A Spiritual Wake-up Call

Several disturbing things have happened in the last couple of weeks. One is a strange development at the U.S. Department of Labor, which on June 15 will begin requiring journalists who file stories on newly released Labor statistics (e.g., jobs numbers) to do so using government computers and telecommunication lines.

Journalists currently work up their stories in a press room at the Department of Labor headquarters, using computers and communications equipment provided by their own organizations. The Labor Department controls the time at which the information is formally released, and no stories can be filed before that time. But the reporters' computers are not currently under the supervision of the government agency.

Starting on June 15, however, they will be. Questioned by media organizations in April, Labor Department officials declined to give a reason for this new requirement. A U.S. Congressman, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), suggested in a House hearing on June 6 that if the Labor Department  doesn't control the media's computers, slight differences in the release times for journalists' stories would amount to "leaks," and would create a "catastrophic" condition in which some people could make a lot of money in the stock market.

Leaving aside valid objections to government-controlled computers as a technical solution, this move obviously raises concerns about an independent press. Anyone who has worked for the federal government knows the first rule of government computers is that you are subject to monitoring at all times, and the government tells you what you can and can't say.

In an ironic inversion of this unintelligible fear of "leaks," late May and early June saw a barrage of actual leaks, from somewhere in the federal executive, about highly classified cyber-warfare efforts with which the U.S. is targeting Iran's nuclear program. Numerous pundits have pointed out that releasing details on these current efforts helps Iran to detect and defuse them. U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Az.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) have called for an investigation into whether the leaks came from the White House, and many Democrats have expressed grave concern as well.

Adding to these troubling developments is the increasingly spectacular refusal of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to comply with a Congressional subpoena for information on Operation Fast and Furious, the federal law-enforcement operation that sold guns illegally to Mexican drug criminals. U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed with one of those guns in December 2010. But in spite of multiple hearings and mounting pressure from Congress, Holder has refused to turn over the Justice Department records requested by Congress, or answer questions on his department's documented involvement in the operation. After a contentious and unproductive hearing on June 7, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), leader of the House's Fast and Furious investigation, told Fox News that a contempt charge against the attorney general is a real possibility.

At a time like this, it is useful to remember that the Bible gives us no reason to suppose we will be able to control the behavior of our political leaders. We may assign ourselves the obligation of picking better leaders, and I believe God will help us with insight in that regard. But there is no magic formula—no "system"—by which we can guarantee that our leaders will do only what we would have them do, or not do what we wish they wouldn't.

Meanwhile, what can wedo about these alarming events unfolding at a distance from us? The answer I keep hearing is: "Look to your own hearts." That's what God is looking at, after all. When we stand before Him at the Last Judgment, He won't ask us to account for what Eric Holder or Darrell Issa did. Although He sees our political interactions more clearly and comprehensively than we do, they are, for Him, a subordinate phenomenon. What He cares about is the spirit and character of each individual.

We do seem to be reacting to these trying times with some salutary humility and growing good sense. Columnist Jonah Goldberg pointed out on June 6 that our household savings rate has soared from a negative net rate in 2005 to 3.4 percent in 2012. Families are pulling together across generations, and job-seekers are taking care to come across to prospective employers as mature and responsible. I suspect many of us are finding that these are actually good things—things we wish we had done sooner, as opposed to annoyances we hope to escape as soon as possible.

6/11/2012 4:00:00 AM