Allow me first to draw your attention to this fine post, with which I largely agree. But then, if I may, I would like to ladle some generous helpings of my own brown gravy complications over top the roast beef of our agreement. So to speak.
This is another way of saying that I agree, as far as it goes. But in real life tangles, it often goes much farther than all that. Let me keep Snowden out of this so that we can just address the ethics of whistleblowing, and not have to deal with the hot politics of this particular situation.
Let us assume a Christian with a top security clearance comes to you, his pastor, for some counsel. He wants to know what the right course of action is, and his interest is genuine. Let us also assume that the malfeasance he is concerned about is real and massive, and that it involves all his known superiors. This means that his only choice is to decide between whistleblowing and not whistleblowing. He either has to say nothing, or say something outside the usual channels. There are at least three sets of complicating factors.
The first is that when the structure of governmental operations is as swollen and complicated and bureaucratic and Byzantine as ours is, it is impossible to avoid illegalities. This is important for those who are worried that the whistleblowing is “illegal.” That is a central part of the point of such structures. It means that if they ever want to get you, they can do so. Not only is whistleblowing illegal, so is not whistleblowing. Suppose, after a battle with his conscience, our friend here decides not to do anything, and a month later some skunk down the hall blows the whistle on the whole shebang because he thinks he can get a lucrative book deal out of it. The whole thing blows sky high, and the first thing you know, your friend is on the stand trying to explain why he didn’t say something. Because he said nothing, he is now complicit.
A second complicating factor is to note the implicit standards that are baked into words like “traitor.” So your friend blows the whistle on some operation that has the Constitution duct taped to a chair in the basement. The defenders of the program appeal to national security, of course, and accuse your friend of betraying his country, helping out the terrorists on his way. There are two layers to processing this accusation.
The first one asks whether the accusation is true. There are many occasions when cleaning up a department, or a program, or an agency, could be something that helps a nation fight its terrorist enemies. So is the accusation true? We do not want to establish as a truism this sentiment — “if we clean up our internal corruptions, the terrorists win.”
But what if it is true? We still don’t know whether it was unrighteous or not. Rahab was a traitor when she hid the spies and gave aid and comfort to them. She was undeniably a traitor, and no doubt violated all kinds of protocols. Was Bonhoeffer a traitor? Those American Christians who want to outlaw this line of thought at the very outset want to outlaw it because they are idolaters. I carry no brief for jihadists, or the Russians, or the drug cartels — as any regular reader of this blog well knows. But if I ever come to believe that America is right by definition, then the graven image is no less graven because I carved it inside my head.
This leads to a third complication, closely related to the second. In our current set-up, the oath we take is to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That is an oath I have taken in the past, and would be happy to take in the future. It is a lawful oath. But there are implicit standards embedded in it that will be read quite differently by different sides in a conflict. The foreign enemies are easier to identify, because of their amphibious landing craft at Rehoboth beach. Yay. Let’s go fight the bad guys. I love it when things are clear.
But . . . enemies of the Constitution . . . foreign and domestic. Those domestic enemies are not conveniently located for us down at the anarchist cafe. They don’t all have eye patches. They are found throughout the State Department. They are men who hold positions of high command in the military. They run for the office of the presidency and they make it. You come across the plot in all its . . . manchurianyness . . . and you do what? You have to keep your oath, right? Even though everyone in the world will think you are violating your oath? Such oaths are kept before God, not before one of those focus groups.
All of which is to say that Christians who wrestle with their responsibilities to speak the truth, to whistleblow or not, are not doing so in a healthy society, with one regrettable problem that happened to occur right next to them. No, they are wrestling with this problem — and it is a big one — in a corrupt society, the corruptions of which are well-advanced. Stage 4, in fact. This means that when you take your oaths, and when you sign your non-disclosure agreements, you need to understand what those actions actually require of you. And in order to do that, you have to understand the world around you. And its a mess, I tell you.