Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What Might They Say About You?

Some friends of mine who live in Europe recently told me a story.

They once shared a meal with some friends of theirs:  the husband a Frenchman, the wife a product of the former East Germany when it was under communist rule.

The wife who'd grown up in East Germany recounted how several years ago, her mother, who still lives in what's now a united Germany, received something completely unfamiliar to us Westerners.  She was given the file kept on her by the Staatssicherheit, or Stasi, which was East Germany's secret police.  While she was growing up, the wife knew her family was under suspicion because they would receive packages of things as harmless as denim jeans from family members living in the democratic, capitalistic west.  Such deliveries were major red flags for government agents trying to repress its citizenry.

Who knew blue jeans were subversive?

To try and avoid any further trouble with the Stasi, the wife's family stopped going to church, a custom widely known to invite friction with East Germany's government-sanctioned thugs.  After all, they couldn't really communicate to their free relatives how even something as ubiquitous as jeans could jeopardize their safety under communist rule.  At least, they rationalized, they could try to reduce their visibility by dropping church attendance from their list of activities which would be considered objectionable.

It doesn't seem the family was ever really harassed by the Stasi, but in the file this family's matriarch received after the Berlin Wall's fall, it wasn't for lack of evidence.  Turns out, close acquaintances, co-workers, and neighbors had all turned in the family to the Stasi for various things.  As you can imagine, the family was shocked more by the familiar names they saw in the file, not particularly what activities and habits those back-stabbers shared with the Stasi.

Apparently, too, this family had never thought to report these same friends to the secret police.

It has been estimated that approximately one in 63 East Germans collaborated with the Stasi, which is one of history's most impressive records of manipulation by a nation's secret police.  During its reign, the Staatssicherheit employed over a quarter-million people in various capacities; one soccer club alone had 18 agents.

In 1992, after German unification, the security organization's files were opened to the public for the first time.  As government researchers, ordinary citizens, and journalists went on the hunt for Stasi criminals, they soon discovered that much of the most incriminating evidence necessary to produce convictions in a court of law had been shredded or otherwise destroyed.  Indeed, the process for literally piecing together these paper trails - estimated at 45 million documents - has been arduous and time-consuming.  So far, only two former Stasi officers have been convicted of any crime from their years of torturing suspects, covering up state accidents, executing dissidents, and whatever else secret police officers do in the line of nefarious duty.

We take for granted the fact that here in the United States, stuff like this is something we hardly ever need to think about.  But do you know at least 63 people?  How many Facebook friends do you have?  How many people work for your employer?  How many people live in your apartment building, or in your suburban neighborhood?

In East Germany, remember, at least one in 63 people would be spying on you!

Here's another question:  If our CIA was recruiting informants to turn in evangelical Christians, believers in Christ whose primary allegiance was to God, not our president or any particular political party, who might turn you in?

You may be familiar with the time-worn question, "if you were on trial for your faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"  In a way, though, that's a fairly benign question, isn't it?  In a way, the personal nature of your faith is removed from how your faith may or may not impact the lives of people around you.

But what about those people around you; the people you know, with whom you work and associate?  The people who live next-door to you?  What might they say about you and how you live your faith?

What might a secret police organization's dossier on you look like?

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