Harry Potter and the Whistleblower Archetype

If you don’t take action now, you’ll settle for nothing later.” -Zach DeLeRoche, lead singer of Rage Against the Machine.

In the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry is one of the few people alive who knows a terrible secret: The enemy of all that is good in the world, Lord Voldemort – er sorry, He Who Must Not Be Named – is alive and in hiding. Throughout the admittedly long book, Harry desperately warns everyone around him of the truth. Unfortunately the world around him would rather believe that all is well and there is no danger. They worship the illusion of peace over reality.

Throughout the book, Harry Potter is a whistleblower.

orderofphoenixHarry learns what so many other whistleblowers soon learn: people around him – even those close to him – turn on him. For 870 US Pages (yes, I looked that up), he valiantly tries to warn them all, and is subjected to scorn and derision. They label him a troublemaker, an attention seeking liar, and worse. The Ministry of Magic (the government entity) attempts to shut him up by smearing his name and reputation through manipulating the media. One of his teachers verbally abuses him in front of his peers in a classroom setting, goads him to anger, then further punishes him when he loses his temper. The authorities try to have him arrested. Perhaps one of the most bizarrely cruel punishments involves Harry being forced to repeatedly carve “I must not tell lies” into his own flesh until it leaves a permanent scar. When Harry takes his news to the press, they don’t want to publish it, and are more content to publish what everyone wants to hear.

In this novel, Harry recognizes the reality facing whistleblowers everywhere: that the high cost of speaking the truth far outweighs the cost of silence. The illusion of peace has no allure to him in light of the truth. The truth burns within him, and he cannot be silent – even in the face of scorn, slander, and persecution.

Spoiler alert, but by the end of the book the truth is finally revealed and Harry is vindicated. But after all he has suffered and lost as a result of declaring the truth, he finds he no longer cares that his name and reputation are cleared. Harry’s journey through this book actively portrays the grim reality faced each day by whistleblowers.

What is a whistleblower?

definition

Our society as a whole has a lot to learn about whistleblowers. Look at the synonyms for “whistleblower”, as provided by Thesaurus dot com:

whistleblower

Note that almost all of the synonyms for “whistleblower” are negative or derogatory. These synonyms assume negative intent, which is not always the case.

King David’s Little Secret

david
Michelangelo’s David. Image courtesy of accademia.org

As a second literary example of a whistleblower, consider the story of David and Bathsheba. Truth be told, I’ve heard this story manipulated first-hand by an abusive church to justify a convicted child molester being a Southern Baptist pastor. The purpose of the message was to remind people that someone can do terrible things, and still be a “man after God’s own heart”.  God will still do great things through him, just like David! What a sick, twisted manipulation of God’s word to justify horrendous actions that should have forever disqualified any man from ministry. In episode two the fantastic documentary on Netflix called “The Family”, the same approach was used to justify the sexual misconduct of a leader using the story of David, which makes you wonder if abusive systems follow some sort of script.

We can learn much from the story of David and Bathsheba. One of the chief lessons is that God cares about justice – so much so that He was willing to bring the lofty king of a nation down to his knees for his hidden sins. In this day and age, it’s a tough pill to swallow that God killed David’s baby son in the pursuit of justice. That’s too harsh to fit onto a Christian book store coffee mug.

judgement
Hunefer’s judgement scene from the Egyptian Book of the Dead (wikipedia)

The Egyptian concept of the afterlife centered around the god of the dead, Anubis, placing a man’s heart on one side of a scale. On the other side of the scale was a feather, placed by Ma’at, the goddess of order, truth, and righteousness. If the man’s heart weighed more than the feather, and his deeds were more wrong than right, the man’s heart was eaten by Ammit, a ferocious beast with a body that was part lion, hippopotamus, and crocodile – the devourer of the dead.

We tend to follow that particular Egyptian theology way more than we should. Have you fallen for the same ideology? If a man has done some good in the world, does that outweigh the bad? Bill Cosby made lots of people laugh. Larry Nassar helped keep lots of his patients healthy. Jerry Sandusky helped a lot of adopted kids through his Second Mile charity. But we know the rest of the story, don’t we? And you get the point, I’m sure. We keep going back to the Egyptian scale of the afterlife for our sense of justice, which needs to change.

The true hero of the story of David and Bathsheba is the prophet Nathan, who risks his own life to boldly speak the truth to the King. I believe God sent Nathan as a whistleblower to King David because God cared much more about the truth than David did. David tried repeatedly to cover up the truth and move on. That pattern is repeated by abusive men, and the churches that enable them, to this day. And today, whistleblowers still stand for truth. I am now going to turn over this blog to two real life whistleblowers, to share their stories. I’ve prompted them with a few basic questions. Here goes!

Whistleblower One: the Church Whistleblower

Question One: In your own words, what is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower is a truthteller in an unhealthy or abusive organization.

Question Two: Can you briefly share your story?

I certainly did not set out to become a “whistleblower”. I set out to discover the truth and to make amends for participating in an egregious, dangerous coverup. The basic story is this: One of our pastors, before he came to our church, was convicted of indecent assault and corruption of minors (translation: child molestation). A few years after he became our pastor, my husband and I ran a basic background check on our pastors and discovered his criminal record. My husband asked the leaders about it, they told him it was a false accusation, we accepted that answer, and I buried it deep into the back of my brain, never to speak of it again…until early 2018, when your wife (Pooky) and I were talking about some of the problems at the church. She wondered out loud if any of the leadership issues were rooted in sexual sin. I told her there was some kind of something in one of the pastor’s records, but I couldn’t remember details. She ran a background check, discovered his criminal history, and basically freaked all the way out. Her shock and horror is what God used to show me what a huge, dangerous, and illegal problem we had on our hands. I was sure the church leaders would listen to reason and do the right thing, so we scheduled a meeting with them. That meeting was not encouraging at all, and my role within the church gradually morphed from question-asker and truth-seeker to whistleblower.

Question Three: What was the reaction / response to your whistleblower-ing from others?

As is typical within toxic organizations, most people did not respond well to my pursuit of truth. The church leaders at first seemed to humor me, listening to my questions and acting like we were all on the same team. But within weeks, they stopped answering my questions, they began preaching passive-aggressive sermons, and one pastor eventually slandered me from the pulpit. That was the last day we were with our church community of 17 years. After the very public, very obvious verbal abuse, several amazing church members expressed their sorrow to us. But almost everyone else ignored the abuse and avoided contact with us. Several people spread malicious rumors about us.

Question Four: What kept you going?

My continued pursuit of truth has been driven by two motivations. The first is that I feel very deeply repentant for my role in this coverup. I am painfully aware of how many hundreds of children I put into the path of danger with my silence about the pastor’s criminal record. I had preferred my own comfort and standing in the church over the safety of other people. I also hold a strong conviction that I worship a God of Truth. I don’t worship a God of Spin. I don’t worship a God of Half-truths. I don’t worship a God of Manipulative Truth-shading. I worship a God who knows the deep, dark, ugly truths about everyone, including me, and yet loved us so much that He offered His life for us.

Question Five: What was the end result of your actions?

In the end, my pursuit of truth helped to expose an infection in our church. It was an infection that was brewing for many years and was making me spiritually sick. In general, I am very grateful for this whole whistleblowing experience. I am out of a toxic church body and now in what I believe to be a healthy church. My children are now experiencing a part of Christianity that is much healthier. I have a much better understanding of sexual abuse and spiritual abuse, and I can use that knowledge to be more compassionate and helpful to survivors. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to re-think my theology in an environment where I am encouraged to be honest, to ask questions, and to experience real kindness and care.

Question Six: What would you like others to know about what happened?

The story isn’t over yet. Almost daily there are questions about who should know what, if/how I should share it, and whether or not it is worth the risk. There is so much more of the story that remains untold. I pray daily for wisdom in how to handle these decisions.

Whistleblower Two: the Government Whistleblower

Question One: In your own words, what is a whistleblower?

A whistleblower to me is someone who “alerts” the public to potential or known harm, whether it be actual physical danger in the public or private sector, or the fraud, waste or abuse of public or private resources in accordance to the law.

Question Two: Can you briefly share your story?

My husband became a whistleblower initially by reporting the cover-up of an impaired physician who was working at the Department of Veterans Affairs and subsequently became aware of $500,000 overpayment to a contractor, veteran suicides, waitlists for care, and Veterans in the nursing home not getting the proper care and other government corruption.

Question Three: What was the reaction / response to your whistleblower-ing from others?

The response from the Agency was retaliation. Isolation, endless investigations, and duties stripped are a few examples of that.  It seemed like people automatically would believe that he did something wrong and not the agency.  People would think we were exaggerating what was happening, despite the extreme amounts of evidence we had and assumed that a loss in court must mean we were wrong.  People in general don’t understand how difficult it is to move forward with any case and how corrupt the legal system is. Federal employees do not have the same constitutional rights to due-process  as civilians. We cannot receive a jury trial like a public sector employee could get and are at the mercy of agencies that all police themselves. It is a system that keeps whistleblowers at bay while they are forced into years and even decades of litigation. Unless you are forced into this process it is very hard to understand, and frankly it seems like most people want to keep their heads buried in the sand.  The fact is that wherever there is money and power, whether it be in the government or private sector, corruption, coverup and retaliation is embedded in the way they function. Whistleblowers like to call this the universal “playbook.”

Question Four: What kept you going?

First and foremost, for us, it is the grace of God.  Secondly, we viewed the situation as one where there was no other alternative, for us we would not have been able to do anything else.  We approached the whistleblowing as a team effort.  It was a family decision and it is a family fight.  In our family if you hurt one of us then you hurt all of us.  We supported my husband in every decision, we were present at every hearing, we helped spread the word through social media and helped to create a network of whistleblowers where we could give and receive help and support. We decided from the beginning to be “all in” whatever that takes.

Question Five: What was the end result of your actions?

There have been results but there is no end result at this point.  Many of the players have retired as we have litigated the wrongdoing up to the Federal Court level. There has been improved care and changes to the national policies. Litigation is still and will be ongoing until we have exhausted every avenue.  We fully are aware though that the only court we may win in is the court of public opinion, so we are working on a book about our experiences and the people who perpetrated the egregious acts upon our family to try and silence us from speaking out on behalf of our Veterans.

Question Six: What would you like others to know about what happened?

It doesn’t matter who or what you blow the whistle on, whistleblowers across the nation and all over the world are all treated horribly and with the same tactics.  Don’t expect to get anything, including justice.  Do what is right because it is right, do what is right out of the compulsion to help someone else.  People are alive today because we chose to accept the consequences for speaking out, and have learned that trying to make this world a better place had to be enough in our efforts to change it. One voice really can make a difference, so if you are up to the challenge, let it be yours.

Wrapping it Up

I would like to thank those brave whistleblowers who have stood up for the truth. Specifically, I would like to thank the two whistleblowers who have bravely shared their stories above.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

-believed to have originated by Edmund Burke

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