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Jesus Would Advocate for Civil Disobedience


In March, executive orders from governors across the country forced us to stay home, to close schools and churches and to shut down private businesses. Businesses were classified as either "essential" or "non-essential." All businesses deemed "non-essential" were forced to close. This included markets, clothing stores, boutiques, dine-in restaurants, and beauty salons. State parks, city parks, beaches, walking trails, lakes, and other wide open spaces were closed as well.

Many people feel that the "social distancing," as it has come to be known, and stay at home executive orders violate their constitutional rights, such as our first amendment right to freely exercise our religion, our right to peaceably assemble, and that we shall not be deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Some of the people who feel their rights have been violated have decided to exercise their First Amendment right to protest. Some have even chosen to defy the executive orders to close their businesses and churches.

Whether or not you believe these people should be protesting, or that they even have a reason to protest is not at issue here. They have a right to protest, and if the protesters feel they should, then they can and should. Many people have said that these people should just sit down and obey the laws, because the laws (or in this case executive orders) are meant to protect us. They argue that we should be willing to comply, even when we think the laws are unjust. Some people have chosen to refuse to comply with the executive orders in their entirety.

Civil disobedience can be defined as "the refusal to comply with certain laws or to pay taxes and fines, as a peaceful form of political protest." We have seen an increase in civil disobedience in the past few weeks the longer the social distancing and business shutdown continues. As Christians, it can be difficult for us to reconcile the mandate Paul gives us in Romans 13 to submit ourselves to our governmental authority with breaking laws purposefully.

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was asked by clergymen, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" His response in his Letter from Birmingham Jail was, "The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.' "

MLK continues to explain, "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust." MLK goes on to give several biblical and historical allusions where people disobeyed what they felt was a law out of harmony with eternal law.

In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar sent a proclamation that everyone should bow down and worship the golden idol he had built. Three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar or the idol. They knew that the royal edict was in direct opposition to God, so they refused to comply.

Then, in Daniel 6, King Darius makes a decree that anyone who worships any god or man besides him should be thrown into the lion's den. Daniel continues his daily prayer to God, and is indeed thrown in the lion's den.

In John 8, a woman who had been caught in adultery was brought to Jesus. The law of Moses stated that she should be stoned to death for her sins. Did Jesus uphold the law? Did he follow Romans 13 and say, "We must submit to our governing authority and stone her"? Not even close. He wrote in the sand and told the crowd for the person without sin to cast the first stone. The scribes and the Pharisees one by one walked away, because they realized they were not without sin. Jesus did not expect the scribes and Pharisees to follow the law, but rather grace.

In Romans 13, Paul tells the Romans that all authority is appointed by God. He says that we are to subject ourselves to our government and that if we rebel against the government, then we are rebelling against God. It seems that some of the stories we read in the Bible are in direct contradiction to Romans 13. How can we extol Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel and Jesus Himself for their civil disobedience, but yet still follow Romans 13?

My point is that the command in Romans 13 to obey our governmental officials and laws is not absolute. Over and over in the Bible, we are given examples of when God's law and man's law are in opposition, we are to obey the Lord, not man. In Acts 4, John and Peter were brought before the Sadducees for speaking to the people. The Sadducees commanded John and Peter that they could no longer speak of Jesus. They responded in verses 19 and 20 by saying, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” So when we have a choice between God’s law and man’s law, it is clear that we may refuse to obey our government.

In more recent history, take for instance slavery. Slavery was legal, but helping slaves find freedom was illegal. Sometimes, releasing your slaves was considered illegal. And what about in the 20th Century, when the Dutch, Hungarians and other Europeans helped the Jewish hide and survive during the holocaust? They were breaking the law. Everything Hitler did was legal, so it's clear that morality and legality are not synonymous. Should these freedom fighters--both for the American slaves and European Jews--have submitted to their government according to Romans 13?

I will take it even a step further and say that God expects us to engage in civil disobedience. In Revelation, it tells how the Antichrist will rule over mankind. Will Romans 13 apply to Christians submitting to the Antichrist? If we are commanded by our government to worship the Antichrist? Shall we submit? Should we submit? What about the mark of the beast? What if the government forces us to receive it? Shall we not refuse? We know when we do refuse that we shall suffer the consequences. We won’t be able to buy or sell. We will be dependent on God’s provision. God fully expects us to disobey the Anticrist and look to Him alone.

Now, am I saying that social distancing is equal to being forced to denounce God, slavery, Hitler, or the Antichrist? Of course not. Being required to social distance and close down businesses is nowhere near as atrocious as some of the heinous acts of tyrants. But it's imperative to stop tyranny before it begins.

Let's go back to your freshman year of high school. Let's go back to your English class. It's time to read George Orwell's Animal Farm. You remember the pigs and the socialism. You remember the animals revolted against the farmer, and then they set up their own government. You remember that in the end, there was no distinguishing the humans from the pigs who were now in control.

But let's go back and look a little deeper. I'm sure you remember that it was a fable where Manor Farm symbolically represented Russia and the Soviet Union. On a broader level, however, it can represent any government when there are not checks and balances, and when the people do not question or hold their government accountable for their actions.

After the animals overthrew Mr. Jones and took hold of the farm, the animals went on a victory march around the perimeter of the farm. Napoleon, the seemingly benevolent leader, stayed back from the parade. When the animals come back, they notice that the milk is gone, but no one questions it. They are just so excited to have overthrown the evil Mr. Jones.

Without going into a full-on summary of the book, Napoleon takes more and more power from the animals. It's for their own good, he tells them. He's smarter than they are, he says, so he needs to make the decisions. The other animals may make the wrong choices, he tells them. He is so good at gaslighting them, the animals don't question Napoleon; they question themselves. They question their fellow animals. The animals are so terrified of Mr. Jones coming back, or some other threat to their safety, they will do anything to make sure they are safe—even allow Napoleon to tyrannize them. He eliminates his opposition, and he has Squealer, the media, on his side to make sure the animals always feel sufficient fear. Without the fear, they may question Napoleon's power. He institutes various government programs that seem to better the animals and the farm, but he eventually takes absolute power, and he has been corrupted absolutely.

While Animal Farm was written more than 150 years after our Constitution, the framers of our Constitution were well aware of human nature. They knew we were ultimately selfish, and we desire power over others. Any elementary playground can prove this true. The founding fathers built our Constitution with this in mind, and they guaranteed our rights as humans in the Bill of Rights—and that the government should never be able to violate those rights, because they were given to us by our Creator.

What is going on right now in America with the Coronavirus is leading America down a slippery slope of rights violation. What happened in Animal Farm is so hard for our generation to comprehend ever happening in America. It seems ludicrous. We are a free country. Sure, we argue left vs. right, but we're far from tyranny or overthrowing our government. The restrictions are for our own good. Sound familiar yet?

But as an English teacher, I ask the question, "What was Napoleon's first abuse of power?" Many students will say it was when he appointed himself leader, or when he killed a certain animal, or when he took over the farmhouse. That wasn't it. His first abuse of power was when he drank the milk while everyone else was gone. From that moment on, the door was open for him to do whatever he wanted. No one questioned it, and he could take tiny bits of power whenever he wanted—unquestioned.

Our government—federal, state, municipal—drank the milk when they gave the executive orders to shut down private businesses, to prohibit church services, to close schools and parks, and on and on. So few people are questioning where the milk went, much less telling our elected officials they can't drink the milk.

I can hear it now. “But these restrictions are for the public safety!” “If everyone would just do it anyway, we wouldn’t have to have restrictions!” I get it. I do. In many cases, you’re right. People are stupid, and they aren’t taking this virus seriously enough. But governmental control is not the answer. And the last point that I’ve heard cried, “You must want people to die, then!” is so far from the truth. I don’t want people to die—that’s absurd. I am, however, looking past this “pandemic” to what our country could look like after unprecedented power is handed over to the government. If we allow this to happen, millions of people can die from oppression and tyranny.

Everyone is in fear of Mr. Jones coming back—or in this case, of catching the Coronavirus—that some people are shoving the milk in our officials' faces begging them to drink it. Begging for police officers to shut down gatherings of more than a couple people, begging for mayors to shut down city parks, and begging governors to shut down state parks. Begging for streets to be patrolled because people aren’t standing far enough apart.

In many cases, you’re right—these restrictions aren’t really *that* bad. But the problem is that we MUST question it. We *must* stand firm against taking away our freedoms. We must not hand over our rights blindly. Any loss of liberty, however small, is still a loss of liberty. It's a slippery slope, because once officials have drank the milk, they won't give up that power easily.

As Howard Zinn said, "Historically, the most terrible things--war, genocide, and slavery--have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience." And Zinn was a socialist. But he understood that if we don't question our authority, they will take ALL authority. And God does not expect us to bend to tyrants.

Comments

  1. I love your view on this and how you have put it into writing. It isnso captivating and interesting to read. Will for sure come back for more!!

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