This week we continue to examine a key passage of scripture in Romans that frankly is a bit uncomfortable. Today we ask:
What about civil disobedience? This term covers a wide range of activities, but it usually refers to breaking a law in order to protest injustice. Sometimes that happened in the Old Testament, such as the Hebrew midwives refusing to kill the babies (Exodus 1) or Rahab the harlot hiding the Israeli spies in Jericho (Joshua 2). Today we use the term to refer to what happened during the civil rights movement of the sixties or some of the protests that take place outside an abortion clinic.
Consider these words of John Stott: “Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty” (Romans, p. 342). The problem lies in discerning whether a given law clearly and absolutely “contradicts” God’s law. Obviously, we all agree that if the government forced women to have abortions, that law should be resisted. But most conflicts are not as clear-cut as that. What about a law that restricts protest at abortion clinics but does not forbid it altogether? Is civil disobedience a “Christian duty” in that case?
It’s difficult to set down hard and fast rules covering every situation because one person’s Christian conscience may lead him in one direction while another person may choose to do something else or not to participate at all.
But if you choose the course of civil disobedience, it seems to me that it must be over an issue of clear biblical teaching, it must be done publicly so that others can draw the right lesson, it ought to be done in concert with other believers, it must be accompanied by prayer and repentance, and finally, if you do break a law as a form of protest, you must then face the fact that you may be punished for your actions.
Believers who choose disobedience cannot also claim some special protection from God when they break the law of man. Again, the attitude of heart is crucial. You may not always be able to obey, but you can always have a submissive spirit because God commands it in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:14-17.
So, then Pastor, what does it mean to be a good Christian and a good citizen? Very simply, it means that we have dual citizenship–on earth and in heaven. As citizens God calls us to submit ourselves to those who are in authority over us, to obey the laws, to do what is right, to pay our taxes, and to show honor and respect to everyone who is over us. As Christians God calls us to take our rightful place as the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-16). Salt preserves and its flavors. Light dispels the darkness.
Richard Neuhaus, a Catholic priest, was listening to his host spend over an hour detailing everything that was wrong with our country, our society, our culture, our families, and our schools. When asked for a response Pastor Neuhaus replied, “These may be bad times, but they are the only times we are given. And we must remember that despair is a mortal sin.”
How true. These are indeed the only times we are given. Despair is never an option for the Christian. Let us reaffirm our belief Almighty God reigns over all.