Early this month a group of Secret Service Agents as well as military personnel (presumably male), were in Columbia as a part of President Barack Obama’s trip there for a multinational conference. As most of us have seen in the news, these individuals had a grand time partying with prostitutes after hours prior to the President’s arrival. Once they returned home, this exploded into a scandal of epic proportions. But so what? From the perspective of faith and the church, I could easily make a list of why this was not a good thing for these men to do, but I really wonder if Congress’ shock at the behavior of the Secret Service is only for show during an election year. After all, what’s the big deal about sex? Here are a few questions that are being raised:
Whose money did they spend? Congressman Peter King wants to know if the money these men spent was taxpayer per diem. So what if it was? Per Diem (literally, per day) is money paid to persons who are on special duty or special assignment. It is, simply, a paycheck. If these men were paid per diem, it is because they were working on a job where they earned it. If Congressman King believes that we the people have a right to control how someone spends a government paycheck then he is going to have an awful lot his fellow representatives looking over their collective shoulders.
They work for the government. So what? They were not ‘at work,’ it was after hours, they were on their own time. How often have we heard that what we do on our personal time is nobody’s business?
It’s illegal. No it isn’t. Prostitution might be illegal in most places here in the United States, but it isn’t in Columbia. Besides the financial transaction, this was simply an arrangement between consenting adults.
It’s immoral. What? We in the church have been told loudly and often that we shouldn’t force our moral values on others. In our modern culture, we are told, it is perfectly acceptable and normal for adults to determine their own morality. In that environment, who should judge whether the behavior of these men is immoral or not? Besides, in recent decades Congress seems to have made a hobby of turning a blind eye to the moral and sexual indiscretions of their peers. Judge not, lest ye be judged, right?
What these men did certainly violates many of the teaching of Christianity but with increasing regularity we are reminded that the United States is increasingly multi-cultural, multi-religious and increasingly non-religious. Even the President said “Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” (Barack Obama, June 28, 2006) And so again I ask, so what?
Certainly I realize that there are national security concerns that come with allowing our Secret Service personnel to cavort with prostitutes but historically, one major concern was that such behavior would result in blackmail. In this era of new morality, why is that a concern either? If these men are free to dictate their own morality and what they were doing was perfectly legal, then what leverage remains for blackmail?
I don’t doubt that there were rules in place both by the Secret Service and by the military and I don’t doubt that rules were broken. But if we, as an enlightened and liberated society, have refused to legislate morality and if we have cast off the bonds of propriety, allowing morals to be defined by every individual, then all that we have left to guide us are rules, and frankly, rules aren’t much to count on as the underpinning of an entire society.
I want to be clear, I don’t agree with what these men did. What they did was both wrong and stupid, but I say these things to make a point. It may indeed be true that we are no longer a Christian nation, but once we have cast off the lines that tie our culture to a fixed and immovable standard of decency and morality, the coastline can get pretty fuzzy.