Pastoral Perspectives

Private Life Public Witness

   Recently, Workers’ Party told the media that Mr Yaw was expelled after he failed to give a proper account of the alleged indiscretions in his private life to the party’s leadership. The WP is willing to choose morals over power and in doing so, is showing Singapore that its MPs are expected not just to be passionate about serving the constituents but also be morally upright.

            Over in Hong Kong, chief executive hopeful Henry Tang lately admitted that the basement of his family home was built illegally. Mr Tang has for months sought to build up support after admitting in October to having “flaws” in his married life, just weeks before he officially announced his candidacy. He attributed his bad handling of the illegal basement—built after the house’s 2007 completion—to the earlier problems in his marriage and apologized for mishandling the incident. In view of this incident, the leader of Hong Kong’s pro-business and Beijing-friendly Liberal Party, which has been giving its full support to Mr. Tang, said the party could reconsider its backing for the candidate amid this “credibility issue.”

            These are the more recent cases of disparity in the private and public life of individuals of public character. In 1998 then President Bill Clinton of US almost lost his position as the leader of the most powerful nation on earth when he fell from the pinnacle of grace to shame. As we know, Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky became public and a group of senators moved a motion for his impeachment. Even though he was not impeached, his party went on to lose the election in 2000. The question is: “Should the private life of public officials be taken into account?” Does such a balance exist between a public and private life? From a historical perspective, four areas have proven troublesome to private/public relationships: (1) family relationships, (2) business transactions, (3) personal health, and (4) individual religious beliefs.

            With globalization comes a word of warning for many who travel for business or conferences: what do you do in the privacy of your hotel room? A number of years ago a national conference for church youth directors was held at a major hotel in a city in the mid-west USA. Hundreds of youth pastors flooded into that hotel and took almost all the rooms. At the conclusion of the conference, the hotel manager told the conference administrator that the number of guests who tuned into the adult movie channel broke the previous record, outdoing any other convention in the history of the hotel. Most managers said that porn rates usually increase during conferences. That’s normal because they have more guests. A few admitted that it seems to be the same or a bit more when Christian conferences come to town. One such manager was a Christian and he said a line you’ll never forget: “Unfortunately, ‘they know you are Christians by your…porn consumption’ is more truthful than ‘by your love’ when it comes to this.” As believers in Christ, we said: “This should not be”. Private life and public life must match. Hannah Whitall Smith wrote: Some Christians seem to think that all the requirements of a holy life are met when they are very active in successful Christian work. And because they do so much for the Lord in public they feel a liberty to be cross and ugly and un-Christ like in private. This is not the sort of Christian life I am depicting. If we are to walk as Christ walked, we must be in private as well as in public, at home, as well as abroad. It must be every hour, all day long, and not as stated points or certain fixed occasions.”

            Today, we hardly hear the expression, “such things are not done in public,” or some similarly worded caution. It was usually the mother who said it or the father, on hearing one of his children say something troubling, and comment with a frown, “I trust that will not become public.” So “what’s the public?” Somehow we are not aware that certain behavior is not revealed beyond the threshold of one’s home. This no longer is true in today’s multi media cyber age. What was once private becomes public. Face book is supposed to be private to some; only for your friends that you select. Everyone gets on Facebook and you give them wall access. Now this new person is reading all through your wall in your private life and can use it against you. Matter of fact, it might not even be them; it could be others who are spying and running telling everyone what you are saying. So now your so called private life is public. Things you should not have posted are now posted on the bulletin board called the “Wall” and someone commented on it and took it the wrong way. Nothing on the Internet is private. Everything can be and will be hacked, messed up and twisted one day.

         What did you do before Face book? You confided those things that were personal to people who were close to you; people who really knew you, people who were not going to judge you. Martin Medhurst, professor of speech communication and coordinator of the program in presidential rhetoric in the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University commend the following principles for negotiating the line between the private and the public:

·        First, to your own self be true. Know what you believe and why you believe it and be ready to articulate those beliefs in front of friends and foes alike.

·        Second, be humble. Entertain the possibility, from time to time, that you may possibly be wrong.

·        Third, be loyal—to your principles, your family, your friends, and your country.

·        Fourth, be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

·        Fifth, study history and the lives of exemplary leaders.

·        Sixth, read the Bible.

These principles will not, by themselves, tell you where a particular line should be drawn. But they will help you to become someone of wisdom and character, who can weigh situations and people and circumstances and make informed interpretations and judgments. As a Christian, your public life should mirror your private life. Here is a quote from England’s most well known preacher of the 2nd half of the 19th century. “…be like Christ at all times. Imitate him in “public.” Most of us live in some sort of public capacity—many of us are called to work before our fellow men every day. We are watched; our words are caught; our lives are examined—taken to pieces. The eagle-eyed, argus-eyed world observes everything we do, and sharp critics are upon us. Let us live the life of Christ in public. Let us take care that we exhibit our Master, and not ourselves—so that we can say, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.” –  Charles Spurgeon.

Pastor Cheng Huat

March 4, 2012