Posted by: jmark | December 7, 2004

Food for thought – Public vs Private

(My local newspaper column)

Last week I was over in the north. The news was full of the situation that UK Home Secretary David Blunkett had found himself in. It was a real tangle of accusation and revelation. It centred on his affair with a married woman, in which it seems likely that he has fathered two children. In the midst of all this were some fairly spectacular statements made in his defence by Tony Blair:

The force of his comments was that who we are in private makes no difference to what we do in public. He suggested that ministers should not be judged on their private lives, and that moral issues have no relevance as to whether ministers stay in office or not.

It sounds reasonable doesn’t it? What is private is private.

The problem here is that who we are in private is who we really are. The masks come off at home. If we have to be someone else in public then that’s hypocrisy. The word ‘hypocrite’ comes from Greek, where it was originally used to describe an actor in a play, someone wearing a mask who pretended to be someone else.

The problem with wearing masks is that they slip from time to time when we wear them in public. Then people see who we really are. Blunkett’s mask appears to have slipped.

But, is Blair right? Does it matter what we do in private as long as we do a good job in public? Yes, of course it does!

The Bible says, “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). Our public integrity is an outworking of our personal integrity. It simply isn’t enough to say, “Ah well, he or she does a good job.”

If a person can’t be faithful to their marriage vows, is it likely that they will be faithful in their other roles? If, as in David Blunkett’s case, a person doesn’t respect the word, and vows, and institutions of another (in this case marriage), is it likely that he will respect and honour the vows and institutions of government?

It would appear that he hasn’t. It seems as if his private disregard for rules has manifested itself in a public disregard for rules, with his being accused of ‘fast-tracking’ a visa application and using government train tickets for his partner.

Isn’t this why, when God gives us instructions for choosing leaders in the church, he tells us to look at the sort of men they are in private, whether they are good fathers, or husbands? Because there is no real public/private distinction.

But it isn’t enough to point the finger at David Blunkett, or Tony Blair. This problem comes much closer to home. Each of us has to look at ourselves and ask the question – am I the same person in private as in public? Or do I have different standards? Do I put on a mask to pretend to others that I am a better person than I really am?

On the day of judgment God isn’t going to buy it when we say, “Look how decent I was in public”. All the masks will be stripped away.

If we aren’t happy with who we really are, there is good news. God offers to transform us, and make us into what we should be. Then there won’t be any need for masks.

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