Whoever exalts himself will be humbled

NBC anchor Brian Williams stopped reporting the news and became the news after several soldiers contradicted his sensational account of a 2003 trip to Iraq in which, he says, the helicopter he was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. The way Williams remembers it, the chopper was forced to make an emergency landing, and he and the crew had to be rescued from the enemy by U.S. troops.

Not so, say the soldiers who were with him. The chopper was never fired on. The whole account is fictitious.

Williams’s fellow-journalists are confused about why the veteran reporter would make up such a story. Some are coming to his defense, supporting his claim that he “misremembered” the event, but most are simply at a loss to explain it.

But Williams is not the only one making up stories. Bookstores around the country are pulling the book, “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven,” about six-year-old Alex Malarkey, who claimed to have seen angels and met Jesus during the two months he was comatose following a car-accident. Malarkey, now 16, has admitted to making the story up.

The book, which reached the New York Times bestseller list in 2011, was promoted by the publisher as “…the true story of an ordinary boy’s most extraordinary journey. As you see heaven and earth through Alex’s eyes, you’ll come away with new insights on miracles, life beyond this world, and the power of a father’s love.”

Alex, who co-wrote the book with his father, now says that he made the whole thing up. “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention.”

He goes on to castigate the people who have made considerable money from the sale of his book. “People have profited from lies, and continue to … Those who market these materials must be called to repent and hold the Bible as enough.”

Remarkably, Alex’s mother has been saying the same thing since at least 2012, but no one would listen to her. She contacted major booksellers, telling them that Alex had recanted his story, but was ignored.

How is it that a Christian publisher whose mission is to “minister to the spiritual needs of people, primarily through literature consistent with biblical principles” failed to pay attention to the warning signs? And why did major Christian retail outlets ignore Alex’s mother’s claim that the story was false?

One wonders whether the Christian publishing industry has fallen victim to its own success. Most of the Christian publishing houses and the booksellers who market their product were founded to serve the larger Church in communicating the good news of Christ to a wider audience. Have business plans somehow displaced mission goals? Has their model of success been reshaped in the mold of their secular counterparts? Has the focus shifted away from spiritual impact to issues of retail strategy and market share?

It has recently come to light that Christian authors (or their publishers) have been buying their way onto the New York Times Bestseller list by hiring marketing firms to purchase their books in bulk – enough books to earn a listing and thereby attract publicity. Some authors have defended the practice as a common sense marketing tool. Others have called it manipulative.

The fact that authors are defending the practice is itself a caution against the seductive power of success. It is also a reminder of one of Jesus’s most memorable teachings. After advising people against self-promotion, Jesus bluntly warned: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” He was right, as always.

First Published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, February 21, 2015

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