The Ninth Commandment, by Ben Jeapes

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Truth has been on my mind this week.

First, I was in the unenviable position of having to make a written statement about a safeguarding concern. I was at a charity event surrounded by a lot of vulnerable adults and saw behaviour that could only be described as inappropriate. I was asked to write a written report. No problem, I thought; I can write! So I set to …

… and had to pause and think, did I actually see that, or was my mind filling in the blanks? I won’t deny I had already taken a dislike to the perpetrator on the grounds of general obnoxiousness; did I want this to be true?

So, simple honesty made me rein in my report … a bit. I couldn’t put hand on heart and say I had seen what I remembered seeing. I stuck to what I absolutely did know, and which could be confirmed by others, and I think I still said enough.

Then, by coincidence, this week I had to turn down the opportunity to edit a manuscript written by a fellow Christian about an important topic. After a few pages, I thought the argument was unconvincing and the text badly needed a copy edit – but hey, even if it was outside my area of expertise, we could agree to differ and I could at least do a copy edit to improve the reading experience. But then I came to something that so grossly misrepresented a subject I did actually know about, I thought it crossed the line into false witness. And if that was so for something I did know about, how much more might be hidden away in the bits I didn’t know about? So, I declined (and told the author why). Not easy, but necessary.

And then, comedian Sandi Toksvig wrote a heartfelt letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury about gay issues and the Lambeth Conference, to which the ABC wrote a generous and gracious reply. I put both up on Facebook, until several friends pointed out ways in which Toksvig had misrepresented the situation. I usually take the Pontius Pilate approach to my posts but in this instance I took the post down again.

You don’t need me to tell you we should only be writing what is true. I didn’t think I needed to be told either. But this week’s events have helped bring home how easy it is not to tell the truth even with the best will in the world. I think both my prospective client and Toksvig genuinely believe what they were saying – but that only makes it even easier for falsehood to slip through.

We are called to be light to the world in our writing as in everything else, and this is one way we do it.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of eight novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. His most recent title is a children’s biography of Ada Lovelace. www.benjeapes.com




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