Christians and Wikileaks

Reaction to the Wikileaks phenomenon among Christians has been mixed, but in my observation this week, it has gravitated towards being concerned or annoyed, with a minority being outraged. A short piece by Julie Clawson on the Sojourner's website has been the only article I have read so far from a Christian perspective that sees the publishing of the leaks as a qualified good.

In reflecting on the more general view among Christians whose comments I have read this week, which express concern or hostility, I have noted a number of theological and political assumptions which are influencing interpretations of the Wikileaks project. In addition, as we shall see, there are more personal concerns being raised about the nature of security and privacy in the Internet age.

  1. A high view of government. The "key texts" of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 appear to represent a grid through which a deferential perspective on the role of political rulers is formed and expressed.
  2. A concern about process. I have heard some say that while they see it as helpful for the public to know the facts about how its government has been operating, they are nervous about the manner in which Wikileaks have gone about disclosing the inner workings of the state.
  3. A concern about lawlessness. The commencement of Denial of Service attacks against businesses which have withdrawn support from Wikileaks (including Amazon, Mastercard, Visa and PayPal) has, in my reading, raised the hackles of those who might otherwise be more sympathetic to the Wikileaks agenda. One church leader in the United States, for instance, has questioned whether these DOD attacks represent a "spirit of lawlessness" as described in 2 Thessalonians 2.
  4. A concern for privacy - both at the institutional and individual level. It has been interesting to hear some express concern that the leaking of the State Department's internal memos could be a step in the direction of everyone's private thoughts and correspondence being broadcast online. Interestingly, I have not come across this particular Orwellian concern being expressed by anyone other than Christian writers in the last week.

What can we deduce from the above points, and are there alternative or complementary considerations that are worth taking into account when assessing the Wikileaks phenomenon? A few broad themes present themselves:

  1. Romans 12 and 1 Peter 2 could be read against the backdrop of a New Testament that paints a rather more negative view of government than might be suggested if those two passages are taken in isolation. We see in the writing of the apostles rulers portrayed as routinely corrupt, immoral and bloodthirsty (think Herod), described as enemies of the gospel (emperors and their subordinates) and as members of an immoral world system that is under God's judgment, represented variously as a drunken prostitute and a many-headed monster.
  2. We ought to think carefully about "why" it is that many believers appear to be more troubled by the process of the leaks than they are by some of the facts they reveal. In particular, the large (and previously unreported) number of civilians who have lost their lives as a direct result of the American and British invasion of Iraq ought, surely, to be of greater concern than any loss of prestige caused to the governments that have contributed to these loses. If this is not the case, we must ask ourselves some fundamental questions about our faith and the moral priorities that arise from it.
  3. We should be careful not to equate lawlessness with disturbing the status quo. Blind obedience to rulers is not a virtue, Christian or otherwise, and all moral people will have some actions which they will not commit, even if required to do so by the State. Furthermore, we should be careful to not miss the fact that the leaks reveal spectacular acts of lawlessness on the part of those in government. Illegal phone tapping of citizens, and orders to obtain biometric data from UN diplomats, are revealed as just two of the most obvious examples of lawless activity that elected leaders stand accused of by their own official documents.
  4. We should be careful to be historically consistent when analyzing such a phenomenon as Wikileaks. It is ironic, to say the least, to hear residents of a nation birthed in an act of armed rebellion (the United Sates) denying the right of citizens to take modest action to assert their freedoms and challenge the perceived injustices of militarized and increasingly dominant governments.
  5. Concerns about individual privacy are important and valid concerns. However, the reality is that the greatest threats to our right to a private life come not from reporters such as Julian Assange, but from corporations and governments who have the power and the motive to pry, spy and intrude in ways unimaginable a generation ago. Against such a backdrop, the need for a free press (defined as one that says things some people don't want to have said) remains of paramount importance as a restraint against tyranny.

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Tom Foster said...
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Tom Foster said...

Thanks for the balance Al. It's the unqualified support of whoever is in authority (govt) referring to the biblical passages you mention which causes me the greatest discomfort with how I've seen Christians respond. There seems to be an attraction towards authoritarian unaccountable leadership, and explaining away misuses of power. We have received such a different model of authority and leadership in Jesus.

Following in this vein.., when promises are broken by democratically elected representatives most Christians I know who comment seem content to focus on the handful of agitators rather than the protest of thousands at broken trust and promises - is this not even more serious? We are also setting the grounds for future instability if we do not challenge such actions.