As a preacher and as a writer, I make a living conveying ideas. Most of my work is safe, but because I am a progressive pastor and a writer of left-leaning social and political commentary, some of the ideas I communicate (in my writing more than in my preaching) are controversial. I've blogged, preached, and protested against America's recent decade of constant warfare. I've been critical of the American use of extraordinary rendition and torture during the war on terror. My first book, Neighbor (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), calls for an open border with Mexico, and my second book, The Search for Truth About Islam (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), argues that the American cult of Islamophobia is immoral and unjustified. In my work I have interviewed, written about, and developed friendships with people who, I'm pretty sure, have been investigated for ties to terrorism.
This is why I feel so deeply rattled by what happened to Glenn Greenwald's husband, David Miranda, as he passed through London's Heathrow Airport on a layover between Germany and Rio de Janeiro. Under the laws of the United Kingdom, a person suspected of terrorism can be detained and questioned for up to nine hours, which is exactly what happened to Mr. Miranda, except that he wasn't suspected of terrorism. Mr. Miranda, it appears, was detained and questioned and had a bunch of his electronic devices confiscated because his husband is the journalist who, famously, has written about Edward Snowden and about the latter's revelation of NSA intelligence gathering and domestic spycraft.
Mr. Miranda was returning home from Berlin where he was visiting filmmaker Laura Poitras. Ms. Poitras has worked closely with Glenn Greenwald on his stories about Snowden and the NSA. The Guardian, the English paper that employs Greenwald, paid for Mr. Miranda's airfare, so there is no question that David Miranda was in Europe running an errand for Mr. Greenwald, but that shouldn't matter. Journalism isn't terrorism, even when it makes powerful governments uncomfortable.
It is hard to imagine the UK was acting alone when its authorities detained David Miranda. Someone in Germany must have alerted the Brits to Miranda's presence on the airplane. The Obama Administration, while denying direct involvement, has acknowledged knowing ahead of time that the UK was going to detain Miranda, and White House spokespeople have been unwilling to say they attempted to dissuade Her Majesty's thugs from acting like members of the secret police in some God-forsaken banana republic. These nations -- the U.S., the UK, and Germany -- are supposed to be among the flagship nations of the Free World, and yet their intelligence services have failed to rise above bullying someone who was suspected of nothing more than being an accessory to journalism.
And that alarms me, because my wife, as my primary editor, aids and abets my writing all of the time; and, provided I were to do the dishes while she was away [editor's note: vacuum, and clean the litter box, too, please], I know she'd be only too happy to visit Europe on an errand in support of my work. Does her intimate association with me and my work make her a target for goons working for the United States or one of its allies? The "hospitality" enjoyed by David Miranda at Heathrow suggests it may. This is profoundly disturbing.
Now, there is a significant difference between my wife and David Miranda: he is married to one of the world's most important journalists, and she is married to, well, me. It isn't likely that anyone with the authority to mistreat my wife for her association with me is paying any attention to what I have to say (it is one of the few benefits of not being a best-selling author), but I can imagine a world in which my relative obscurity might not work in my wife's favor. After all, if the Defenders of the Free World can abuse their power in an attempt to intimidate and, perhaps, to silence David Miranda's husband, then what might they do in the case of a small-time writer and preacher, someone only sort of well known in some parts of the American Progressive Protestant world? Who would pay attention if the pastor's wife were detained and interrogated and humiliated for no reason except to intimidate her husband? It is scary to think on such matters.
So it's come to this: a Presbyterian minister from California is concerned for the wellbeing of his lover and closest friend, for fear that the wrong person in the right position of power may have read, for example, the final sentence of the first paragraph in this piece and may have taken note that the clergyman in question pals around with terrorists (or, at least, he has friends who may have been investigated for possible ties to bad guys, and if the investigations did happen, no connection was established; but do trivialities such as a presumption of innocence matter any more?). Maybe events in London have made this American pastor paranoid, or maybe we have awakened to an America that is not the One Nation, Under God and Indivisible, to which we long have pledged allegiance. Perhaps ours has become a land where those who truly are brave no longer are entirely free.