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I recently received an email from a friend forwarded from one he had received. It was about petition #2493 to the FCC that supposedly had 287,000 signatures in support of an effort to ban all religious broadcasting. I am sure you have seen similar emails.

My friend asked me what I knew about it. I am sure he asked because a couple of other emails he had sent me I checked at Snopes.com and found them false. I went to Snopes, used their search engine and found that this rumor, which has been around since 1975 in various formats, is indeed false.

Yes, there was a petition #2493 filed by two people in the 1970s. The petition asked the FCC to refuse to grant religious schools radio stations or TV channels designated for educational purposes until the FCC conducted a review of how these organizations were using stations already granted.

The FCC denied the petition without a hearing, at least in part, they said, because they do not have power to ban or regulate religious broadcasting.

In spite of the facts and denials from the FCC and many others, the FCC has received more than 30 million letters and emails in the past 30+ years about this one petition. They even have a name for it: THE RUMOR.

As I spent the few minutes it took to check this out, I remembered the words of Job to his “friends” as they admonished him:

I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you that would be wisdom. Hear now my argument; listen to the plea of my lips. Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? – Job 13:3-7

Our God is a God of truth. One of the impossibilities is for God to lie. Yet, we often lie as we spread unverified rumors that slander the name of a brother or that call for the rejection of a non-existing petition. Our righteous indignation gets the better of good judgment; then we hit forward, insert the names of a large group of our friends, and press send. Next, we pat ourselves on the back about how we have done our bit to right the wrongs that afflict the world, the nation, or the church as the case may be. We would sometimes be wiser just to keep quiet.

How many times have I done this? I could not count them. How many times have you done this? There are so many of these stories that fly around the Ethernet! There is the one about NASA scientists finding a “missing day.” (I read that one as an undergraduate at Harding back in the late 1950s – only then it wasn’t NASA, it was someone else. And, it wasn’t an email, but in a book supposedly proving the accuracy of the Bible.)

There have been many versions of The Rumor about the FCC. Some involve Madelyn Murry O’Hare, even after she was dead. Some claim James Dobson sponsored the drive for the counter-petition signatures. He denies it. Some name specific televangelists in the rumored petition. All of the variations originated in a person who took something he or she had heard, ruminated on it, and started anew the spread of a rumor that refuses to die.

I attempted to send an email to the person at the bottom of the list of names – the one to whom the 1,000th person was to forward the list of names so this list could be added to the master petition. (When I received it, there were already 896 names on the list.) However, the email address was not valid. It was all for nothing, even if the story had been true.

What Does This Say to the Unbelieving World?

Reports of this have been in major news magazines. What does that say about the integrity and reliability of the Christian witness to unbelievers?

Believe me; it is not good.

What does it say about Christianity to the employees of the FCC buried under the avalanche of responses to a long-dead petition that is nowhere near like the one to which people think they are responding?

What does it say about the dear souls who, in all sincerity, continue to spread this – and other similar rumors? The best we can say of them is that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

We could say other things that are less kind. Remember, I am saying these things about myself too, since I, too, have often forwarded unverified reports. Does this fall into the category of gossip? Does this run counter to Paul’s description of love that does not delight in evil, but always trusts (1 Corinthians 13:6-7)?

Why is it so easy for me to believe a false rumor of this nature? Have I demonized “the enemy” so much that I give him demonic attributes, even beyond what he deserves?

Impact on Christian Fellowship

On a national issue, such as The Rumor described above, our zeal at the very least is faintly ridiculous. At the worst, it is much more. When we extend such things to political debate, it at the very least poisons the debate and makes it more difficult to conduct national affairs in a peaceful, respectful way.

However, when we bring these tactics into the discourse between Christian brethren, these things can contribute greatly to divisions in the church – and that is deadly.

This is true regardless of the level of interaction. Denominations often grossly misunderstand each other because of false claims made by opponents. Have you ever felt that your religious neighbors just do not understand “our” true positions? Has it ever occurred to you that you may not understand “their” true positions either?

How does this happen? When we talk about people instead of talking with them, we get false impressions. Over time, these false impressions “morph” into worse impressions we continue to repeat as they grow even more.

Is that why Jesus taught us that when we come to worship and remember that our brother has something against us we are to immediately go to him? Likewise, if a brother sins against me, I am to immediately go to him. When I am aware of an “issue” between me and another, whether I am responsible or the other person is responsible, Jesus gives me the responsibility of taking the initiative to attempt to make things right.

If we would treat others as we desire others to treat us, such rumors and “issues” between us would diminish into – well, maybe not into non-existence, but they would certainly become much smaller than if we keep feeding the fire.

Those last three words, as I look at them, are appropriate. If we keep spreading rumors that malign brethren, we ourselves may indeed end up “feeding the fire” of hell (see James 3:6).

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