(Image credit ABC News: source)
You may have seen the “Free Chelsea” stickers or the many posts on social media in support of the ex-army officer, Bradley Manning, who was discharged from the US military and imprisoned for 35 years. Barack Obama commuted his sentence as a final act of his presidency, amidst much controversy. What’s all the fuss about and how do Wikileaks and LGBT rights fit in? These are issues facing today’s believers and we need to consider how we should respond.
Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea) is the former army intelligence analyst who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks and ended up with the longest sentence in US history for exposing military secrets. He will leave prison on 17 May, 2017 after Obama commuted all but four months of his sentence… but will he really be free?
This act of clemency, announced just before the former president left office, has delighted Manning’s supporters who see him as a whistleblower, while it has horrified those who believe he is a traitor. “Our dreams have come true: @POTUS has commuted @xychelsea’s sentence,” @SaveManning tweeted while Paul Revere wrote: “There is a huge difference between a whistleblower and a traitor, the leaks from #ChelseaManning ended up in Bin Laden’s hands.”
There has been much social media interaction, both for and against, including these sample tweets. Senator John McCain reacted with the words, “Rage, frustration and sorrow,” while @Edpilkington tweeted, “Chelsea Manning will be a free woman on May 17. Miracles CAN happen”. The truth is that Manning is still a man, and his choice to live as a woman has nothing to do with the crime he committed. @TomiLahren tweeted, “A traitor is a traitor. Gender identity is irrelevant,” and @RedNationRising wrote, “the left have turned this into a LGBT issue, when it isn’t.”
Liberals and conservatives clearly have opposing views on the matter, but how should Bible-believing Christians respond? The curious case of Chelsea Manning poses at least three key questions for people of faith.
- How should Christians respond to “whistleblowing” and Wikileaks?
“Do not disclose the secret to another; lest he who hears it expose your shame, and your reputation be ruined.” (Proverbs 25:9-10)
Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden came to worldwide notoriety on the back of disclosing secrets and each has had to pay a high price. Manning has served time behind bars for several years; Assange is still in a prison of his own making; and Snowden is in self-inflicted exile in Russia. It seems each has been shamed and is left with questionable reputations.
Manning believed that exposing the horror of war was justified, yet the “leaks” that resulted put American lives in danger. The secrets he disclosed brought Wikileaks to worldwide prominence, no wonder then that its leader, Assange, promised to turn himself in if Manning was freed. However, at the time of writing, he remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has lived in a single room for over three years, not venturing out the door for fear of arrest.
Clearly, aiding an enemy by disclosing classified information is a criminal act, and needless to say is unpatriotic and endangers innocent lives. The Bible cautions against betraying secrets and Christians should not be given to gossip or bring the Gospel into disrepute. (There are of course times when faith and conscience require persecuted believers to make a stand for what is right, but that is the exception and should always be done prayerfully, humbly and without endangering lives.)
- Has justice been served with regard to Manning?
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
@Teelin tweeted, “@Potus Nazi criminal Albert Speer was sentenced to 20 years in 1946 Nuremberg trials. #ChelseaManning is serving 35 years? #PardonManning.”
When one looks at Manning’s crime in the context of history, it seems the sentence he received is unjust. It is by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the USA for a leak conviction. Furthermore, Manning has served close to seven years and is said to have been subjected to torture, solitary confinement and has had a number of suicide attempts and hunger strikes.
Manning is a person who has faced tremendous hardship and there may well be genuine extenuating circumstances that justify President Obama’s intervention. God is merciful and we as Christians should be forgiving. Yes, justice demands that we pay for our mistakes, but perhaps Manning has done that.
- How should we respond to Transgendered people?
I think LGBT people have suffered enough heartache and should not be treated as outcasts by the Church. While affirming God’s design for the two sexes, Focus on the Family offers a similar, compassionate response in its position on Transgender issues.
“While God’s intent for sexuality and gender is being turned upside down, we must remember that those who struggle with their gender identity have lived lives of great pain, confusion and rejection. And, just as Jesus went out of His way to reach the outcasts of society, we’re called to humbly share His love embodied in the Gospel, to lift them up in prayer and to allow the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction, healing and transformation.” (source)
In many respects, the case of Bradley Manning has become more about LGBT rights than whistleblowing. Will he now become a “poster girl” for the movement and have to endure even more persecution? Manning may now be celebrated as an icon of all who celebrate gender fluidity, but that will not bring true freedom.
He will soon be free from prison, but will he always feel “like a woman trapped in a man’s body”? Or will he come to know the power of the Gospel to transform lives? It is possible to overcome gender confusion as Sy Rogers and Walt Heyer have discovered.
My hope and prayer is that Manning will find God and see God’s Hand of mercy upon his life, that he will give his life to Jesus and become all God has called him to be.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)