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Asking the clergy: Do 'little white lies' lead to bigger sins?

Little white lies, the tiny tales people use to smooth over conflict, tend to slip off the tongue with such ease. This week's clergy discuss whether they can lead to bigger problems.

Pastor Michael Miano, Blue Point Bible Church:

"White lies" is a phrase that traces back in history, both philosophical and religious, to denote lies that did not have malicious intent. The Bible clearly condemns lying, even to the extent that God hates a lying tongue (Psalm 5:6; Psalm 119:63; Proverbs 13:5; Proverbs 14:5; Colossians 3:9 and Proverbs 6:17). Also, Jesus Christ, when speaking about "swearing" went on to say, "Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no (Matthew 5:33-38)." Clearly an indictment against being misleading or dishonest. Simply put, Christians are called to be "truth tellers" (Proverbs 12:19; Ephesians 4:15). In regard to personal integrity and our "light shining before men," we have no room for lies, no matter the color or size.

So, the short answer is "yes," because once you allow evil into your heart, it can take hold and lead to bigger sins. So, I do everything I can to avoid

telling even little white lies.

Being completely open and honest, we have all told white lies, whether we think they are right or wrong. And sometimes, the outcome was good/safe and others it may have had a bad effect. So this is not a morality contest. We must express an intellectual humility in approaching the topic. Scripture as clear as day condemns a "lying tongue," therefore if we must find ourselves in a pressing situation regarding telling a white lie, the wisdom of saints who have gone before us cries out.

Here, I quote Thomas Aquinas: "Therefore it is not lawful to tell a lie in order to deliver another from any danger whatever. Nevertheless it is lawful to hide the truth prudently, by keeping it back. . . . "

Pastor Bruce Bennett, Word of Truth Church, Farmingville:

Based upon Scripture, a little leaven leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9), and, yes, it can lead to larger sin. A white lie could be as simple as not being completely truthful with a person or a deliberate misrepresentation on a minor scale.

Satan is called the father of lies in Scripture. As a Christian, we want to avoid anything that the devil is a part of. Lying is one of his main weapons for deceiving people. All sin usually starts with the minor, smaller manifestations, maturing over time into larger manifestations. It is just like a drug addict who starts with legal drugs such as alcohol or cigarettes.

Lying gives us a false sense of security. It provides a false comfort, a false satisfaction, an advantage. It gives all this at the expense of another person. If you are testifying before the congregation or other body that requires the absolute truth, that sin of lying may give them a false sense of peace. Or, say a young person tells a white lie and isn't corrected. Then, he graduates to stealing a comic book and gets a false sense of gratification that he has the desired object and that he still has money in his pocket. It's not really his book, and the money still in his pocket really belongs to the shopkeeper. These temporary highs, which make you feel good, don't last. And Satan is there to take advantage of these feelings to manipulate us.

Rabbi Leslie Schotz, Bay Shore Jewish Center:

There are two sides to this issue. And there also are two sides to the concept of a little white lie. For someone who tries to be cognizant of words and their effect on others, I would hesitate to call something a little "white" lie. To say something is black or white, what does black and white mean in the greater society? But that is a separate issue.

When looking just at the concept of little white lies, on the one hand you have the Hebrew expressions that "one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah" and "one aveirah goreret aveirah leads to another aveirah goreret aveirah." It translates, respectively, to "one good deed leads to another good deed" and "one sin brings another sin." If you look at it that way, one little lie can lead or force one into another, bigger lie. And, you don't know how that lie, or lies, can affect others. What ramifications will it have? As for the wrong, or sin, if you do wrong, will you continue to do wrong?

There is also shalom bayit, which translates to "for the sake of peace." This can be peace in the home, but one could also think of peace in the world. Perhaps you don't share the whole truth to avoid disrupting the house. For example, there are cases in Jewish literature regarding the bride on her wedding day. On that day, she is beautiful, no matter how she looks. This is a case of shalom bayit.

Which is the right answer? It depends on the context, as well as the lie.

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