The other day I was chatting with a friend of mine when he told me about an encounter with an acquaintance of his. They had met at a social place and the acquaintance started telling him details about his (my friend’s) life as he (the acquaintance) had heard from the grapevine. My friend told me that he knew the acquaintance was fishing for gossip. So he remained tight lipped, neither confirming nor denying, just smiling coyly.
Now, in Christianity there is this thing called accountability, a.k.a being your brother’s keeper. This concept has been interpreted (or misinterpreted) to mean that every Christian has a licence to pry into another Christian’s life. You know, the way the US National Security Agency interprets its mandate to include listening to everyone, including the alleged listening in to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private conversations by tapping her phone.
This concept is also broadly interpreted to mean that if you are keeping parts of your life private, then you must be hiding sin in your life. Now people, let us get this straight: there is such a thing as privacy. And everyone gets to decide where they draw the privacy line in their life. This includes deciding what to tell, who to tell, where to tell and when to tell. It does not necessarily follow that because we attend the same fellowship, I will come gushing details of what I consider my private life to you. No.
Now, I am not the most private of persons. Many details of my life are in the public domain. But I understand people who are more private. Because I also do have areas of my life that are closely guarded. I have seen acquaintances get annoyed just because I refused to disclose certain aspects of my life to them. They get irritated because they feel entitled to information about me. And they feel entitled because they think I am their friend.
The word friend must be the most abused word on the planet. Because most of us interpret it to mean anyone we know. Yet those are not really friends. They are acquaintances. A friend has to be someone you are really close to. Not just someone whose name you know.
Building a friendship takes time, and involves building trust. The more I trust you, the deeper our friendship gets. And the deeper our friendship gets, the more you know about me. And this gives you some leeway to pry into my personal life. But even that leeway is limited to the level our friendship is at. It is only the select few that can ask almost anything about me and get answers. Similarly, I can ask about anything and get answers. Arnold Karani, Valarie Munagi and Major are in this category. I could then argue that I am accountable to these three. But I did not go out looking for accountability partners. Neither did they intrude into my life like the NSA. These are friendships that have taken years to build.
I have many other friends, but they are not yet entitled to full disclosure. Depending on how close they are to me, they make get certain information that is not in the public domain, but not all of it. I weigh what to tell them and what not to. Then there are acquaintances. Now, people who are loud and sociable like me tend to have a lot of problems in these area. Especially those of us who have released large chunks of our lives to public scrutiny. It is problematic because we have a large pool of people we know without knowing, some of whom think they are your bff.
I can explain. We meet in say, a Bible Study. Introductions will be made. After the Bible Study we will walk home in the same group, talking of course. Perhaps the next time we happen to be early and start talking as we wait for the others. We talk politics. We discuss the weather. We analyse scripture. Within no time, we could consider ourselves friends. Yet we know absolutely nothing about each other. The truth is, unless this acquaintance becomes more personal and grows into a friendship, we will always be acquaintances. Not friends.
Does this mean I cannot correct you if I see you doing something wrong and you are not really my friend? No. If you are committing a sin publicly, and you profess the Christian faith, then I will point it out to you. For instance, if I post anything on my Facebook timeline that is inconsistent with my professed Christian faith, anyone is at liberty to point it out to me. Similarly, if you find me insulting someone, you can pull me aside and tell me that what I am doing is wrong.
What we should stop is being spiritual CIA. Now, I belong to many Christian groups. And I have noticed that some Christians think it is their duty to keep “their flock” in the straight and narrow path. They will probe, pry, investigate, ask neighbors, gather intelligence then confront with whatever gossip they gather. I find that to be a breach of privacy. I belong to groups of adult Christians. If I find any of them doing anything wrong, then I will point it out to them, the same way I expect they would point out my mistakes to me. But I refuse to spy on them. I was not there when they made their covenant with God. And if they want to break that covenant, no amount of espionage on my part will stop it.
Instead of wasting precious energy spying on other adults, perhaps we should spend that time cultivating friendships. And part of that process is asking God to help us be people who can be trusted. So that if anyone needs help, they can trust us enough to confide. But while at it, we should appreciate that we cannot be friends with everyone. Because first, we wouldn’t have the time or energy for it. And second, friendships cannot be forced. They can only be cultivated where they have started to grow naturally.
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