Columnists > Judgment Calls

Original spin

Speaking truth sinlessly does not mean artlessly

Issue: "Ashcroft: Under fire," Jan. 13, 2001

I was thinking about spin-what it is, what it ain't.

I see a lot of spin at home ("Mom, he hit me!"-"What! I barely touched her!"), and I see a lot in the news (Firestone calls the trouble with its infamous steel-belted radials a design flaw, not a design defect; defect is litigable, flaw is not). I extrapolate from this a provisional definition, that spin is interpretation to one's advantage. (I also extrapolate that grownups are just more sophisticated spinners than children.)

Let's say there are degrees of spin, running from wishful optimism (Gore on the U.S. Supreme Court's first 9-0 chastisement of the Florida Court: "I would say it was neutral, even slightly in our favor") to bold-faced lie (Clinton: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman").

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The postelection drama in Florida did us a favor with regard to spin in the same way that partial-birth did us a favor with regard to abortion: It made things sharper and clearer by showcasing monstrous extremes. Till Florida, the existence of spin was, like that of quarks, inferred more than observed. What Florida did was to display Democrats and Republicans arguing passionately and elaborately about postmarks and hand versus machine counts, positions which are not self-evidently organic extensions of more classical philosophies on big or small government.

Secular journalists know there's spin but think it's something other people do. They rail against it regularly but can only go so far in their analysis, and then they stop. That's because only the man whose sins are covered by the Blood is liberated to peer into that black pit of human nature and not succumb to vertigo. The rest see spin as localized and superficial, the stock in trade of politicians. The truth is, from first (Genesis 4:9) to last (Revelation 13:4), man is an incurable spinmeister. Give him a stake in something and he'll argue it either way. To be crass, reason is a whore.

Is there legitimate spin, I asked myself, an occupation even Christian media can engage in and be guiltless? Joel Belz was the one who sparked that notion in my head when in a recent lecture at Geneva College he suggested an etymology in baseball: The pitcher puts a spin on the ball, and no one cries foul; indeed, he needs to do so to win ball games.

That made me remember all the times when Jesus himself put stuff on the ball, never delivering a straight fast ball where a curve would be more effective (Matthew 22:18-21; Luke 20:3; John 4:15-16). I'll bet some hot-shot seminarian out there could get a Ph.D. exploring Jesus' use of spin, semantics, and argumentation, and its implications for the enterprise of Christian journalism. WORLD would probably be much obliged.

When you see it that way, then, spin is just another word for wisdom. Speaking truth sinlessly does not mean artlessly. Communication is not a matter of lobbing one-size-fits-all evangelistic formulae-just look at Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17. The Christian mandate, whether over the backyard fence or in print, is to find the way to be "shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves," tending to audience analysis but always remembering from whom we get our marching orders-not from any political or religious system but from the high command of Jesus. Joshua encountered the angel of the Lord and in his ignorance challenged: Whose side are you on? "Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." Fall in behind me, Joshua.

And what is the anchor to Christian spin but Scripture? And what is Scripture but the very interpretations of God? Let us neither be beholden to ephemeral manmade systems, nor fear to state the facts as we find them, "for we can do nothing against the truth." Gamaliel, who did not use the word spin, cautioned against burying evidence, as he addressed his peers in the Sanhedrin: "For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

On a Sabbath morning 2,000 years ago, a story was started, a bit of pernicious spin, the gist of which was that certain rabble-rousers stole their leader's body from a grave. It was plausible enough and it might have succeeded. But, you know, truth is eternal while a lie is only for a moment.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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