Psst, don’t pass it on



When I was in grade school, there was a common game we played at

birthday parties, Brownie Girl Scout meetings and vacation Bible

schools. The game went by a variety of names: Grapevine, Telephone,

Telegraph, Gossip.

We’d all gather in a circle and an adult would whisper a sentence

into one child’s ear. That child would then whisper the words into

the ear of the child next to them and so on, until the sentence

finally arrived in the ear of the last child in the circle, who said

aloud what they had heard.

The sentence heard at the end, depending on how faithfully,

quickly or carelessly the words had been passed around, was quite

different than the original sentence. It was a game, but it was also

a lesson.

When the game was over, we would talk about how easy it is to

misunderstand what someone says and how hard it can be to repeat what

we hear, word for word. We would talk about the harm that can be done

when we don’t get it right.

In Bible school, it was impressed upon us that putting words in

someone’s mouth, whether by intent or recklessness, breached the

ninth commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy

neighbor.” We were reminded to do our best to live by the Golden

Rule, to treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail message that flew in the

face of the wisdom that came from playing Telephone. Since then, as

it happens all too often, I have received the same message again and


I’d like to revive Telephone, call it Internet and play it among


The subject line of the e-mail read, “Ann (sic) Graham and 911.”

The message began, “Billy Graham’s daughter was interviewed on the

Early Show and Jane Clayson asked her, ‘How could God let something

like this happen?’” (This being the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist


“Anne Graham,” the story continues, “gave an extremely profound

and insightful response. She said, ‘I believe God is deeply saddened

by this, just as we are, but for years, we’ve been telling God to get

out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of

our lives.

“‘And being the gentleman He is, I believe He has calmly backed

out,’” Graham is quoted as saying. “‘How can we expect God to give us

His blessing and His protection if we demand He leave us alone?’”

Some of the messages began with “Finally, The Truth on National

TV.” Some said it was Bryant Gumbel or Jane Pauley or Katie Couric

who had interviewed Anne Graham Lotz. But each message quoted Clayson

(or Gumbel or Pauley or Couric) and Graham Lotz the same way.

The trouble is, the quotes in the e-mail are roughly, but not

really, what either one said. It took about 30 seconds, searching

with Google, to find a transcript of the interview on

Worse than the misquotes, however, is a long invective of a dozen

statements that follows. The statements are written in the first

person and merged with the one, single misquote from Graham Lotz so

that the people who sent me this e-mail believed she made them, too.

They were statements like:

“I think it started when Madeleine Murray O’Hare (she was

murdered, her body found recently) complained she didn’t want prayer

in our schools, and we said OK.”

“Then someone said let’s print magazines with pictures of nude

women and call it wholesome, down-to-earth appreciation for the

beauty of the female body. And we said OK.”

“And then someone took that appreciation a step further and

published pictures of nude children and then further again by making

them available on the Internet. And we said OK, they’re entitled to

free speech.”

“Probably, if we think about it long and hard enough, we can

figure it out. I think it has a great deal to do with ‘we reap what

we sow.’”

The message ends, like so much of this kind of e-mail, with a

little guilt-trip to encourage recipients to pass it on, “Funny how

when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your

address list. ... Funny how we can be more worried about what other

people think of us than what God thinks.”

A Web site,, encourages those who receive

e-mails like this to “break the chain” by researching every chain

letter they get before hitting the “forward” button. The Web site

offers excellent tips and information on how to do this.

We can’t defend truth, virtue or justice with half-truths,

falsehoods and deception, but we can stop passing it on.