Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Do We Have Too Much Privacy?

posted by Mark D. Roberts

I know there’s great concern in our world today about privacy and the possible lack thereof. Many are afraid that we are losing our privacy to the spying eyes of the Internet, represented most ominously by social networking sites like Facebook. I share this concern to an extent. But, I must confess that I also think we have too much privacy.

Before you fire off a nasty email or add a critical comment below, let me explain what I mean and don’t mean.

First, here’s what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that I think Facebook and related sites should have the freedom to access all sorts of personal information about us, our purchases, our families, etc. . . . without our permission. Nor do I think the government should be peering into our bedrooms, our checkbooks, or our medical records. So when I say we have too much privacy, I’m not referring to that which gets most of the buzz these days.

private-no-admittance-sign-4.jpgRather, I am considering privacy with respect to our personal relationships, especially relationships in the context of Christian community. Here is where I think most of us have too much privacy. Privacy enables us to keep our lives separate from others. It means we can hide our pains and struggles, our joys and victories. It means we’re alone in precisely those areas of life where we need other people.

The biblical picture of the Christian life stands in contrast to our privacy-obsessed way of living. As we saw in yesterday’s blog post, the New Testament envisions the Christian life as something that is to be shared. Christians are to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Our sexual experiences, though done in private, nevertheless lie within the moral purview of the Christian community. How we parent our children is not our personal business, but something for which we are to be accountable to our Christian community. And when we mess up in our personal lives, we are to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16).

I believe that most Christians have way too much privacy in their lives, privacy that keeps them disconnected from the encouragement, prayers, counsel, and accountability of Christian fellowship. During my years as a parish pastor, I listened as hundreds of people shared with me their moral failings. In almost every single instance, these failings were done in secret. A man on a business trip gets snared into watching porn on the hotel television because nobody will know. A woman visits a computer chat room and ends up falling in love with someone she’s never even met because she could do secretly. A teenager sneaks out of the house so we can smoke marijuana. [Oops. Now that's what I call a typo, caught by my wife. I meant "he" not "we." Yikes!] A business owner breaks the law because he thinks he’ll never be caught. And on, and on, and on it goes.

I believe individual Christians and also Christian communities would be much healthier if there was more sharing of life and less privacy. Now, let me be clear. I am not saying that you should broadcast your sins to your whole church. Nor am I inviting the church busybodies – and most churches have plenty of these – to satisfy their curiosity by eavesdropping on your life so they can blab about it around the church. Rather, I am suggesting that every Christian needs some safe place where he or she can share with trusted brothers or sisters the real stuff of life: pains, fears, dreams, fantasies, temptations, failures, losses, financial choices, etc.

I have been part of such safe places and have personally benefited from them. I have seen vulnerable sharing of “private” matters lead to transformation and healing people’s lives. For example, I have seen a man share with a couple of brothers his sexual attraction to a woman who was not his wife, thereby finding support and accountability, not only to shun adultery, but also to strengthen his marriage. I have seen a woman share some of her deepest dreams with a small group, finding support and encouragement to follow those dreams in a way she never would have been able to do if she had kept them to herself.

To be sure, sharing yourself with others is risky. You are being truly vulnerable, a word that comes from the Latin meaning “able to be wounded.” I have seen people risk opening their lives to others, only to be hurt by their judgmentalism or failure to hold things in confidence. In my pastoral life, more than once I opened my heart to someone, only to be kicked in the gut. So, believe me, I am not idealizing Christian community. Genuine community is not easy. Truly sharing your life with others is not easy. But it is an essential component of health and growth in our personal lives and in our communities.

To sum up, as I hear so much talk these days about privacy, I keep wondering if some of us might be better off deciding to share our lives more openly with a few trusted Christians rather than fretting about our potential loss of privacy over the Internet. Of course one could decide to have strong privacy settings on Facebook and be more open in a small group. That would be just fine. But, as a Christian and a pastor, I continue to think that our desire for privacy often does more harm than good . . . to us, our families, and our Christian communities.



  • JLJ

    One may achieve privacy from another human. However there is nop privacy from God. That I like :)
    Luke 6:38
    Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
    Believe those words and surf on over to http://www.hybridhondas.com. Click on a link or two. It costs nothing but it sure will help a fellow brother out so he can continue helping others.
    Spread the word to other brothers and sisters. Be blessed.

  • DP

    Very thoughtful series on privacy. As a pastor, I see church members (and fellow pastors) “putting on their church face” on Sunday and keeping private their hurts and sins and fears. Not only does that make us come across as inauthentic to those outside the church, it also robs us of the very help from fellow Christians that could literally save our life or our marriage or our career.

  • Jim Buccini

    I understand Privacy, or the ability to control what is known about you, as a distinctly modern understanding of self identity that was inaccessible to ancient people. For example, in the classical period of the Roman Empire, the time when Christianity began, to be noble (nobilis) meant to be “known”. The small numbers of urban elites at the top of the social structure were obliged to live with visibility; to be persons under observation. Further confounding the notion of privacy was the prevalence of slave-based economies and the dependence of elites upon this societal structure. It was only the growth of cities in the 18th century, driven by capitalism and the emergence of merchants and traders that derived social and economic power from employment, education, and wealth that created a disparity between social standing and visibility, which is the essence of “privacy”. The deposed nobility, or “aristocratic” class, fully replaced by what we today call the “middle class”, led to the “privacy” as an understanding of self identity. Further, in our “post-modern” era, self-identity has largely become a matter of self-construction. The spread of “Facebook” and other social media manifest the trend towards self-identity as a carefully self-constructed façade that would have been impossible to maintain in ancient culture.
    I believe that “Privacy” undermines our ability to grasp Paul’s suggestion in 1 Corinthians that we “have the mind of Christ” and allow Scripture to form our identity. It also makes it difficult to appreciate and live into Augustine’s understanding of identity in Christ as illustrated in these opening words from The Confessions, “You stir us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.” The very idea that we are not “entitled” to an identity of our choosing but can only find ourselves through seeking God is anathema to moderns. Thomas Merton, in his essay “Things in Their Identity (from New Seeds of Contemplation) again gets at this concept, “Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it! The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, by God’s will, are the seeds of my own identity, my reality, my own happiness, my own sanctity.”
    Appreciate your ministry and enjoy reading your Daily Reflections in The High Calling. Blessings, Jim

  • Tim Cook

    Great series, Mark. Smokes ‘n Jokes is a perfect place to open up and share…safe and caring, with an appropriate dollop of male sacarsm. A good men’s ministry for many churches…
    Tim

  • Anonymous

    I share your concerns. I think the spiritual community should be just that – a real community, where people are united towards a spiritual goal, not just a group of individuals who happen to come together once a week.

  • carol

    Things were easier in the days when you *had* to speak to someone face to face in order to consider that person a friend–and also when neighborhs shared your faith and took the time to know each other. I just finished a novel with the theme of how people are turning to television to “watch” those friendships, thereby fulfilling the need for friends in a convoluted way, rather than making friends in church and community.
    There is one challege not addressed herein I’d like to mention, because it’s a head scratcher, at least in my neck of the woods (jersey), where things are somewhat congested. It’s an ongoing battle for Pastors to help parrishoners stay on the straight and narrow because of the nature of Protestantism itself. Usually, the name of one type of church represents a “protest” that occurred in history from another type of church. Parishioners follow suit. If they don’t like the advice of a board of deacons, or a member therein, or they feel some leadership is being meddlesome, they’ll simply find another church up the street. They’ll find a church that allows their wrong habits, thereby lowering the bar yet again.
    This must be an exasperating challenge for a lot of church leadership, especially those who really do want to lead and help in daily lives. We need to adopt a value of “Look, this is my *family,* and I’m staying, even if they drive me nuts sometimes.” It’s no different than your blood family.

  • cinsere

    I believe that our relationship with God is strictly personal in nature.
    I don’t believe that it is necessary for everyone to share their
    stories if they are not comfortable doing so. Some years ago my
    daughter was asked by a pastor to share with him her relationship
    with God. She said she didn’t want to talk to him about it. He kept
    pushing her and she starting crying and fled the room. She told me
    that her prayers and relationship were personal to her just as any
    relationship and the need that this pastor had to know was not a
    need she felt the same about to share. The discomfort we cause others
    due to our own belief on something is wrong we can’t assume that because itworks for others it works the same for all.

  • Mary

    I personally don’t wish to open myself up to a group of people who have resoundingly different ideas of right and wrong. As it is, I often feel buffeted about simply by reading the different thoughts and values of others.

  • carol pruitt

    i have read the comments and the only soul that i can trust is are heaveny lord he is a good listener and if your faith is strong and your heart and mind is open you can tell him anything sure its nice to have people to talk to but if you realy what to talk about more details about your life then lord is the one because then you’ll no it won’t go any further

  • cinsere

    Depends on how meddlesome some people are. I didn’t have positive
    experiences with some of the people in church and many people have
    toxic relatives they have to distance from in life. It’s not all
    that difficult to maintain faith and a true relationship with God
    without the church experience. Jesus had the mountain side to
    preach to his flock. Home worship has become very popular with
    many gathering at each others homes and doing bible reading and
    study. There is no one way that is best it’s not written that
    there is only one way to worship. And certainly judging others
    should be left to God we guide not judge.

  • Russ

    Brother from the time we are born the spark of life or breath of life gives us a look in to right and wrong which is regulated by the parent. Not by the church community who does nothing but gossip trying to make there self the parent of a child that is not theirs to begin with.Do you want somebody telling you whats good for your child and what is not? I dont think so. Your freedom would be more cultish. Our privacy laws are right where they should be.
    Have a nice day
    Russ

  • b.thompson

    I believe that there are certain things you should not dicuss with others, because they will hold it against you for the rest of your days. and or tell others about it. I know because I have been their.
    And now as a result of that. A lot of my family and friends have lost
    confidence in me. And I do not go around them any more.until God tells
    me its time.
    Minister Thompson

  • http://www.libertycorner.org/about-us/our-leaders/session/ Jim Buccini

    In Mathew 5:16 we hear from Jesus, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Yes, we should pray privately and certainly not in a way to publicly demonstrate false piety. Jesus was definitely mot big on hypocrisy. If there is life congruent with our call as Christians, “non-privacy” and even pro-active witness (telling our story) is the best countercultural force we have available. Privacy issues are usually driven by fear (of shame and embarasssment) and keeping things private for a long time, increasing the pain when the matter becomes public (as undesirable things always seem to have a way of surfacing) and the emotions and tensions rise. The best way to disarm church busybodies and others who would do harm with private information is to make it public–and as politicians would say (if that is a comfort)–this is also intelligent as you gain some control over the message–and take away the ability of the disclosure to be used by others to inflict harm. In our Post-modern culture, today’s “shocking information” is yesterday’s news and forgotten so rapidly . . . yet privacy is so guarded by some, and so obsessively. Yes, there are some matters that should be kept private, but in my experience that is a smaller amount of information than necessary. And as Christians, there is a “Cost of Discipleship” as Bonhoeffer so elegantly explained. I think one of these “costs” is to illustrate that we are not perfect, have warts and God still loves us and is our best hope. Trying to portray perfection takes a lot more effort than living one’s life as an open book. But we are all different and I respect those who desire a higher level of privacy–ultimately a personal call on where the boundaries should be, in my experience. If we could all move from the “House of Fear” to the “House of Love” I believe the need for so much privacy would dissipate. One indication is that people become less and less “private” (in general) as they age–why are older people generally willing to speak more frankly? (They will say the darndest things!) I believe this is because they have wisdom that the fears of disclosure are usually way overblown vs. the reality. Blessings, Jim

  • http://www.libertycorner.org/about-us/our-leaders/session/ Jim Buccini

    In Mathew 5:16 we hear from Jesus, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Yes, we should pray privately and certainly not in a way to publicly demonstrate false piety. Jesus was definitely mot big on hypocrisy. If there is life congruent with our call as Christians, “non-privacy” and even pro-active witness (telling our story) is the best countercultural force we have available. Privacy issues are usually driven by fear (of shame and embarasssment) and keeping things private for a long time, increasing the pain when the matter becomes public (as undesirable things always seem to have a way of surfacing) and the emotions and tensions rise. The best way to disarm church busybodies and others who would do harm with private information is to make it public–and as politicians would say (if that is a comfort)–this is also intelligent as you gain some control over the message–and take away the ability of the disclosure to be used by others to inflict harm. In our Post-modern culture, today’s “shocking information” is yesterday’s news and forgotten so rapidly . . . yet privacy is so guarded by some, and so obsessively. Yes, there are some matters that should be kept private, but in my experience that is a smaller amount of information than necessary. And as Christians, there is a “Cost of Discipleship” as Bonhoeffer so elegantly explained. I think one of these “costs” is to illustrate that we are not perfect, have warts and God still loves us and is our best hope. Trying to portray perfection takes a lot more effort than living one’s life as an open book. But we are all different and I respect those who desire a higher level of privacy–ultimately a personal call on where the boundaries should be, in my experience. If we could all move from the “House of Fear” to the “House of Love” I believe the need for so much privacy would dissipate. One indication is that people become less and less “private” (in general) as they age–why are older people generally willing to speak more frankly? (They will say the darndest things!) I believe this is because they have wisdom that the fears of disclosure are usually way overblown vs. the reality. Blessings, Jim

  • ezra

    The internet is a legitimate structural aspect of God’s creation .Its a differtiation of the latent potential God has made,like all new social phenomena it resents new possibilities,one particular attribute of which is the variation in relational modalities that are obviously differnt to traditional social behaviour but are social behaviour none the less.Traditional social relationships and contemporary network relationships dont warrant comparison,they are both worthy in their own right.As Christians its important not to side with the traditional or recieved culture just because its the most familiar.The internet based social relationship can be by comparison to traditional communication conventions distanced and isolated ,but in other ways communiction in this context its increadibly democratic ,inclusive and above all a truthful reflection of the participants real selves.Even if someone wants to masquarade as a 16 year old female when they are a 45 year old man in a chat room,this is truely where they are at.You have to take existential resonsibility for your own conduct and motivations on the web ,its a context where privacy reveals your true motivations. Just think about it with out the wonders of the web I wouldnt be sitting here revealing my intimite thoughts with this community,I have never meet any of you face to face but our lives are connected at times in profound ways.

  • California Conservative

    Too bad that the other commenters have had such bad experiences with the Church. Scripture is clear that we are to confess our sins to one another. In my little community, some of the best times of healing involve someone sharing their struggles and/or mistakes, and it helps the community to pray for them. Nobody has to share unless God leads them to, and it does not necessarily happen every week either.
    I think that for healing and forgiveness, there must be sharing going on in church gatherings, not just a sermon and music.
    I agree with the author.

  • Stan

    I agree with everyone, even those who disagree with M. Roberts, whom I would like to applaud. We have come a long way from being nomads living in tents wandering in the desert, vulnerable to everyone and everything. Jim “nailed it” with his comments. Cal. Cons; I find your description bordering on tele-evangelists, where as a true church which can be truly felt gives LOVE and healing of sinners, as we ALL are.
    Ezra, your comments are true also. But the internet’s capabilities are where radio was 75 years ago. There is a long road ahead in the process to make it the true medium that could share ONE’s opinion could be shared with everyone. The process of evangelism would be easy for one to reach many. That said the inverse is true, consider the popularity of Hitler in Germany. The internet in the future could supply a 21st century global Hitler.
    Life needs to be lived. Sometimes I look at what I have done. Both the good and the bad. I say to myself, would I have made my parents PROUD with my actions. I know I can’t HIDE from God. No one can. The best way to try to hide from God is to deny God’s existence.

  • Jessica

    I think that if we are not open with our brothers and sisters in the Lord about matters relating to our relationship with the Lord (especially if we are struggling, or need prayer regarding something in this regard), its a problem to be too private, or even private at all. Also, when it comes to being Christian in general, I believe that its not good to consider our being Christian or our relationship with the Lord something that is private, and only our business. We are to share Christ with others, not keep it as something private, and to ourselves.

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