Much has been made in recent years of the widespread use of photo-editing software to alter and enhance digital images. Such software programs can help photographers retouch photos so that accidental intrusions or unnatural elements, such as “red-eye,” can be removed. These techniques are used by advertising agencies, celebrity websites and popular magazines.

This software has been used to such extremes that many images we see in the media today have been manipulated to look vastly different from the original. Several large clothing companies have come under fire recently for digitally altering images of models in their advertising campaigns, creating misleading and offensive notions of what a “normal” woman who wears their clothes looks like.

The message sent—especially to young women—when images are altered like this is not difficult to understand. It has the potential for emotional harm and leads to unhealthy habits among the targets of this kind of advertising. The Christian community needs to counteract this negative messaging by emphasizing the importance of love and acceptance. As a parent of two teenagers, this issue hits home for me. I don't ever want them to think they are not good enough or need to measure up to anyone else's standards.
The Salvation Army needs to ask if and when we are not being completely honest

But as I reflect on this “Photoshopping” trend, something else troubles me almost as much as the negative messages about body image being spread. Like most other people, I don't like being misled. Too much deceitfulness assaults our senses on a daily basis. I am not alone in this aversion. In 2013, Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) released the results of a nationwide survey about consumer viewpoints and attitudes toward advertising. The study showed that while we understand advertising is meant to coax and influence, we expect advertisers to operate in an honest manner. Survey respondents were more troubled by advertising they found misleading (85 percent) than that which was personally offensive (15 percent) by a significant margin.

I wonder if those percentages would be the same if the respondents were all Christians. Are 17 out of 20 Christians more upset by deceptive advertising than by unpleasant things, such as explicit sexuality or vulgarity? Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to create a hierarchy of indecency. One sin may be as bad as the next. But it seems to me that often, in the church, we protest flagrant improprieties more swiftly and forcefully than insidious ones. We may object vehemently to a profanity from a fellow believer, but how do we feel when that person lies? Or when they don't speak the whole truth?

Ephesians 4:25 says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body.” The Bible appeals to our sense of family and devotion to discourage us from being anything less than truthful. The Salvation Army is known to be a compassionate organization, but are we always open, honest and transparent? The writer of Ephesians makes the argument that compassion and truthfulness are inextricably linked. How can we say we are compassionate if we are not truthful?

We can ask ourselves some key questions to test if we are exhibiting integrity:

  • Did I neglect to tell the truth to someone today?

  • Did I promise to do something for someone knowing that I probably wouldn't follow through?

  • Did I mislead someone by agreeing to do something in a time frame that wasn't realistic?

If we answer yes to any of these questions, we might also ask why we didn't consider the impact our behaviour would have on others.

As an organization with a large public profile, The Salvation Army—corporately and individually—also needs to ask if and when we are not being completely honest. Have we airbrushed some of the pictures we have painted for the public? Do we crop out things that might make the picture less than ideal? Have we considered the kind of impact that will have on us and others?

Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Rotary Hospice House in Richmond, B.C.

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