Laura Billings’ column in today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press suggests that she has as much trouble hearing the truth as Dean Johnson has in telling it — and that trying to hold public officials and employees accountable for statements they make while engaged in public business somehow violates their privacy. An excerpt:
Consider the pastor from Willmar who clipped a tape recorder to his backpack at a ministerial meeting with Senate majority leader Dean Johnson about the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
The intent, the pastor told the Star Tribune, “was a matter of me wanting to be able to, if I needed to, quote Sen. Johnson – accurately and in context.” He never told Johnson about the recording device. He then handed the tape over to an advocacy group in favor of the ban.
Sen. Johnson’s assertion that he had Minnesota justices’ assurances they wouldn’t touch existing defense-of-marriage legislation was truly dumb. It was the sort of sin of pride we’ve seen before from politicians, over-promising to his constituent base and making himself seem more almighty than he really is. His remarks deserved censure, and got them.
Billings appears to have a desire, like Johnson, to deny what we’ve heard with our own ears in Johnson’s and, later in her column, in Jay Bennish’s cases. Johnson’s intent wasn’t to make himself appear better to his friends; he was lying to advance his political strategy and that of his party. Similarly, Jay Bennish wasn’t playing Devil’s advocate, his statements followed his established pattern and weren’t just a provocative sampling taken out of context. The tapes in both cases — despite Billings’ hopes and claims or Johnson’s mealy-mouthed illuminations — prove it. In fact, for both Johnson and Bennish, their past behavior is what caused people to decide that somebody ought to try to get their statements on record.
Now if the people who went to all the effort and risked ridicule to bring these things to light had been courageous New York Times journalists then I’m sure Billings would be celebrating their commitment to truth. Instead:
Yet we’ve seen little reproof for the pastor, who has looked into his own heart and found himself to be without sin. “In everybody’s life there is a moment when you have to choose,” he told the Strib. “You count the cost and then you step out. For me, that was this time.”
I guess I missed the part of the Bible where God says it’s cool to secretly record fellow Christians. Like most things we argue about nowadays, it’s probably in Leviticus.
Lawmakers now should be on notice that everything they say, even to a roomful of ministers, can and will be used against them. Teachers and professors have been learning the same lesson.
Why should a roomful of ministers be expected to keep quiet about a discussion of public policy? They weren’t there to hear confession or to provide private spiritual counsel. In fact, if there was any group I’d expect to call attention to unethical behavior I’d hope it would be ministers. And is Billings ultimately suggesting that the public that pays the salaries of its representatives and teachers now has to read these people their rights before any public business is conducted, warning them that the things they say may be held against them in the court of public opinion?
You know, I couldn’t find anything in Leviticus about not taping others, but chapter 19, verse 11 does say “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.” Whatever sin Billings may think that pastor is guilty of, it certainly isn’t bearing false witness. Or perhaps the pastor was simply following the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 10:27 when he said, “What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ears, shout from the housetops for all to hear!” He certainly has the right to say to Johnson and Billings the words from Job 15:6, “Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; yes, your own lips testify against you.”
I was certainly reminded of the references in Job 12:22 and Daniel 2:22 about things that are done in darkness being brought to light. As for Dean Johnson, I know there’s one scripture he’s for sure going to remember from all of this and that is James 3:5:
“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”