November 29, 2012
Perhaps one of the most difficult situations a person can find himself in is when he discovers a wrongdoing that ought to be made known to the proper authorities. In the business world, in politics, and in religious organizations sin abounds as it does in families and neighborhoods. That’s simple reality. But where do we cross the line between the sin of detraction and a righteous obligation to expose the sins of others? Most people shrink from the accusation of “squealer”, a term favored by criminals who use it to extract vengeance from one who has exposed their evil deeds and now in the popular lexicon.
Concealment of the sins of others can be a very grave offense against God and neighbor as we will see from the story of Joseph and contemporary examples.
Joseph sold into slavery and the cover-up
In Genesis 37 we learn of Joseph and his brothers. Reuben was the oldest and had special standing with the others. He opposed murdering Joseph but wanted to stay in the good graces of his bloodthirsty brothers so he cautioned them to only throw him into a pit. Reuben’s intent was to rescue Joseph and take him home after the other brothers had dispersed with their flocks. However, this was not to be. While Reuben was elsewhere, his brothers seized the opportunity to sell Joseph into slavery for twenty pieces of silver.
Now comes the concealment part. Reuben, who had not had any part in the selling into slavery, went along with his brothers’ deception of their father. He knew Joseph was alive and said nothing about his brothers’ evil deed, thus preventing their father from rescuing Joseph.
Although God brought good out of this evil, in no way can the brothers’ deeds be justified. Reuben had an obligation to tell what happened and he shirked it.
How do we know when we have an obligation to reveal the sins of others? We must do it when those who have a right to know ask, and when they must be informed in order to stop the wrong-doing. Especially today when wrong-doing can hurt many people.
Examples of concealment
- “Cooking the books” where two sets of books are kept by a business or organization – one for general scrutiny and another containing evidence of theft from the organization.
- Covering for someone committing adultery.
- Remaining silent in the face of someone sexually harassing another.
- Taking bribes in exchange for covering up the crimes of another.
- Not reporting shortcuts and substandard work that could endanger the lives of others.
- Not reporting known voter fraud to proper authorities.
- Not reporting known cheating on exams, on business contracts, or in other situations.
- Not reporting known child endangerment or abuse.
- Not reporting known illicit drug abuse by fellow employees on the job.
- Not reporting thievery of inventory by fellow employees or overlooking shoplifting.
These examples may cause discomfort for some people, but the question we should ask ourselves is, should a grave evil occur as a result of my concealment, what could possibly happen?
Take the Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986. NASA and Morton Thiokol knew of the O-ring problems, but concealed the information from lawful superiors. People died and millions of taxpayer dollars burned up. The Rogers Commission unearthed a lot of cover-up leading up to the accident, including successful pressuring by Morton Thiokol to have NASA declare that the O-ring issues were “closed.”
Another example is the Enron situation. Certain people knew that fraud was being committed, books were being cooked, and other illegal activities were going on and they said nothing. The house of cards flew apart and large numbers of innocent people ended up out of work, lost their pensions, lost their financial security, experienced disruption in their families and all sorts of other evils. Andy Fastow and his wife going to jail and Kenneth Lay dying of a heart attack can’t fix any of that. But those who could have gone to the proper authorities with what they knew have a part in the guilt of the perpetrators and causing the suffering of the victims.
If we are ever in the situation where we know evil is being done, we must assess the situation prudently, not cowardly, and take the right steps to alert the proper authorities. Sometimes this might mean we have to remove ourselves to safety first, but if we just exit and remain silent, we share in the sin.
Concealment of sin is a thorny issue, especially if one’s own person or family are threatened. In that case, our guilt may be lessened or exonerated, but this condition is more rare. In most cases, some reliable authority can be told. Yes, it’s hard to do, but we need to be more concerned about how God sees the situation and not whether others will call us a “squealer.”
Pray to see things through God’s eyes.
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