"It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do." ~ Edmund Burke
Civil Disobedience: A Christian Value
In 1940, at Dunkirk, on the northern coast of France, a British military officer sent a telegram to London consisting of the following three words: "But if not."
The person in London who read the telegram recognized this as a reference to the Old Testament (Daniel 3:17-18, KJV): "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."
When faced with the choice of serving God or serving man, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would sooner be incinerated than worship a graven image.
No fiery furnace awaits American Christians who defy civil authority in the service of God. At least not yet.
A few years ago, I wrote of Jody McCloud, principal of Roane County High School in Kingston, Tennessee, just west of Knoxville. In September 2000, he delivered a speech before a football game, which he opened by criticizing a Supreme Court decision forbidding prayers at such events. He went on to outline how he is allowed to use school facilities to promote all manner of perversion and godlessness. He was on a pretty good roll until he said the following:
"Nevertheless, as a school principal, I frequently ask staff and students to abide by rules with which they do not necessarily agree. For me to do otherwise would be inconsistent at best, and at worst, hypocritical. I suffer from that affliction enough unintentionally. I certainly do not need to add an intentional transgression.
"For this reason, I shall 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's,' and refrain from praying at this time."
Which God is Mr. McCloud serving? Is it the God of the Bible or is it some black-robed goobers who told him not to pray?
I recently received an e-mail in defense of Mr. McCloud:
"In his speech, he mentioned all of the things the school "could" do such as hand out condoms, celebrate earth day, presenting the merits of abortion, etc. Our school never did any of these things. We did not receive condoms, hear the good side of abortions, celebrate earth day by worshipping 'mother earth.' I firmly stand in support of what he did at this game, even the 'render unto Caesar' part. How can you go in front of practically the whole town and break the law (no matter how ridiculous it may be) and expect no student to use that as a defense to break the rules later. If he were to say a prayer in front of our students and parents no one would probably have cared. The visiting team may have. I say what he did was right. If he would have said a prayer he more than likely would have lost his job."
Let's begin with the "lost his job" part and work backwards.
In 1979, my father's employer brought him some documents to review and sign. Upon reading them, he discovered two boldfaced lies, and refused to sign them. When he was told that he would be terminated if he did not sign these documents, he remained steadfast in his refusal to sign off on total falsehood. His employer showed him the door.
His integrity was not for sale. He could not serve God and mammon.
Three years ago, a good friend willingly ran the risk of termination from her job. My friend, a Christian girl, had refused twice to falsify some documents. As a result, she was written up twice for insubordination. She said she felt good telling her employer, "I don't think so." Shortly thereafter, she found another job.
Her integrity was not for sale either. She, too, made the right choice between serving God and serving mammon.
Herewith is a grotesquely informal and incomplete history of biblical civil disobedience.
The Bible is full of folks who said "I -- or we -- don't think so" to earthly governments. Time and again, the Old Testament Jews were at loggerheads with their earthly governments.
In Daniel 6, Daniel was forbidden from praying out loud to God for 30 days. Chuck Baldwin, a man with whom I wish I could trade brains (1), had this to say: "I can just hear today's Christian pragmatists screaming, 'It's only for thirty days. You can still pray in your heart. We must obey the government.'"
Daniel knew that if you gave your government an inch, they would take a mile. He risked death by praying out loud to God anyway.
Jesus was crucified on political charges. He defied his government! Consider Luke 23:2:
"And they began to accuse him, saying, 'We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.'"
Would millions of emasculated Christians in the year 2005 even recognize such a man as their King?
In Acts 4:19 and 5:29, we see examples of Christ's followers telling us that, when push comes to shove, we must obey God rather than man.
Several of Paul's letters were written in Roman jails. John wrote the book of Revelation in exile.
Where do you get this idea that Christians must always obey their earthly governments? We hear no end of how "America was founded on Christian values." Yet we forget that the Founders were, among other things, rebels, tax protestors, smugglers and militia members who engaged in armed shootouts with their government. (Some of them even grew the devil's lettuce on their plantations!)
In the 1850s, slavery was well on its way to extinction. Indeed, it would have gone away without Lincoln's War. Not only were technological advances making it economically obsolete, but the conviction was growing in the hearts and minds of Christians that slavery was just plain wrong. Some of the most frequently defied laws in American history were the Fugitive Slave Laws, which made it a crime to harbor runaway slaves.
In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks defied the law by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Does any Christian today dispute her decision to break the law because the law was an a**? (2)
American Christians applaud those Christians who resisted the Nazis, the Soviets and the ChiComs. Indeed, the nation with the largest Christian population in the world is Red China! And in China--as in ancient Rome--Christianity is an outlaw faith!
In recent years, we have seen courageous Christians like Michael New and my friend Rick Stanley take a stand against a rogue government.
But for some reason, millions of American Christians have this totally absurd idea that you should always obey your government. Where do they get this? To steal a phrase from the venerable cyber-pundit Alan Stang, they get it from the "pulpit pansies" who recklessly misapply Romans 13.
Have a look at Romans 13:1 in the New International Version: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities . . . ."
Now have a look at Romans 13:1 in the King James Version: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers . . . ."
There is quite a bit of difference. "Every soul" includes every government employee. They too are subject to God's judgment. And when they are wrong, it is a Christian's duty to disobey them in order to honor God.
Adolph Hitler's totalitarianization of Germany was aided and abetted in no small part by pastors and Christians who went right along with everything he said. When--not if, when--the full-blown persecution of Christians comes to America, the fault will lie with all those false teachers--pastors and lay people--who would have you think that a Christian should always obey his government.
Jody McCloud would have set a wonderful example had he prayed aloud in public before that football game. There are some rules with which we merely disagree. I have such rules where I work and I obey them. They are not at all immoral. They are just weird. There are other rules, however, that are immoral and downright godless. Christians have a duty to disobey them and to encourage others to do likewise. Mr. McCloud wasted a wonderful opportunity to strike a blow for the causes of Christ and liberty.
Jesus proclaimed that "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18) While the gates of hell will not prevail against God's True Church, numerous lesser entities have prevailed against the contemporary American church. Why? Because Christians let them.
When full-blown persecution comes to America, it will not be the fault of the schools, the courts or the ACLU. Rather, it will be the fault of all those Christians who rolled over and played dead when their faith was challenged.
(1) I doubt, however, that he would want my pea-sized brain.
(2) This word appears 76 times in the King James Bible referring to a not-too-horribly-brilliant beast of burden.