Throughout the nation, ordinary people from every walk of life were glued to televisions, radios, and mobile devices, listening in as the Senate Judiciary Committee heard two emotional testimonies on the charge of sexual assault. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) that she is 100% certain that Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her approximately 36 years earlier when they were both in high school. Likewise, in an impassioned defense of himself, Kavanaugh declared “I am innocent of this charge”, swearing before God, there is “no doubt in my mind … 100% certain.”
It was as if the nation was collectively riding an emotional rollercoaster. Both witnesses struggled to fight back tears as they pleaded for belief, guiding the nation into feelings of compassion, sorrow, embarrassment, indignation, inspiration, anger, fear, and confidence. It truly was one of history’s indelible moments. Some walked away with hope, believing that we as a nation are finally learning how to believe women who claim to be victims of sexual assault. Others walked away in disgust, believing that the Senate had disgraced itself by reaching a new political and moral low and fearing that the rule of law may be permanently undermined.
Both camps are convinced that far more is at stake in this process than the truth of Ford’s claim … or even than whether Judge Kavanaugh will become Justice Kavanaugh. Perhaps a clue to one of these higher stakes is the pervasive use among journalists and senators of the phrase “her truth.” This phrase was even employed during the hearing when Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) argued, “She is not a political pawn. She is not orchestrating. She is not part of the Clinton’s efforts to get some kind of revenge. She is a woman who came here with corroborating evidence to tell her truth.”
When did “the truth” become supplanted by “her truth”? This phrase became rooted in our culture during the early days of the #MeToo movement in a speech delivered by Oprah Winfrey at the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards, “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool that we all have … For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men, but their time is up.”
Very few challenged this shift in vocabulary, but Byron Tau of The Wall Street Journal tweeted, “Oprah employed a phrase that I’ve noticed a lot of other celebrity [sic] using these days: ‘Your truth’ instead of ‘the truth.’ Why that phrasing? ‘Your truth’ undermines the idea of a shared set of common facts.” In other words, this new phrase suggests that truth is relative to the individual, and this is precisely the definition applied by the Washington editor of Yahoo News and the editor in chief of Yahoo Politics Garance Franke-Ruta when she tweeted that “your truth” is “a call to activism rooted in the individual story, grounded in personal experience.”
Sometimes the truth cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but this is no reason to substitute our standard for determining truth based upon a common set of facts with an emotional gut check. Such substitutions lead to the kind of responses that we witnessed from senators on the Judiciary Committee. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s emotions appeared genuine, and her testimony was heart-wrenching, but she was unable to provide any corroborating evidence of her allegation. She could not recall when it happened, where it happened, how she got there, or how she got home. Furthermore, her testimony contained internal inconsistencies, and every alleged witness of the event had previously testified under oath that they have no knowledge of the incident or of the party where it was said to have occurred. Nevertheless, she was repeatedly praised by senators on the committee as being credible, brave, heroic, and a model citizen.
In contrast, Judge Brett Kavanaugh presented a logical argument for his innocence based upon a calendar detailing his whereabouts for the summer in question, inconsistencies in the allegations, sworn statements from the alleged eye witnesses, character references, multiple FBI background checks granting him the highest level of security clearance, and his record as a judge. Of his own admission, none of this was dispositive, but together they made a compelling case when compared against Ford’s testimony which was lacking in nearly all details necessary for corroboration. And like Ford, Kavanaugh’s emotions appeared genuine, and his testimony was heart-wrenching.
However, Ford’s demeanor was demurring, while Kavanaugh’s was indignant and, at times, angry. Ford was collegial, while Kavanaugh was accusatory. And Ford’s story matched a narrative that is both culturally popular and politically advantageous for some, while Kavanaugh’s story cast a negative light upon an entire political party. All this led Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to tell MSNBC that she was “offended” by Kavanaugh’s testimony:
I thought Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony was incredible. I thought she was so heartfelt, she spoke her truth so passionately, with such candor, with such emotion. I was really inspired by what she did today. I thought the second half, though, was so discouraging. I thought the way Judge Kavanaugh started with partisan attacks, it really made me question his fitness for this office for the fact that he does not have the temperament or the character or honesty or integrity to be a Supreme Court justice. … He was so arrogant in how he spoke to senators, and dismissive. I was really offended by how he behaved at the hearing.
Similarly, she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper:
She told her truth. And She had so much courage, and so much determination, and was so honest. I mean, you could just see it coming out of her—the honesty and integrity of her testimony. And I think it inspired a lot of people. … I think Dr. Ford’s testimony was so profound and so inspiring. I think that she showed such courage that people really see her as a hero. … I think what you saw in Dr. Ford was an inspiring testimony from the heart. I cried during her testimony. It emotionally moved me. I couldn’t even see her face, but every word out of her mouth was—you could see it was painful. It was obvious that she was speaking the truth—that it was coming from her heart—that it was painful, and that she suffered because of how Judge Kavanaugh treated her in high school. And so, there was a huge difference between the way she came to the committee hearing as wanting to be helpful, wanting to be forthright. There was a righteousness behind her words. I did not see any of that out of Judge Kavanaugh. There was a huge difference.
In other words, Senator Gillibrand determined the truth of the allegations based upon an emotional gut check of how the words and facts struck her. Ford’s words were honest because they were painful, but Kavanaugh’s words, spoken with similar pain, were dishonest. When Ford spoke with passion, it was received as inspiring, honest, righteous, and full of integrity. When Kavanaugh spoke with passion, it was received as partisan, intemperate, dishonest, arrogant, and lacking integrity. Both were primarily emotional appeals, so what accounts for the extreme discrepancy in how the message was received?
Prior the hearing, Senator Gillibrand had already publicly declared that she believed Ford, and she had identified herself with the values of the #MeToo movement. As such, she appears to have entered the hearing prepared to believe only what she wanted to hear. Using a relative standard for determining truth, she dismissed Kavanaugh’s truth because she didn’t like what he said, how he said it, or the conviction with which he said it. This is a dangerous standard for one of our nation’s leading officials. It is also a dangerous standard for the rest of us.
Often the truth is not pleasant to hear. It is not always inspiring, often failing our gut check, but it remains the truth, nonetheless. There is no such thing “your truth.” The truth is the truth whether or not others believe it. But this struggle is nothing new. Throughout the Old Testament, prophets repeatedly declared the truth of God’s word to rebellious and wayward nations, only to be dismissed because the people didn’t like what they said, how they said it, or the conviction with which they said it. Rather than accept the warning, they considered it to be “their truth.”
We cannot receive God’s Word as “His truth.” It is not relative. We cannot pick and choose when and what we believe from His Word. In fact, if Kavanaugh is innocent, then we should be deeply concerned by how our national leaders are treating him and his family because God judges those who oppress others: “The LORD performs righteous deeds And judgments for all who are oppressed” (Psa. 103:6, NASB). And lest we attempt to shift the burden of responsibility to our government officials, God also judges a culture of lies:
[F]alsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; … every brother is a deceiver, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the LORD. … Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor, but in his heart he plans an ambush for him. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this (Jer. 9:1–9)?
Given the way the media has breathlessly reported these unverified and salacious accusations, and given how readily we as the American public have embraced and reveled in these reports of a national scandal, we are all culpable: “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander. Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished” (Prov. 17:4–5, NLT). Countless citizens throughout our nation have been enamored by the gossip and slander surrounding the Kavanaugh hearings, and they have contacted their senators, protested, or advocated for one party or the other in private conversations, rejoicing in the misfortune of those involved.
We do not yet have sufficient evidence to know with certainty what the truth is regarding Ford’s allegations. The best we can do is weigh the testimony using a common set of facts—even if they do not support our preferred narrative. We should guard ourselves against becoming swept up in the fervor of the moment. And most importantly, we should allow this “intergalactic freakshow,” as Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) described it, to remind us of the importance of objective truth. There is no such thing as “your truth.” Whether determining the guilt or innocence of a Supreme Court nominee or determining how we as a citizenry should act before God, we are dependent upon objective truth. Perhaps it would behoove us to pause momentarily to consider whether we, like the nations of the Old Testament, have chosen to dismiss God’s warnings as “His truth.” Could more be at stake in these confirmation hearings than mere politics?
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