Hacking for the Kingdom?

In an age when net neutrality is under attack, personal information is anything but personal and identity theft is on the rise, “hacktivism” (the practice of hacking an organization’s data pools in order to draw attention to a social or political issue or gain information to advance such a cause) presents itself as a force for good on the Internet.

Perhaps most famously among the hacktivists is the group known as Anonymous, an informal association of hackers from around the world who go by various online aliases to conceal their actual identity. Targets from Anonymous have included the Church of Scientology, Sarah Palin, Sony and, most recently, the KKK. Just last year, Business Insider ran an article praising a number of the hacks perpetrated by Anonymous, including those against white supremacist Hal Turner, Westboro Baptist Church, child pornography sites and the Ugandan government.

The social-justice strain to these efforts raises the question: is hacking in and of itself morally objectionable? And is there a place for hacking among Christians?

Our initial reaction might be, “No, of course not.” Romans 13 immediately comes to mind, where Paul admonishes the Roman assemblage to submit to the governing authorities since they derive their authority from God. If hacking is illegal, or at least legally questionable, this would seem to issue a resounding “no.” Paul and the early Christians were not, however, opposed to civil disobedience of every form. The early preaching of the apostles in Acts is a fine example of this. When the apostles were commanded to cease proclaiming Jesus and His good news, they ignored the officials and continued anyway, leading to beatings, imprisonments and threats of (and in some cases actual) death. So the New Testament itself provides Christians with a loophole when obedience to authorities requires disobedience to God.

Perhaps it is this line of thinking that has caused some Christians to support and even participate in their own forms of hacktivism. In fact, a Vatican spokesperson just a few years ago praised Christian hackers for demonstrating God’s own creativity in their work, though also acknowledging problems with the anti-authority attitude present in most hacking communities.

What’s more, some forms of hacktivism do not necessarily do harm to a site, organization or individuals. We might equate “take down” attacks, in which a site is flooded so that its servers crash and its services are thus unavailable to the public, to the “sit in” protest. The services or “space,” so to speak, are disrupted in order to draw attention to a particular social issue. Here no data is stolen, information comprised or destruction done to the organization’s infrastructure.

Perhaps a better question we might ask concerning “Christian hackers” is whether or not their activity advances the Kingdom of God in a morally neutral manner. In other words, is the work truly Kingdom work, furthering the good news, performed in a manner that does not create a moral fuzz around that furtherance? It is perhaps here that our evaluation of Christian hacktivism should focus. This does not mean that social justice causes cannot be embraced by Christians, but we should subordinate the extent to which we consider those activities as “missional” under the central mission of the Church, which is to live as God’s people, demonstrating and proclaiming the good news. Doing one without the other does not follow the pattern expressed throughout the New Testament.

Comments (11)

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I think hacking is most easily analogous to breaking and entering. If an activist who wants to do good breaks into a home or office to obtain information, the activist has undeniably committed a crime. The justice of the cause will not shield the activist who breaks into private or public property from prosecution. Effective civil disobedience is done non-violently, even passively, on open public property. Hackers, by definition, are breaking and entering. Even to do something “just” it’s a crime, and therefore, is wrong from a biblical standpoint.

Paul did exhort Christians, heavily persecuted by a hostile government, to respect the law, and to obey the civil government. Perform civic duties; pay taxes. But, Paul recognized that Christ is above every earthly ruler, and that no law on earth can supersede Christ’s command to make disciples of the nations. So, we smuggle Bibles into “closed” countries, broadcast across borders, and set-up fronts for missionary activities. Interestingly, this is bringing something of the highest value…it’s not entering to extract something. Against the fruits of the Spirit, “there is no law.”

Chad lands on the right question. What are “Christian hackers” trying to do? Are they advancing the Gospel? Are they bringing the fruits of the Spirit? Or are they trying to take something? I agree, Christian activists need to be demonstrating and proclaiming the good news. Great article.

This is not something I personally would do but when you bring the Bible into the 21st century, it might be a way for a group of “anonymous” Christians to witness to those who would not otherwise listen.  Hopefully it allows the followers of these websites to see what Jesus says about the information on the websites.

The laws vary from state to state which makes the legality issue complex. Usually the laws focus upon specific theft or damages which occur, such as stealing credit card information, embezzling, etc. The laws do not seem as clear on the “take down” type instances where no information is taken or theft committed. Definitely a more complex issue than it might appear at face value.

Interesting comment. Thanks for sharing! How effective do you think the witness would be in those types of situations?

So a Christian “hacktivist” executes a denial of service attack or hijacks a porn website and instead points it to a page that brings up statistics on the harm porn does and links to gospel-centered resources to break porn addiction.
Moral? Ethical? Biblical?

(If this happens, it wasn’t me! I have no expertise in this area. Just glad to figure out how to leave a comment!)

It’s destructive vigilantism and mob vandalism at best. Encouraging this on any level opens up far, far more problems than it could possibly even pretend to solve.

There are legitimate ways to identify, protest, and counter evils in the world. That’s the wonderful thing about democracy! We are empowered to do so, and we have many effective tools. Self-identified hacktivists opt for the easy way (certainly not the “narrow path”) and launch self-righteous campaigns from the comfort of their chairs. They have no concept of the hard-fought battles for justice. They are noisemakers at best, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

To give deluded vandals a modicum of moral highground is a recipe for disaster.

@casbergc, I think that is the initial reaction from many, but as I tried to demonstrate, hacking takes many different forms, some of which are very invasive and some of which are not.

Also, what about where people are not in a democratic society and do not have free speech? Would you grant it as permissible then?

No noninvasive methods have been advanced. Taking down or altering a website is, in all cases, invasive. It violates and defaced another’s property.

We can imagine all manner of unusual scenarios in which such violations might be permissible. We can do the same for theft and murder. Robin Hood. Poisoning Hitler. Why spend so much time wondering how we can repurpose destruction to our own ends?

By the way, my wife and I had to forgo our ritual of watching Netflix tonight because hackers launched an attack on the Xbox Live servers and have rendered the service inoperable. All for a righteous cause, I’m sure.

I would certainly not suggest that the XBox attack would be a form of “Christian hacktivism,” if we can identify such a thing. My point in the article is not to defend hacking in all of its forms but rather to ask if it can be used as a legitimate form of protest.

Denial of service attacks, for example, are often noninvasive and flood a system with external requests so that it cannot handle the “traffic.” Again, I think this is analogous to a “sit in” in which services are disrupted but no defacing or stealing takes place.

I’d also be interested in your thoughts on hacktivism in non-democratic societies as I mentioned above.

The original meanings of the word “hacker” are preserved within the software community - that is, someone who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and how to stretch their capabilities, or who is simply a master programmer.

Spread the Gospel or scripture messages using guerrilla advertising tactics. We will have a greater impact spreading the Gospel than fighting evil. Expose it, creatively.

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