Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a hero?

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Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a hero?

June 13, 2013 -

Edward Snowden is the world’s most famous spy.  The former CIA employee who leaked information about U.S. surveillance programs is currently in Hong Kong.  The Justice Department is now preparing charges against him.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that Snowden should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But should he?  Is Snowden a traitor or a hero?  Let’s think biblically about the options and their relevance to our engagement with contemporary culture.

According to Boston Globe columnist Tom Keane, Snowden is “an American hero.”  New Yorker writer John Cassidy agrees: “In revealing the colossal scale of the U.S. government’s eavesdropping on Americans and other people around the world, he has performed a great public service that more than outweighs any breach of trust he may have committed.”  Daniel Ellsberg adds that “Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us a chance to roll back what is tantamount to an ‘executive coup’ against the U.S. constitution.”

Protesters carry the Turkish flag and shout anti-government slogans during a demonstration at Gezi Park near Taksim Square in central Istanbul on June 3, 2013 (Credit: Reuters/Stoyan Nenov)
Why the conflict in Turkey matters to you…
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The recent protests in Turkey are another example of standing up to oppressive authority (see my Why the conflict in Turkey matters to you).  This method of cultural transformation is akin to the apostles’ refusal to obey the authorities’ demand that they stop preaching: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).  In this approach, we must confront and refuse authority when it conflicts with our Kingdom calling.

Others see Snowden as a traitor.  According to New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, he is “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.”  In his view, “he wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety.”  David Brooks, my favorite New York Times columnist, writes that Snowden “betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed.  Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.”

Thinking biblically, in this view Snowden should have obeyed the mandate, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1).  By this approach, we must work within governing authorities to seek change.

Which way of viewing Snowden’s actions do you believe is correct?  Why?  And ask yourself: What will you risk, inside or outside authority, to stand for Christ today?  When last did it cost you something significant to serve Jesus?

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