A Tale of Two Servants

colson2Last week on “BreakPoint,” we talked a lot about William Wilberforce, the English parliamentarian who fought for the abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain. The marvelous new film about his life, Amazing Grace, beautifully portrays a public servant whose Christian beliefs aligned with his outward actions. His life was the epitome of integrity, an example of an integrated worldview. Just before the debut of Amazing Grace, another film about a public servant appeared in theaters. The film is called Breach, and it tells the story of Robert Hanssen, the man responsible for what some have called the “greatest security breach in American history.” Hanssen was the FBI agent, you may remember, who sold secrets to the Russians for twenty years until his arrest in February 2001. Breach opens with a scene of Hanssen in church praying the rosary; it closes with him asking for prayer. Like Wilberforce, Hanssen seems to be a man of deep religious convictions. He was a Roman Catholic, a member of Opus Dei, a devoted father and husband, and—to all appearances—a true patriot. A Washington Post review noted: “Hanssen would duck out of work early so he could attend antiabortion rallies.” But unlike Wilberforce, it appears that Hanssen’s inner convictions had little impact on his outward behavior. Hanssen was a sexual deviant who, without his wife’s knowledge, distributed films of their marital encounters across the Internet. He was a traitor who did not bat an eyelash at betraying three American agents who were killed due to his actions. Hanssen’s story is a cautionary tale of the dangers of failing to combine orthodoxy (that is, right belief) with orthopraxy (that is, right action). Biographer David A. Vise says about Hanssen, “He was a compartmentalizer. How else could he be married and a father and go to church every day and, at the same time, commit treason?” So we have in Amazing Grace, on the one hand, and Breach, on the other, a contrast between integrity and compartmentalization. One life shows the fruit of right belief translated into right action, while the other shows how compartmentalized sin does not stay compartmentalized for long; it spreads like gangrene. God demands our whole hearts. He wants our beliefs and actions in alignment. That’s why Wilberforce was so adamant, warning us against counterfeits of real Christianity. Wilberforce wrote the following: “If the affections of the soul are not supremely fixed on God, and if our dominant desire and primary goal is not to possess God’s favor and to promote His glory, then we are traitors in revolt against our lawful Sovereign. . . .Whether we are the slaves of avarice, sensuality, amusement, sloth, or the devotees of ambition, taste, or fashion, we alike estrange ourselves from the dominion of our rightful Sovereign.” Breach is rated PG-13 for some mild obscenity and adult situations. If you do choose to see it, however, see Amazing Grace soon after. The juxtaposition of Hanssen and Wilberforce will startle you. Unlike Hanssen, Wilberforce knew that real Christianity puts beliefs into action—and that any failure to live our Christian convictions is an intolerable breach of trust with our rightful Sovereign.  
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For Further Reading and Information
See BreakPoint commentaries: “The Spirit of Wilberforce”; “Make You Look”; “The Spirit of Collaboration”; “One Bite at a Time”; and “Go On in the Name of God.” Catherine Claire, “‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Breach’: Integrity vs. Compartmentalization,” The Point, 19 February 2007. Read more about William Wilberforce and Amazing Grace. Catherine Claire, “Wilberforce, Not at Liberty,” The Point, 19 February 2007. Cher Smith, “Flick Chick: Breach,” Culture Beat, 21 February 2007. Desson Thomson, “A Walk in the Dark,” Washington Post, 15 February 2007, C01. Stephen Hunter, “Traitors of Trust: ‘Breach’ Goes to the Soul of a Spy,” Washington Post, 16 February 2007, C01. Todd Hertz, review of BreachChristianity Today, 19 February 2007. Learn more about the history behind William Wilberforce’s fight against the slave trade. John Podhoretz, “Hanssen’s Disease,” Weekly Standard, 24 February 2007. Rebecca Roberts, “Robert Hanssen: A Brief History,” Nation, NPR, 4 February 2007. Christina Radish, “Ryan Phillippe and Eric O’Neill Talk about the Story behind ‘Breach’,” Media Blvd. Gina Piccalo, “The Trustworthy Face that Tricked an FBI Pro,” Los Angeles Times, 16 February 2007. Learn more about the movies Breach and Amazing Grace. William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Christianity (Hendrickson, 1996).


Chuck Colson


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