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It was for a good cause

June 24, 2013

Edward Snowden is one of those rare people who rockets from total obscurity to world-wide fame in a blink of an eye.  With his disclosure of the vast information-gathering efforts of the U.S. government as it seeks to sniff out plots against the country this 20-something contract employee of the CIA has become an instant legend.

The debate as to how much the government needs to know about all of our communication is a good one.  We were almost all surprised to learn that the mega-data being harvested from our communication was so extensive.  How we reacted was not so uniform.  Frankly I find it amusing that a record of the calls we make to my sister or my wife’s aunt sits somewhere in a government facility.  The balance between national security and privacy is always a tricky one.

There is no doubt in my mind that Snowden acted in what he feels is a noble cause, the defense of privacy.  If there is a question I would ask him it would be this – What made you sure that you, one solitary individual, was in the right to make a dramatic and arguably illegal disclosure of classified information?  I wouldn’t be asking in an accusatory way, I’d just want to know his thinking.

My guess is that he would say that his noble cause, privacy rights, justified his action.  All this has me thinking about an axiom that comes to mind – when you are acting in a noble cause, always beware of excesses in your actions.  When you are sure you are right, particularly when you have an “us against the establishment” mindset, you are most likely to feel anything goes in a good cause.

I worry about this not because of Snowden, I am actually thankful that he has opened this can or worms, but because few people are more apt to act in a noble cause than Christians.  Noble causes, although we use the term biblical instead of noble, are what we live and breathe.  We take pride in our ability to champion them.  More often than not we feel we are most closely following Christ when we are on our noble causes.

Alan Chambers of the now-closed Exodus Ministries had a noble cause to help others with the same-sex attractions that he had, and still has, to live what he feels is a more God-honoring lifestyle.  But he had to come to grips with the pain he and his ministry have caused to those they have tried to help with their reparative therapy.

A lot of noble causes are good, and I mean really good.  Ending sex trafficking, economic justice, peace efforts, the environment, gun control, evangelism, discipleship, abortion and a host of other issues are quite noble.  Some of these issues are seen as noble by people on both sides of the discussion.  But there are dangers we face when we are on a noble cause.  Here are a few that come to mind:

–          It is when we are on a noble cause that we are most apt to say that the end justifies the means.

–          It is when we are most likely to break the world down into “with us” and “against us” groups with nobody in the middle.

–          It is when we are most susceptible to distort science, facts and even Scripture to defend our position.

–          It is when we are most likely to misunderstand the words and misconstrue the motives of other people.  For example, how many of you interpreted my comments on Alan Chambers above as supporting one or another position on same-sex marriage?

–          It is when we are most often unloving and even hostile to those who differ with us or even those who are in agreement but not quite as passionate as we’d like; when speaking the truth and speaking the truth in love becomes synonymous in our minds.

My plea is this; noble causes are fine but when you feel the need to embark on one of them make sure that someone who is willing to question your actions and motives is there to hold you accountable.  The more certain we are that our cause is noble, the more likely it is that we will let grace go out the window.

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