Confidentiality is a Matter of Trust
Confidentiality is a time-honored principle, whether applied to doctor-patient, clergy-penitent, attorney-client, husband and wife, or journalist and anonymous-source.
The latter is particularly relevant to me, since I occasionally granted anonymity to sources over the years. I was never fond of doing that, and many publications refuse to use unnamed sources as a matter of policy.
Still, sometimes that’s the only way the story gets told. Were it not for Mark Felt meeting Bob Woodward in clandestine locales, the abuses of Watergate might have remained hidden for many years.
President Donald Trump has every right to expect meetings with his attorney to remain out of public purview.
Likewise for meetings held in the top-secret situation room, where Omarosa Manigault Newman taped Chief of Staff John Kelly and has the recording to prove it.
If we are going to honor the principle of confidentiality, we can’t suddenly discard the idea when a juicy scoop materializes. Or, try to justify it as Newman tried to with an “everybody lies in the White House” reason.
The Nature of Integrity
This hubbub brought to mind a book a friend loaned me back in 1992, Integrity: How I Lost it, and My Journey Back.
Written by Richard Dortch, it is the memoir of the former Assembly of God official who got ensnared in the PTL scandal that ultimately sent televangelist Jim Bakker to prison.
For his role in the misappropriation of funds, Dortch did some prison time as well.
The story in the book that especially caught my attention concerned a drive Dortch made one day through central Florida after recognizing how badly he had messed up.
Although he faced the certainty of going to lock-up at that point, that wasn’t weighing him down. It was his own failures—to reign in the excesses at PTL, and to live up to the moral principles that had guided his life previously. Plus, the disgrace he had brought on his family, friends, and church.
Confessing Our Faults
James 5:16 says, “Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” And in that moment, that’s what Dortch wanted to do: to confess his wrongdoing, share his inner agony, and get all his cards on the table where he could find healing.
Yet, as he drove past several churches, he thought better of stopping there.
He imagined such things as stopping at an evangelical church and right after leaving, the pastor calling a friend to say, “You won’t believe who was just in my office.” Or someone who wanted to pick him apart for what he had done at PTL, ad infinitum.
Finally, because Dortch knew he could trust a priest to keep what he said in confidence, he looked for a Catholic church.
I’ve always considered that account an indictment of we evangelicals, and a strong argument in favor of maintaining the confidentiality of the confessional—and close friends keeping secrets.
Keeping Things Close
I remember reading a story once during Bill Clinton’s term about adviser Vernon Jordan and how important he was to the president.
Later, when Clinton’s personal peccadillos became fodder for impeachment charges, I can imagine how valuable friends like Jordan were to the chief executive.
Fortunately for the health of our republic, their conversations remained private. I can only hope more people will see the value of confidential communications staying confidential.