Reflection #32 – The Destructive Power of a False Witness

During our COVID-19 shutdown, Pastor Zekveld plans to provide a personal reflection from Tuesday through Friday.

The Destructive Power of a False Witness

Have you ever heard of Maatje and Matthew Benassi? Neither had almost anybody else until they became the target of George Webb’s conspiracy theory in March. Theirs is a story of the destructive power of a false witness, how a false narrative made them the subjects of worldwide hatred, and ruined their quiet lives.

Maatje Benassi is a retired U.S. Army reservist. Both she and her husband, Matt, work as civilian employees with the United States’ military in Virginia.

Maatje is an accomplished cyclist and last October she travelled to Wuhan, China, to join hundreds of other military athletes at the 2019 Military World Games. She competed in the cycling competition there. In the final lap she had an accident that left her with a fractured rib and a concussion, but, despite the crash, Benassi still finished the race.

It turned out to be the start of something worse, however. For some unknown reason, Maatje Benassi was selected out of the group of athletes and interwoven into George Webb’s story line that Maatje is “Coronavirus Patient Zero.” His false claim is that COVID-19 began with her, then spread to the city of Wuhan in China, and from there it travelled across the whole world.

According to this American peddler of disinformation, Maatje Benassi is the key part of a larger plot of the Benassi family to spread the virus throughout the world. (Donie O’Sullivan, CNN Business Report, April 27, 2020)

The lies of this conspiracy theory are ludicrous. Maatje has never tested positive for COVID-19, and has never shown any symptoms for it. Yet George Webb has more than 100,000 followers on Youtube, and internet trolls have spread his poison everywhere, translated in many different languages. His videos are especially popular in China where the Chinese Community Party is using his false claims as propaganda to support its claim that American military personnel brought the virus to China.

George Webb has also advertised Matt and Maatje Benassi’s street address so they are being pummelled not only with cyberbullying, but also with snail mail and the threats of personal assault in their home. Their lives have been turned upside down by having a new, false identity imposed on them by men who bear false witness.

Conspiracy theory is an evil sport perpetrated by people who love the power of a following, and believed by people who love an intriguing narrative that makes them feel powerful and important too. They are empowered by the sense that they are raging against the machine of the mainstream media. They boast that they are not blindly following the evil media, yet blindly fall for something that’s often far more ridiculous and damaging to other people.

As Christians, though we should not blindly follow mainstream media, we also have to arm ourselves against the equally, if not more, dangerous power of a false story arising from conspiracy lovers. Especially when that false story fits the narrative of the world that lives deep within us, we are all prone to jump on the bandwagon of bearing false witness.

If we’re anti-Hilary, or anti-Trump, or anti-semitic, or anti-leftist, our commitment to the 9th commandment can quickly fall apart when we hear a story or theory that supports our cause. We spread

false testimony, and join in condemning someone rashly or without a hearing. (see Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 112)

Remember, there’s always someone at the other end of the story, a Maatje Benassi whose life is being upended by the rumours. Words have power to heal and destroy.

Sadly, as Christians we are too ready to fall for a false story. We are too quick to imitate the devil who is the ultimate liar and murderer (see John 8:44), rather than God who is the Truth and Source of all truth.

It’s difficult to steer a pathway of truth through a very complicated world of journalistic bias and social media trolling, but this is our calling as God’s children. Truth is real, and our hearts and minds have to yearn for it, look for it, and avoid lying and deceit of every kind.

The key is knowing Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life (see John 14:6), and knowing His Word. Jesus is so committed to the Truth that He came into the world to perish on the other side of it – He was condemned to death and destroyed on a cross by the testimony of false witnesses and those who supported them.

Jesus did this because of His love for liars like you and me. In His death He paid the price for our lying and destroyed the power of the lie. By faith in Him we are given a new heart to know and love the truth, and to hate and avoid the lie.

So as God’s children redeemed by Jesus, let us do whatever we can in these times to promote the truth. Then we bring glory to God and we protect and advance our neighbor’s honour and reputation.