The Common Good

The NSA's Need to Know, Your Privacy, and Jesus' Path

“Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

— Benjamin Franklin

I was encouraged by the findings of U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon on Monday who granted an injunction to plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange that will temporarily stop the National Security Agency from continuing their data-gathering program that mines information from our mobile phone calls.

The injunction was issued because the judge believes that Klayman and Strange likely will win their lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that the phone record collection practice is an unconstitutional violation of personal privacy.

The whole storyline is made that much more dramatic since the otherwise secret program was leaked to the public by former NSA contract Edward Snowden, who is now on the run, seeking asylum in exchange for shared intelligence. And while some perceive Snowden as a hero of individual liberty, others vilify him as an enemy of the United States, much like any other terrorist. Interestingly, people’s opinions about the NSA — and, frankly, the Obama administration and the government as a whole — diverge in similar ways.

One of the more curious things about the United States Government, aside from being the most powerful institutional network in the modern world, is that it is principally responsible for policing itself. Granted, that’s why various divisions are separated from each other, to help ensure internal accountability and maintain the so-called “balance of powers,” but there’s a degree of transparency necessary for such balance to be maintained.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, perhaps the greatest damage to civil liberties was not the popular fear woven into our cultural consciousness; rather, it’s the unfettered latitude that domestic security agencies have taken — and continue to take — that threaten our sovereignty as free and independent citizens in the long term.

I find it wonderfully ironic, too, that the federal judge who issued the injunction was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, arguably the most hawkish president in my lifetime. And yet, the program whose powers he is limiting was launched under a democratic President and Senate.  

And just when I thought I was starting to understand what the major parties stood for too!

I juggle the seemingly doubly vulnerable philosophies of being both a nonviolent advocate and a civil libertarian. And of course, challenging the domestic military-industrial complex, while also seeking to limit my own government’s authority to keep me safe in ways that compromise my privacy, makes me seem foolish in the eyes of those who believe we have to protect ourselves at all costs. I understand that attitude and the feelings behind it — anyone who is human experiences similar responses to being vulnerable.

But if we’re bold enough to claim Jesus as our Way and our Truth, to be the One who set the path of righteous thought and action out ahead of us to follow, then we cannot fall victim to our own fear and desire for invulnerability.

Lots of leaders throughout history have talked about nonviolence. What makes Jesus, the man, particularly compelling is that he lived out the very values that he preached, even when they ended up costing him everything. So how is it that we feel we can reflect the likeness and body of Christ to a hurting world from behind the barrel of a gun?

There is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to security. We will always be seeking the better mousetrap to ensnare increasingly stealthy mice, nibbling at our heels. But with each new effort to stave off danger, we make sacrifices, and not of the kind we’re called to by Jesus.

The world will only believe that Jesus is worth living and dying for when we, first, are willing to do the same. 

Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bibleand Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is calledPREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

Photo: Rena Schild/Shutterstock

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