The Price of Loyalty

When any president has to worry whether the deputy director of the FBI is sneaking around in dark corridors peddling information in the middle of the night, he's in trouble. There were times when I should have blown the whistle, so I understand his feelings. But I cannot approve of his methods.
- Charles W. Colson

William Mark Felt was a traitor to Nixon and America! What he did caused 53,000 American soldiers to die for nothing in Vietnam!
- Pat Buchanan (MSNBC, 31 May 2005)

One of the more interesting news items in the last month or two has been the revelation that W. Mark Felt, the former deputy head of the FBI, was "Deep Throat" - Bob Woodward's secret source for the Watergate investigation. Without Felt's contribution, Richard Nixon may never have resigned.

With the secret finally out after 30 years or so, it was obvious that Felt's de
cision to leak information about the case to Bob Woodward (reporting for The Washington Post), wasn't exactly altruistic. Nixon had passed him over as head of the FBI in favour of his own person, and Felt was part of the dark machine that J. Edgar Hoover had created in the previous decades. He was ambitious and probably wanted the FBI to remain the same organisation that Hoover had created - free from political interference but unaccoutable to any outside body as well. Felt was gaoled in 1980 in his role investigating the left-wing terrorist organisation, the "Weather Underground" - he had authorised break-ins and "Black bag jobs" against suspects that were later deemed to be illegal and unconstitutional. Felt was another corrupt government official, ambitious for power and willing to do anything to keep his beloved FBI the way Hoover wanted it.

Felt's actions as Deep Throat were therefore not exactly innocent. There was no doubt that leaking the information to Bob Woodward was a payback for Nixon's so called "interference" with the FBI, as well as personal revenge for failing to apoint him its official "head".

But at the same time it was obvious that Nixon's Watergate activities were a serious crime. Felt may have had poor motives, but, in the end, he was simply reporting the facts as he knew them - facts that proved beyond doubt that the President of the United States was engaged in illegal activity against political opponents. Felt's own illegal activities against the Weather Underground were based on "pure motives", if you could call them that - he was trying to eliminate a radical left-wing terrorist group. Nixon's illegal activities were simply an abuse of power to ensure that his political opponents were seriously damaged.

Felt did the right thing in being "Deep Throat". He exposed criminal activity in The White House and helped remove Nixon from the presidency. Felt was an evil man doing a good deed.

Charles Colson, Nixon's chief counsel from 1969-1973, was one of the Watergate-affiliated people gaoled at the time for his illegal activities. He is well known amongst Evangelical Christians for his pre-trial conversion to Christianity, his "Born Again" biography, and his subsequent founding of "Prison Fellowship". He is regarded highly amongst Christians, and is one of America's best known Evangelical leaders.

So when it was revealed that Mark Felt was Deep Throat, Charles Colson was genuinely shocked. Like Nixon, he had trusted Felt. Moreover, if you look at what Colson said about Felt during the interview, it is obvious that Colson was more concerned about the man's "lack of loyalty" than anything else. He should have been loyal to his commander-in-chief. He should have resigned instead of having secret meetings with reporters.

I find such an attitude appalling - Colson's attitude that is. When has Loyalty been more important than Truth? Colson intimates that Nixon's presidency may have been saved had Felt not blabbed - but that is the problem. Nixon had already committed crimes that deserved impeachment before Felt started his "cloak and dagger" relationship with Bob Woodward. If Felt had confronted Nixon, he would have been threatened or bribed enough to remain silent.

The fact is that Felt was acting out of loyalty to something higher than the President - he was being loyal to the rule of law. Hypocritical, selfish, law-breaking fascist though he may have been, Felt knew that Nixon's activities were highly illegal and needed to be exposed. Colson talks about loyalty to a person, to a position, while Felt acted upon his loyalty to the law.

Colson's attitude is even more remarkable considering the fact that the Bible speaks of an event where an individual, motivated by his loyalty to God's law, confronted a hypocritical and corrupt king. We all know the story, it is the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). The individual who confonted David was the prophet Nathan.

David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had gotten her pregnant. In order to cover up his crime, he ordered her husband, Uriah (a soldier fighting in his army) to come home and spend time with his wife. The Bible doesn't record if Uriah was suspicious or not, but he certainly refused to spend time with Bathsheba because he was a loyal soldier who wanted to serve his king as best he could. David, faced with the prospect of his adultery being made public, then instructs his military commanders to place Uriah in a deadly battlefield situation in the hope that he would perish. This plan works, and only David (and possibly Bathsheba) knows the full extent of his sin - adultery and murder.

But someone else knew - God. And God sent his prophet, Nathan, to confront the errant king. Rather than resign his position or keep things quiet, Nathan speaks truth to power. David could have had Nathan killed for being insubordinate. He could have had him banished or imprisoned. Instead, David repented. He knew he could not hide his sin from God. Psalm 51 outlines his public repentance.

David had broken God's law, but God forgave him and graciously allowed him to continue in his position of Israel's king.

As Christians we have loyalty to God and to God alone. While we are to respect and pray for those whom he sets in authority over us (such as rulers, but also pastors and elders) that does not mean we ignore their sin.

I know of one church here in Newcastle (not the one I have written about extensively below) where the pastor used church funds to buy himself an expensive new car - a BMW I think. He was able to quell any dissention for his purchase by arguing (successfully) that because he was God's chosen leader in the church, then the congregation should not question his actions. Those who could have complained or questioned would have been rebuked for failing to be godly and follow God's chosen leader.

The very fact that Paul laid down specific instructions on the possibility of bringing charges against elders (1 Timothy 5.19-21) indicates that such an unquestioning attitude - such blind loyalty - to those who rule was foreign to Paul and the other Apostles.

The price of loyalty isn't always anonymity and notoriety (that enjoyed by Mark Felt) or even praise (that enjoyed by Nathan). Oftentimes loyalty to God and his word will result in suffering - especially if you are confronting someone with power over you, who demands that you remain loyal to them. It is especially difficult if that person is well known or powerful.

What would you do if you knew that a well-known Christian leader was committing adultery? What if the Christian organisation you are working for is deliberately and illegally covering up earnings in order to dodge taxation regulation? What if you found out that an elder in your church had been sexually abusing children, but had been protected by powerful church members to protect his reputation?

I'm not suggesting that you should email Bob Woodward, but the fact is that sin needs to be dealt with in the church. Elders and Christian leaders who are guilty of serious sin should be permanently removed from their positions. High profile Christians who are guilty of committing criminal offenses should be handed over to the authorities and face trial. Investors and stakeholders in Christian organisations should be notified of any irregularities in finances. And, of course, through all this the rules set down by our Lord in Matthew 18 apply.

But many who attempt to do this - those who attempt to confront and reveal such sin - are often put through great suffering by those in power to cover up their sin. In order to cover up sin, the perpetrators commit even more sin to silence their critics. If I was to mangle the 2 Samuel text and commit eisegesis, I would say that in order for us to be Nathans, we may have to be prepared to be Uriahs. (Of course with this butchered allegory we would have to ask "Who is Bathsheba?", so the charge of eisegesis obviously still stands!).

Our loyalty is to God and God only. Are we willing to speak the truth and confont sin in the church - and maybe even pay the price that our loyalty brings?

From the Theosalient Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

No comments: