The Moral Implications of the WikiLeaks Saga

Much has been said lately about the WikiLeaks release of classified state department documents.  There are now thousands  of stories out there.  25,000 stories to be exact (if you do a Google News search for WikiLeaks).  It’s all really fascinating.  There’s the legal questions about what Julian Assange (the founder of WikiLeaks) is doing, the secrecy of the documents, the humorous language used by the diplomats in the documents, the arrest and subsequent solitary confinement of Bradly Manning, the arrest (and now release) of Mr. Assange, and the pictures of the WikiLeaks bunker in Sweden that are straight out of a 1960’s James Bond flick.

A lot has been said on all of these topics.  But what I want to talk about is this: what should a Christian make of all of this?  It’s one of those stories where we tend to completely separate it from our spiritual lives when we talk or think about it.  I think a big reason why is that it’s a tough spiritual question to answer.  It seems to be loaded with those gray areas that make spiritual convictions so hard.

There are lots of different angles to look at this spiritually: there’s the morality of what Assange has done and continues to do (while bearing in mind that he has used the same tactics and website for humanitarian causes in which he was actually given peace awards as a result), there is what seems to be the inhumane imprisonment that is being detailed in a highly intelligent fashion by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com, there are the attempts by the US and other countries to bring charges against Assange under very murky statutes, there are the implications of what a conviction of Assange under the Espionage Act would mean to investigative journalism and the freedom of the press, and then there are the underlying sexual accusations against Mr. Assange (and the corresponding claims by some that the US planted the women in order to carry out what is known as a “honey trap”).

I want to examine each of them in the posts to follow.  I want to start with the first one here.

Is it moral to release secret documents?  Would Jesus do it?  I think the best way to answer this one is to think about it a different way.  Recently my church did a Wednesday night service that always proves to be fun, and that is a “Text Ur ?’s” segment.  It’s what it sounds like – members send in text messages to the pastor and he answers them.  It becomes a try to stump the pastor type thing.  The most fascinating question to come out of the most recent segment was this, “Is it a sin to listen to music with profane lyrics?”  Great question.  This one actually drew a, “Hmmm…” and a pause from the pastor.  But in the end, he gave an incredible answer and I think it answers our question as well.  His answer?  “Not for everyone.”  Seems ominous.  But it’s right.  His reasoning is that for some people listening to those lyrics might provoke a sin pattern in their lives, and for others it doesn’t.  It’s the same for entertainment, say television.  If someone watches True Blood (the HBO vampire show) because they want to see the nudity and it causes them impure thoughts and actions, then it’s a sin.

Now, we have to phrase the answer a little differently for the question of if it’s moral to release secret documents.  And that answer is, “It depends.”  It’s just like the other issue of listening to music with profanity.  It’s too simple (and would therefore be an injustice to morality and Christianity) to boil it down to a simple yes and no.  It depends on the nature of the information that is leaked, how it was obtained, and the likely implications of releasing those secrets.  For example, if there were secret documents that detailed a US war strategy and locations of troops close to enemy lines that would certainly get them killed, then it would be immoral to release those documents.  I say this because there would be an immediate and real threat to human life if the documents were released.  The release of those documents would display a lack of care and love for God’s creation, and would therefore be immoral to the Christian.  Now consider (as I mentioned earlier) the release of secret documents being used in a way that exposes a human rights tragedy where young men are kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers.  WikiLeaks did this reporting on Kenya in 1997.  This example would be a moral use of the power to release secret documents, because lives were saved as a result of exposing corruption and criminality.  (Obviously, I do not know the ways in which the secret documents in this case were obtained.  The morality of each instance of obtainment could be questioned.)

The difference in the two scenarios shows that each warrants its own moral discussion.  We cannot come to a moral conclusion on releasing secret documents based solely on the practices of one organization in the entire history of the world to have done such a thing. Each case must be individually examined.  If an organization is found guilty of having come by information with the use of force, blackmail, physical abuse, or stealing, then that organization deserves to be punished accordingly.  But if they have come to the information in a legal manner and no one is put at risk, then we cannot condemn a practice that is much farther reaching than any one organization, especially when it can be used for social justice.  A Christian should be pursuing the rights of the homeless, the orphan, and the widow.

It’s not a good idea to ever try and cheapen the morality of God by answering life’s hard questions with too few words.  Our God is dangerous.  You can’t predict what He will do.  Take what C.S. Lewis wrote about the nature of God (through the character of Aslan in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe), “Safe?…’Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.”  If Jesus can bring young boys to safety at the expense of some crooked politicians, you better believe He would do it.  When thinking about tough moral questions like these we need to keep that in mind.  The morality of God, after all, is just that – the morality of God. It’s not our place to question the pure and correct morality of the Father.  Even Moses would not be able to escape the perfect judgment of God.  In Numbers chapter 20 the Israelites are complaining to Moses and Aaron that they’re thirsty and the land is dry.  God tells Moses to speak to a rock and the people and land will be given water.  Fed up with the people’s complaining, Moses strikes the rock two times and the water flows out, and the land and people are given drink.  But because Moses did not revere and honor the Lord before the Israelites he was prevented from entering the promised land that he helped lead the people to.  God’s judgment was swift and strong.  This should show us that we need to be careful of coming to quick decisions on tough moral issues, such as the ones presented by the WikiLeaks aftermath.

Sources:

The Shameful Attacks on Julian Assange, David Samuels, TheAtlantic.com

The Inhuman Conditions of Bradley Manning’s Detention, Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com

Inside WikiLeaks’ Bunker, Time.com photo essay

Julian Assange Rape Allegations: Treatment of Women “Unfair and Absurd”, Amelia Gentlemen, guardian.co.uk

For more information on Mecklenburg Community Church’s “Text Ur ?’s” series and Pastor James Emery White, please visit www.Mecklenburg.org and www.ChurchandCulture.org.

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