What’s the Difference Between Secrecy and Privacy?
Jason Chao | JANUARY 31, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
My experience with Asian culture is that when it comes to people you love, you don’t tell them important news about your health or other troubles.
My family lied to my grandfather when he was dying of cancer. They told him, “The doctors say you’ll be fine.” He died never knowing how sick he was.
The grace and love that we have built as a family often softens the blow of these withholdings of truth. They still hurt, but we eventually get over it.
But in church, it isn’t always as easy. As a youth pastor, I follow my legal obligations to report certain abuses to police or authorities, even if I promise secrecy. But what about when there is no legal line? What should I do if someone confides to me that they’re addicted to weed but asks me not to tell their parents? Or to hide the fact that he is not a virgin because he doesn’t want his girlfriend to know?
Or what if someone at your church was the victim of cyberbullying or had a gambling addiction? How should we have them share their story? Should they share it at all?
Secrecy vs Privacy
The head pastor of my church, Tae Kim, gave a definition that helps me to discern when things should be kept hidden and things should be revealed: A secret is something you keep to perpetuate sin. Privacy is something you keep to help promote healing.
Are we not telling our loved one the severity of their disease because we want them to fight it with the chance to beat it? Or is it because we don’t want to deal with the possibility of losing them physically? Is withholding this information just going to cause more regret and remorse in our family. Will being open about it give time and space for reconciliation?
Churches should consider the same things. Some are far too good at keeping secrets to protect themselves. Churches hiding cases of adultery or sexual harassment has become almost a punchline against Christianity. Church leaders and members can easily forget that “nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). Churches should have greater transparency, and they should find ways to deal with the fallout with grace and truth.
I tend to go too far the other way. As a second-generation, Internet-aged, former atheist, I want everyone to share everything with everybody and forget the Biblical principle “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Some people need spaces of privacy in order to heal before they can be open about their struggle or pain, and we need to honor that.
Healing in His Timing
I believe that people should be open about their lives and struggles, but we can’t pressure people to talk about what they are going through before they are ready. Instead, our job as Christians is to help get people ready to share. This is why the Gospel is important.
The Gospel tells those who are victims that they are not only victims but also victors over hurt and pain. When we are tempted to try to cover up sin, the Gospel reminds us that everything can be redeemed in the light of Christ. The Gospel encourages those who want to hide that they are accepted and loved.
Our goal should be that every believer can live an open and free life without any skeletons in his or her closet. But getting there might take time and a little bit a privacy. Let us walk with our brothers and sisters, empathizing and promoting healing with the love that comes from the Gospel.
Jason Chao has been a youth pastor at All Nations Church in Sunland, CA since 2009. He was born and raised in Sugar Land, Texas. He moved to Los Angeles to attend USC for film production. After graduating, he was called into ministry and earned his Masters of Ministry at Harvest Bible University. Jason loves movies, superheroes, Star Wars, football, hockey, and video games. He married to Hannah, who is part of SOLA’s Editorial Board, and they have two girls.