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2021 Spring for Life Campaign is launched with wide-ranging debate about fake news within faith communities

The 21st edition of the Spring for Life Campaign was launched on 22 September with a virtual seminar.  The theme of the meeting was “Seeking the truth: a commitment of faith” and participants included journalist Dr Magali Cunha, Pastor Romi Bencke and activist Ana Gualberto, as well as diverse members of the ecumenical movement.

The campaign addresses the pathway of truth as a Christian principle that produces peace and justice and denounces the harm that a culture that produces and disseminates “Fake News” (a more sophisticated way of saying “lies”) has caused in our society, most particularly in our faith communities. For this reason, the text that inspires us is: “An honest witness tells the truth, but a false witness tells lies.” Proverbs 12:17.

Pastor Romi Bencke, General Secretary of the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (Conselho Nacional de Igrejas Cristãs do Brasil: CONIC), (in Portuguese) and activist Ana Gualberto, Coordinator of Action with Traditional Communities at KOINONIA – Ecumenical Presence and Service (Presença Ecumênica e Serviço), (in Portuguese) were invited to speak about their personal experiences as victims of fake news, and the ramifications and consequences of these episodes.

Ana gave an example in which KOINONIA was accused by the Estado de São Paulo newspaper of being an institutional front for former Health Minister Alexandre Padilha in order to launder money. The case took place in 2014, at the time KOINONIA made several statements and was able to prove its probity, including in an opinion from the Federal Court of Accounts (Tribunal de Contas da União), which demonstrated that there were no irregularities in the NGO’s work.

Ana complained that, despite proving that nothing in the report was true, this “news” can still be accessed on the newspaper’s site today.

Pastor Romi Bencke experienced the pain of orchestrated disinformation in a more individual way.  She has been the victim of several slanderous attacks, but highlights her experience with the Campaign of Ecumenical Fraternity for one reason: the responsibility she felt fell to her, rather than to the people who produced the fake content. “The onus of demonstrating that it isn’t the truth is on those who are the target of fake news,” she declared.

“I have been a victim several times – when they spread lies, when I disproved them.  Because the image that remains is that you’re the one causing the problem.  They made me responsible too. ‘Ah but you touch on topics that generate this type of response.’ People that you thought were your companions buy into the narrative, begin to judge you.  There were even people who withdrew from CONIC,” she complained.

Romi described how she also tried to file a lawsuit regarding her case, but wasn’t able to take it forward because it was extremely exhausting and harmful for her. “The cost is yours.  In my case, I had to transcribe what they said.  I felt violated again and I ended up giving up.  It’s hard to have to hear it all over again.  You need to have a very strong capacity for resilience,” she declared.

 

Fake news and the search for truth in faith environments

The journalist, Dr Magali Cunha gave a speech that shed light on what fake news is, what its consequences are, how it spreads in religious arenas and why it reverberates so much with Christians. Magali highlighted how certain characteristics of fake news help explain why it is so attractive.  One is a feeling that the American political scientist Wendy Brown calls resentful morality.

“That person who resents a domestic worker who sits next to them on a plane or a black person at university.  Or someone indigenous who has the right to land ‘and shouldn’t have’.  There are rancorous people who think it’s the ‘fault’ of human rights activists – of CESE, of Pastor Romi and Ana from KOINONIA – that these people occupy places ‘they shouldn’t’,” she explained.

Magali noted that people who produce fake news – who she calls ‘traffickers’, in a metaphor from the drug trade – recognize and exploit this resentment.  Fake news reverberates around Christian environments and, in her opinion, this is related to the trust the faithful have in both their pastors and the content that circulates around their churches.

She continued by emphasizing a Christian habit.  “These are people who like to evangelize and when they pass on this content, that’s what they think they’re doing.  Because that content is prepared to especially reach these groups.  So, added to resentful morality, is the credibility of the ‘church group’, of leadership.  Is someone who receives something from their pastor going to think it’s a lie?”

 

The 2021 Spring for Life Campaign

CESE has run its Spring for Life Campaign since 2001, in order to coordinate dialogue with the churches, strengthening ethical commitment through the promotion and guarantee of Human Rights, contributing to the training of clerical leaders, lay people and those from the faith communities, making biblical and theological studies available, inspired by the social demands the organization responds to.

During the seminar a publication about “fake news” was launched, which will be distributed to the churches.  This work will also be translated into Spanish. Click here to download the publication (in Portuguese).

Pastor Sônia Mota, CESE’s Executive Director, pointed out the pathway we should follow this spring.  “Utopia serves to help us continue walking.  Spring, so that we can rise up stronger and more resilient.  This year, the Spring for Life Campaign invites us to reflect on the pathway to truth as a Christian principle that produces peace and justice, but also denounces lies.  That is why we are here today and throughout the spring we will continue to denounce and combat fake news in our groups, through our communications channels.”

CESE’s President, Pastor Helivete Bezerra, greeted everyone in the name of CESE’s Institutional Board.  “We need to reinforce the importance of dialogue about such an important theme as our commitment to truth.  Above all in our faith communities.  As Christian people, I believe that we have the responsibility to denounce lies and promote the truth.  So that justice always prevails.”

Watch the event in full (in Portuguese) on our YouTube channel at: