plausibly support the case, “lying does not offend God” are the following:
      – 1 Sam 16:1-5 where God specifically (through direct revelation) tells Samuel to use the occasion of a sacrifice to meet Jesse’s sons without arousing Saul’s suspicion
      – 1 Kings 22:19-23 where God uses a lying spirit to deceive Ahab into a false sense of security
      – 2 Thess 2:11 where God judges the rebellious by causing them to embrace falsehood

      However, in each of these three cases, it’s God himself effecting (or commanding) the deception directly – something definitely worth studying and reflecting on, but a situation not even remotely analogous the Planned Parenthood issue.

      Picking out other examples of deception that God in his grace permitted, and drawing the conclusion that lying must not be wrong, is like the Pharisees confronting Jesus on why Moses permitted certificates of divorce. Jesus’ answer revealed that divorce – while permitted under the Law – is a result of sinful hearts, is not desirable, and is not God’s ideal for marriage.

      In fact, that passage gives us another helpful point. Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let not man separate,” leaving the implication that God may separate the union (through death or otherwise).

      That principle may also apply to deception. It’s entirely possible (and I admit that I’m speculating here) that deception is wrong for humans, but that God reserves himself the right to mislead. This would certainly help explain the three outstanding passages I mentioned above.

      1. Jeff Schultz says:

        And yet Jesus did allow for divorce as sometimes the least bad of available options. It’s an extreme and regrettable response to brokenness, and it’s not to be chosen lightly, but Jesus does not absolutely prohibit it. And I would argue that divorce is much more serious than dishonesty to evildoers. But does Jesus’ response inform how we think about other situations in which we must choose the lesser of two evils?

      2. JMH says:

        CG, you’re either not listening very well, or you’re choosing to frame others’ arguments in such a way that you can easily defeat them.

        This isn’t an argument over whether lying is wrong. It’s an argument over whether there are some cases in which it isn’t wrong and doesn’t offend God.

        You can split hairs over any of the individual examples we’ve given (though you haven’t responded to some important ones, like 2 Kings 6, or several in Frame’s long list). But at the end of the day, I’ll take the results of Live Action exposing the evil of Planned Parenthood (Eph 5:11?) over your smug moralism and finger-pointing. Sometimes it’s better to have a real victory than a (perceived) moral one.

        1. CG says:

          Please dude, I also support Live Action over Planned Parenthood.

          What I can’t support is people who support Live Action, then try to find rationale for their support by taking Scripture passages out of context. That stream is flowing in the wrong direction.

          As for “smug moralism” and “finger-pointing”, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often susceptible to creeping, sinful pride, but I have gone to great lengths in this thread to respond carefully and reasonably, and I submit that any perceived smugness and finger-pointing may perhaps be somewhat exaggerated in your imagination, due to the limitations of an online forum such as this.

  18. steve hays says:

    Martin Pitcher:

    “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour (Exodus20:16) That in and of itself should put us on the proper path regarding this issue. We are responsible for making the right moral choices even when the opponent does not. Yes, they are our neighbors, but we can not sink to their level in order to get the results that we would desire. The end does not justify the means.”

    That doesn’t follow by any valid inference from your prooftext. The passage prohibits perjury and slander. And even then, it’s clearly dealing with a type of situation where, for instance, an innocent defendant is wrongly convicted because he’s falsely accused by a witness of a crime he didn’t commit.

    Ironically, some commenters are cutting ethical corners to defend what they think is ethical. But zippy one-liners like “the end doesn’t justify the means” is a simplistic criterion.

    It’s easy to come up with examples in which some ends justify some means. For instance, it’s ordinarily wrong to cut someone open with a knife and remove a vital organ. If, however, that’s a heart surgeon conducting a heart transplant, his actions are both permissible and commendable. So sometimes the situation does make a difference between right and wrong conduct.

    Take the OT laws governing dangerous livestock. If an ox is known to be dangerous, the owner is liable for failing to prevent a fatal mishap. That is taking the consequences into account. Same thing with the OT regulation about placing a fence around your roof to lessen the risk of accidental death. That’s a means-ends calculation.

    The ends don’t justify any means whatsoever. Some ends are unworthy. And if something is intrinsically wrong, then circumstances can’t make it permissible or obligatory.

    But whether or not deception is intrinsically wrong is the very point at issue.

  19. Jesus, without technically lying, implied something false to test a Philip (John 6:5,6). This is a similar pattern to what God did with Moses in Exodus 32:10, Exodus 33:3 and Numbers 14:12. Did God lie?

    There is a sense in which this is rather Machiavellian. The goal is not to deceive, but that the truth may be revealed that has been suppressed by liars. In order to achieve this, some have misrepresented themselves (lied) for a time. The goal was to reveal their true identity in the end after their goal was achieved. We do this happily with the one being honored at a surprise party. Is there any husband who hasn’t misrepresented himself handily when asked by his wife what he thought about a certain article of clothing?

    To be sure, the command to not bear false witness is a reference to a specific lie regarding our testimony toward one another. We are right to apply it generally to all intentional deceptions, and perhaps to unintentional ones as well, but we do make reasonable caveats. Aside from what I’ve listed, our personal behavior is often deceptive. Do we all believe that everyone in church behaves in such a way as to reveal openly their inner judgments on other people, for example? Do we tell the older woman who put too much makeup on and got lipstick in her teeth while we privately think it’s nasty? What about the guy who needs a bath or who put on way too much cheap cologne and we gag all through the service because he sat in front of us? Do we tell him that? Who of us has not done such things? We know that withholding information (partial truth is not truth, after all) or misrepresenting ourselves can be more beneficial to the spiritual development of our brother or sister in Christ who might have to suffer hurt feelings needlessly over something that shouldn’t matter much.

    Or a Biblical example of this same thing: How about a brother or sister in Christ who believes that we shouldn’t eat meat offered to idols because they once worshiped those same idols? Should we be up front with them about our conviction that eating the meat is okay? After all, pretending otherwise would only be misrepresenting ourselves.

    Now, I’m inclined to say that Christians should not misrepresent themselves in such a situation. I’m not Machiavellian by principle and this smells like a sin. However, I can’t judge because I realize that I misrepresent myself in ways like the examples I have given, and the ultimate result is for good.

    If the argument is rather that we harm our argument by engaging in deception and the deception isn’t actually sinful, then we better be able to answer for all these other things. The world holds us to a higher standard because we rightly claim a higher standard.

    1. Andy says:

      “Is there any husband who hasn’t misrepresented himself handily when asked by his wife what he thought about a certain article of clothing?”

      ha! My rule of thumb:

      Answer honestly.
      Compliment generously.
      Tread cautiously. :)

  20. steve hays says:


    “I still don’t buy the notion that ‘Their worse evil leaves me with no option but to commit lesser evil.’ This seems to rule out the possibility of a sovereign, promise-keeping God who tells us he will never tempt us beyond our ability to resist.”

    Perhaps you’re confused about basic terminology. “Evil” is a term of art. It’s not synonymous with moral evil. Take “natural evil” (in theodicean discussions), viz. a tornado.

    A “lesser evil” isn’t synonymous with wrongdoing. The lesser of two evils doesn’t mean the lesser of two wrongs. Rather, it’s like a battlefield medic who lacks the resources to save all the wounded. So he has to choose which ones to save. Maybe he chooses to save those with the greatest chance of survival. That’s a lesser evil, which isn’t a lesser wrong or moral evil. The alternative would be to let all the wounded die. That would be the greater “evil.”

    Your appeal to divine providence in this context is fatalistic. We do have a moral responsibility to consider the probable consequences of our actions. To make risk assessments. The alternative is to be reckless, which is not a Christian virtue.

    1. CG says:

      mmm… I’m not so sure. It’s certainly no more fatalistic than Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, believing that God was able to raise him from the dead.

      1. Jeff Schultz says:

        In that unique case, God directly intervened to remove from Abraham’s moral consideration the normal concern he would have to protect his son’s life. If God directly, verbally tells you you do something, you don’t argue or question the outcome.

        Under ordinary circumstances, we do have to take into consideration the impact of our moral choices on others. If, for example, I am married and have children, I cannot take the command to “preach the gospel to all people” to mean I am allowed to abandon my family to become a solo missionary overseas. I could say “God will provide for them” but that would be abdicating my responsibility as the agent through whom God has chosen to provide for them.

        Take the case of the pregnant woman who develops a serious illness. Left untreated, the illness will kill her. Treating her will cause the death of her unborn child. You can save the mother, but not both mother and child. I don’t think it’s morally right to say, “I refuse to take a life to save one. Let God decide who should live.” That is condemning both to die. We have to use moral reasoning to make a choice and not simply trust that God is able to save both.

        In the case of the Nazis demanding that you tell them whether you are hiding Jews, you have good reason to believe that by telling the truth you are abdicating your neighborly responsibility to protect them from immediate threat of death. Of course God could miraculously intervene to stop the Nazis from lining them up and shooting them, but he usually works through ordinary means — that is, moral agents like us.

        Moral reasoning means that we take into account the reasonable outcomes of our choices. It doesn’t have to mean we’re putting ourselves in the place of God.

  21. Jeff Schultz says:

    Assume that WWII was a just war (legitimate authority, last resort, right intention, just cause, reasonable hope of success). A Christian serves in that war, and in the process kills several enemy combatants in pursuit of justice and the defense of the weak and innocent. He is morally justified in doing so.

    There are also civilians in that war who are hiding Jews and supporting the Resistance. The absolutist position says that the soldier may legitimately kill others, but the civilian can never legitimately lie to those same enemies, even for the same ends (defense of innocent life).

    I find that moral reasoning unpersuasive.

    1. I’ve long thought lying and killing should be in the same moral category, i.e. things that are almost always wrong because they involve evil in the sense that Steve Hays earlier pointed out. They involve bad consequences, and they involve bringing ourselves to do things that we only should do with great hesitation.

      But consider how God is portrayed in scripture as doing certain things only with great hesitation, e.g. judging those who are unrepentant in their evil. Why will you die, O Israel? Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would that I could gather you to me like a hen with her chicks!

  22. henrybish says:

    shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive Isaiah 16:3b

    Is is wrong to read this as a commendation of what Corrie ten Boom/Bonhoeffer etc did?

  23. Jeff Schultz says:

    Jeremy, I agree with that perspective. I recognize the moral danger of dishonesty. I sincerely appreciate how others have highlighted the biblical commands to love truth and practice honesty and the lengths to which we should go in obeying God in speech and truthfulness.

    I do think there are extreme and rare circumstances, along the lines of just war, in which dishonesty may be regrettable but justified.

    I am not convinced that what Live Action did falls into that category, although I am sympathetic to their moral reasoning.

  24. Deric says:

    If you respect the truth, perhaps you shouldn’t lie in a post making such a claim.

    1. Jeff Schultz says:

      Deric, to whom is that comment directed?

  25. steve hays says:


    “Still, when it comes to the notion of ‘just lying’ I’d have to ask, then, at what point do we draw the line? If it’s okay (or even our duty) to lie to prevent unjust murder, is it okay to lie to prevent unjust injury? Is it okay to lie to prevent burglary, or hijacking? Is it okay to lie if it brings about financial gain to the church? Is it okay (or even our duty) to lie if it results in conversions to Christ?”

    i) You could raise the same kinds of questions about killing. Do borderline cases thereby justify pacifism? Is there no right of self-defense unless you can address every conceivable contingency?

    ii) What’s wrong with deception to prevent hijacking? Where’s the argument?

    iii) There are situations in life where we don’t always have ready-made answers. Where we don’t know the right answer. But that doesn’t mean we’re equally uncertain about everything, does it?

    “I’d be very concerned that it turns into a utilitarian calculus, where lesser bads are justified if they can reasonably be expected to result in greater goods.”

    i) To begin with, we’re often confronted with forced options in life. We don’t have the luxury of being noncommittal. Both action and inaction have corresponding results.

    ii) You yourself are raising a consequentialist objection to consequentialism. You’re resorting to the slippery slope argument. You’re saying we shouldn’t lie, for if we make an exception in this case, then what about x, y, and z? Well, isn’t that an outcome-based objection?

    iii) In addition, your objection is very lopsided. You act as though worst-case scenarios only apply to deception. But, of course, it’s easy to come up with worst-case scenarios for the opposing position as well. Shouldn’t your concern be more evenhanded? Why is your concern limited to the consequences of deception, but not the consequences of your alternative? Hypotheticals cut both ways, you know.

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Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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