A prostitute is what she’s remembered as. Show me a ‘Rahab ministries’ and I will show you a church/charity concerned with prostitution (and, these days, sex-trafficking). But there’s so much more to Rahab when you read the biblical account of her in the book of Joshua. She’s a complex character: considered heroic, self-confessedly acting primarily out of fear and more concerned with the lives of her family than preventing a massive bloodbath, two things stand out about Rahab. The first is that she is hard to admire but easy to empathise with. The second is that she’s a traitor. A traitor-hero, betraying her people for a higher cause (if with mixed motives). I want to see some Rahab ministries reflecting that aspect of her character. I think as Christians we could do with the encouragement.
Rahab’s somewhat ambivalent (not to mention genocide-enabling) contribution aside, I think betrayal of one’s people is underrated as a virtue. Loyalty, we’re told, is a virtue. And I think that’s true, but not absolutely true. Loyalty can be sick, dysfunctional and misplaced, to individuals, organisations and nations. We all know this. We have seen it in abusive relationships, corrupt companies and despotic regimes. And yet, a charge of disloyalty is more than enough to destroy someone’s moral credibility for most of us.
Take Kim Philby. I find him fascinating. A senior British spy at the height of the Cold War, he was, in fact, working since his days at Cambridge for the Soviet Union. He despised the inequality and corruption he saw in his own country and class and was willing to betray not only his country but his friends for the sake of a higher ideal. His betrayal resulted in deaths. But, then, his loyalty would have done so, too. The difference made by his disloyalty was that the deaths were on ‘the wrong side’: ‘our’ side.
Christians, I believe, do well to rise above ‘us and them’ dichotomies. It’s not just that they are often used to justify terrible and ungodly ideologies and acts (racism, fascism, the worst abuses of Capitalism), but that they are at odds with the belief that all people are made in God’s image. There is no Jew nor Gentile, no difference, for those in Christ, between men and women, masters and downtrodden slaves. If our allegiance is to a group, it must be to all mankind, but our true allegiance must always be to God, who is above mankind. God, for the Christian, trumps every other loyalty. Country is not God. A military we serve in is not God. The company we work for, the family we love, the class we belong to – none of these deserve unquestioning loyalty. Jesus makes this principle clear in Luke 9:57-62.
This is why I love and admire people like Oscar Romero, an Archbishop in El Salvador, who was seen as turning against his class and Church when he stood, in the name of God, against the oppression and inequality in his country. Oppression supported by ‘his own’ social environment. Here’s a trailer for a movie about his life that is not nearly as cheesy as the voiceover suggests:
I admire people like Daniel Ellsberg who stole and publicised secret Pentagon papers that exposed the complicity of four separate US presidents in lying to their voters about the Vietnam War, its causes and costs. His story is told in a wonderful documentary called The Most Dangerous Man in America. Here’s the trailer:
I love the Israeli organisation, Breaking the Silence, made up of extremely brave men and women who stand against immense pressure from their friends, families and government to tell the truth about terrible things they have seen and done as members of the Israeli military while in the Palestinian territories. Here’s one of the many brave testimonies that are seen as total betrayal by many in Israel, but that I call shining light in a dark situation:
Bradley Manning is currently in prison for doing through Wikileaks what Ellsberg did through The New York Times. Manning leaked confidential US military documents that included a video that became known as Collateral Murder, depicting a Baghdad airstrike that killed several civilians. Manning apparently betrayed his country to make sure people knew this. I find him heroic. The video he revealed (below) is deeply disturbing but important to watch, considering that the killings it reveals were committed in the name of the people of Britain, the US and other Coalition forces. It also puts into perspective all that glorious violence we love to watch in movies. Viewer discretion advised:
There are so many great betrayers of class, race or system, like Tolstoy, Charlie Chaplin and Joe Slovo, the white South African activist who once said: “There are only two sorts of people in life you can trust – good Christians and good Communists.” Considered a traitor by much of whiteSouth Africa, he was one of many white South Africans who fiercely opposed Apartheid with the ANC.
Or Owen McNally, a British army officer whose crime was ‘leaking’ Afghan civilian death statistics to a human rights group. Or the innumerable others whose names we do not know, who have betrayed family and faith to follow Christ. After all, what is conversion if not an act of treachery towards your old life and former faith?
But disloyalty is not inherently good. Its righteousness depends on motivation, on context, on consequence. None of us needs much reminding of that.
What is important, I think, for Christians to remember is that disloyalty is sometimes the best possible thing you can do. Whether you are in a position to publish your company’s criminal abuses of environment or labour; whether you have the power to expose military abuses or molestation within your church; whether you are accused of turning against ‘your own people’ in pursuit of justice, or just able to vote for policies that benefit the weakest and poorest rather than yourself – I hope you will remember that being a traitor doesn’t always make you one of the bad guys.