For us to advertise personal and corporate integrity while practicing the deception of our right wing propaganda machine is the very definition of duplicity in the practice of Christian ministry.
Duplicity is one of those great English words with an elegant complexity that speaks volumes, which is perhaps why it’s so uncommon in conversational language. We’d rather use, for example, “deceit” or one of its other synonyms, like double-dealing, because they are perhaps more precise. However, it’s the combination of all those synonyms that makes this word so profoundly perfect in the age of Donald Trump and his duplicitous white Christian followers.
The World Wide Web encourages duplicity, and we’ve all experienced it in the world of internet marketing. When a web platform like Facebook or Google provides something useful that you can use for free, rest assured that you and all of your friends and family that also use the site are its real business model. In the tech world, it’s no secret that the back end of what we can see and do online is not only capable of easily hiding other activities but is also the real value to investors and business entrepreneurs.
One of the earliest examples of a duplicitous website was vote.com, a pre-bubble-burst website by political operative Dick Morris and his wife, Eileen McGann. Morris wrote a book to accompany the website touting what he called “the 5th estate,” the ability of everyday people to horizontally “vote” on issues that mattered to them regardless of party affiliation. The idea was to lobby Washington in groups, thereby granting power to everyday people. The site presented current issues and allowed the opportunity for people to “vote” on the issue. Combined votes would then be tabulated and sent to Congress, the White House, and others. On the back end, however, Morris built a database of email addresses that could be sorted in many ways, including by individual issue. This was worth a lot of money to the political crowd, and it was the real intent behind the hyperbole of his so-called “5th estate.” The license to do this was found in its “Terms of Service:”
“The vote results are tabulated for display to voters and for forwarding in summary form to interested parties such as senators, congressmen and like political representatives. No personally identifiable information is included and cannot be accessed by the public. Targeted mailings may be sent to voters who took certain positions on certain votes (emphasis mine).”
I learned and practiced an insidious form of duplicity while working as Pat Robertson’s executive producer of “The 700 Club” in the years leading up to and including his run for president in 1988. Back then, Pat Robertson was a politician who happened to be a Southern Baptist minister, but his real genius was marketing. We knew through research that Evangelical Christianity had a branding problem as the ’70s turned into the ’80s. The faithful were cynically thought of as ignorant, rural, overweight, Bible-thumping hypocrites, or long-haired hippy types that lived in communes and leached off the culture. We were successfully able to overcome these stereotypes through marketing and presenting Christianity as a powerful breath of fresh air for young, prosperous, and good-looking people in all walks of life. The stereotypes tagged along, and that was fine with us.
However, in order to meet political goals and ambitions of leading people into new, albeit conservative ways of thinking, we needed a visible enemy that we could raise a standard against. Christians knew that the devil was the enemy, so our villain needed to be of the same ilk. Ephesians 6:12 became our foundational scripture in building a case for the vilification of anything that spoke of the political left:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. KJV
How easy it was to convince people that the political left represented “the rulers of the darkness of this world” and therefore craft a duplicitous weapon to counteract this evil in the form an attacking and seemingly reasonable but contrasting form of point-of-view journalism known as CBN News. We wrote the book on right wing media, which was actually a propaganda service for the right that would shape viewers’ beliefs in such a way as to advance the right by the vilification of the left. And there was no better whipping boy for this than the mainstream press, for they represented, according to our theory, a tangible target for our disdain. And so we simply forced our way into history by associating Biblical evil with the perceived failures of the fourth estate. The press became “the liberal media,” and it is astonishing how simple it was to blend that message in with the gospel.
The simple truth is that the far right cannot advance without consistently vilifying the left at all costs. It is the sustenance that flows through the veins of Christians out to destroy those “rulers of the darkness of this world” in the flesh, although the Bible verse speaks entirely of warring in the spiritual. This was our strategy at CBN. It’s Donald Trump’s strategy today. He simply cannot afford to give the left any credence whatsoever, because Donald Trump benefits from the black-and-white view that good is the opposite of bad in the battle for the limited resources of the world. Which side do you wish to be on, he asks? Both sides are fighting each other, and both sides employ evil tactics, which forms the false narrative into which so many have bought.
Trump’s most visible demonstration of this is in his comparing the white supremacists in Charlottesville with those who were protesting them. Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, told the New York Times, “Using the fact that some counter-protesters were, in fact, violent, creates a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president.”
This is textbook logical fallacy but not the first time he’s employed the trick. He did the same thing with fake news when it became apparent that fake news sites were popping up to further sell his nationalist, white, anti-culture message during the 2016 campaign. He countered by simply announced that the “real” fake news sites were on the left by way of the mainstream traditional press. The false equivalency presented in this allowed him to continue to paint the left as the evil from which he was the savior. He turned every attack on him into a sinister plot by his evil opponents, and this tickled the ears of white Evangelical Christians, an entire generation of whom were trained and armed by people like me, Pat Robertson, and his entire duplicitous army.
The irony of this to me is that integrity is one of the three legs of the stool representing the mission of “The 700 Club.” The other two are excellence and innovation. For us to advertise personal and corporate integrity while practicing the deception of our right wing propaganda machine is the very definition of duplicity in the practice of Christian ministry.
And the more these visible tactics are put under the light of truth, the closer to the end of it all we come, for the same Bible these people use says this: The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. Prob 11:3 NIV
God’s judgment is certainly upon us, but not on the culture as many believers would have us accept. Judgment is on the church, and its end will not be pleasant. One thing we can all rest assured of, however, is that it will end, as will this foolish divide that is kept in place by the bearing of a false witness. In AA, we borrow a slogan from Shakespeare, “to thine own self be true.” Here’s the full quote from Act I, scene III of Hamlet (Polonius to Laertes):
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Duplicity is a defense of the self. It’s a violation of the 9th commandment. In the words of R. J. Krejcir, “God wants us to be authentic-not pretentious-because we are the Bible that non-Christians read.”