When is Too Early Too Early?

These words, made famous in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, bring to mind a trend that has only come to light in the last year or so.

I pray it stops soon–and the sooner, the better.  Here’s why:

A few days ago (April 18), I was scanning my news feed on Facebook when I came across two requests from friends to pray for Charles Colson, noting that his family had been asked to join him at his bedside.  Seeing as both of my friends had worked for Prison Fellowship International, the ministry Colson had founded, I took their requests as legitimate (in comparison to some of the things that invariably get posted these days).

I was saddened as well, since I had directed an online survey on the viability of BreakPoint magazine for PFI while in grad school.  Sure, Colson made mistakes in the whole Watergate affair, but his later conversion to Christianity had transformed him into a man who had been instrumental in changing lives for Christ over the last three decades.

Later that evening, while gathering a snack, I checked my Facebook account again and noticed that one post made the point that too much death had happened that day (Dick Clark had passed away earlier that afternoon).  It included a link from CBN stating that Colson had passed away as well.

Having been fooled on many occasions before, I always go with a biblical methodology on these things–two sources before anything gets posted.  A quick Google search turned up the CBN link, but nothing else.  I waited about a half-hour, since this would be something the mainstream media would pick up on immediately.  A second search turned up only the one link.

I then made a quick comment to my friend (a different one than the first two) about her source.  She noted that she had heard it on a Focus on the Family program that evening.  I then went to the CBN link and saw the following:

I went to bed praying for health for Mr. Colson and that somehow the article was wrong.  The next morning, I did another search and this time found zero mentions of Colson’s passing.  The CBN link was gone.  Prison Fellowship’s website had an update, but simply said to continue praying for him in his illness.

As of the typing of this post (April 20), I’m happy to say that Mr. Colson is still alive and CBN offered an online apology for the whole situation.  Keep praying for his continued health in the meantime.

So here’s the question: Why is there such a need to be the first one to make note of a key figure’s passing (besides money, fame, and notoriety)?

Ethically, what CBN did was exactly what a blog site did regarding the passing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno back in January.  They jumped the gun, the rest of the media caught on, then everyone had to back off and apologize when it was discovered to be false.  The site’s managing editor paid for it with his job.

It just makes you wonder why waiting a half-hour wasn’t an option.  We all don’t have to be the next TMZ. It’s better to be safe than have to say you’re sorry.  And it gives Christians (who are supposed to be better than this), as well as Jesus, black eyes.

One verse that has struck with me over the years has been Proverbs 3:27–“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.”  My hope is that CBN–as well as anyone in the media field that reads this–will take this verse to heart and consider the ramifications of their actions.

May this lesson be learned and applied–soon.

UPDATE (April 21): Mr. Colson just went to be with the Lord. Prayers go out to his family in this time. Thanks for your service and faithfulness to the Kingdom, Chuck.


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