Thursday, December 16, 2010

I'm Glad WikiLeaks Can't Intercept Prayers...

As a Canadian, I suppose that my only reflections on WikiLeaks' recent release of U.S. documents should be passive. After all, this does not seem to affect me or my country. Aside from one of my Prime Minister's mentors calling for the assassination of Julian Assange (which he later apologized for), and another article in the Globe and Mail accusing the organisation of making the world "even more closed," the reaction up here has been pretty much limited to feeling inferior about our national inferiority complex.

Still, I think that there is a Biblical lesson to be learned here.

By its nature, WikiLeaks feeds off of betrayal: the unnamed source, the angry government official, the disillusioned homosexual U.S. Army soldier. It thrives off of those who betray a confidence or intercept private information. The big discussion going on right now, between those who support WikiLeaks and those who don't, seems to be whether those confidences should be honored, and whether that information should actually be kept private. Of the government of the United States of America, the question asked is "shouldn't a freely elected government be open and transparent in how it deals with other countries? And if so, does it deserve to keep its secrets... well... secret?" In other words, does the betrayal matter if the information itself shouldn't have been kept secret in the first place?

The Betrayal of a Confidence
The same thing can be asked of individual Christians in the church. If we are supposed to be an open, honest, repentant, and faithful community, you may ask "why do we need to have secrets?" Good point. The Bible does say that we should "confess [our] sins to one another and pray for one another" (James 5.16) - which seems to be imply quite an open community. On the other hand, Proverbs accepts that there are legitimate secrets when it says "do not reveal another's secret" (Proverbs 25.9).

This past November, WikiLeaks began to release US diplomatic cables. These cables were secret for a reason. These messages were sent back and forth between governments and diplomatic missions on the basis of trust and confidentiality. The assessments of world leaders, among other things that were contained in these messages, were necessary to communicate but would have been devastating to international diplomacy if they ever got out - which, thanks to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, they have now done. Everyone was depending -trusting- that the privacy of these communications would be kept up, but many are questioning the validity of the secrecy of these messages, citing the expectations of openness and honesty that we Christians might have taken from James 5.16; others say that "secrets are secrets for a reason," which I find to be implicit in texts like Proverbs 25.9.

Taken together, these two texts point to something that we should understand: while we should confess our sins and secrets to one another (as in James 5.16), and be open and transparent, we have to be careful about who we reveal certain information to. Because of that caveat there are still legitimate secrets (even in open societies), as in Proverbs 25.9: "do not reveal another's secret." That is the value that WikiLeaks, and the army soldier in who sold the information, seem not to have understood. In fact, because of these people, terrorist organizations can now know which Canadian locations "are vital to U.S. security" and would therefore make good targets, for example.

Why Secrets Are A Good Thing
I seem to be running out of space and time, so a list of reasons for Christian secret-keeping will have to suffice here: (1) To offer security. As with Samson in Judges 16.9, sometimes it is better for people or groups to keep secrets for their own protection. (2) To practice humility. As an example of this, Jesus says, in Matthew 6.4, that the money God's people give should be given in secret. (3) Because giving away secrets betray trust. If nobody ever kept a secret, we would quickly find ourselves quoting and living by Micah 7.5: "Put no trust in a neighbor; have no confidence in a friend; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your arms." (4) God reveals the heart. In the Bible, there is one person who has the right to lay bare the heart of a man and expose his secrets - God: "God will bring every secret deed into judgment" (Ecclesiastes 12.14).

The Full Summary Part
While it might seem like secrets should have no part in the Church (or in our democratic institutions), Proverbs tells us that secrets should be kept and honored. There are a lot of good reasons to keep a secret: even in the case of sin, we are only required to confess to someone - not, indeed, to everyone. In the end it will be God who lays bare the intentions of every man's heart and brings every secret to judgment.


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