Some More Thoughts About Civil Disobedience
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One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ 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 as I did the other day. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws which I’ll explain more today. In the words of St. Augustine ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’
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.
Some cheer while others deplore the demonstrations taking place in America and around the world to end COVID-19 and how it’s affecting Churches and Businesses. Now, I do not believe the Church is being singled out as Businesses and Non-Profit Organizations around the globe are being ordered to close to slow the spread of the Coronavirus Pandemic. So what is the next step we should take after prayer and obedience to the Lord as Christians?
Now, according to Martin Luther King Jr. in any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action (1). When we have gone through all these steps there can be no evidence that Churches have been singled out however there is evidence that some USA Governors have overstepped their bounds and are forcing people on how to live and work. So, on the basis of these facts, both Church and Business leaders need to seek to negotiate with the Government leaders. The good news is that some have filed lawsuits and others are working with local councils, and police departments to engage in good faith negotiation.
As in so many experiences, our hopes in our Politicians have come to nothing and left us in a shadow of deep disappointment. This is why some have said “We have no alternative except to prepare for direct action, and bring our legal case before the courts and the national community.” Mindful of the difficulties involved, I have decided to undertake a process of self purification and prayerful consider in a time to come nonviolent action to reopen and foster a tension that encourages leaders to negotiate and confront the issue.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. For weeks and months now we have heard the word “Wait!” We must wait to see when everything will reopen but at what cost? American has been founded on Biblical principles and it has granted each citizen constitutional and God given rights which includes the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
Now, let me be very clear that in no sense do I advocate evading or defying the just laws, as that would lead to anarchy. However, one who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. This is such the case in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of king Nebuchadnezzar, and they did so on the grounds that a higher moral law was at stake (Daniel 3). This refusal and willingness to accept the consequences was also practiced by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
Some know that Churches and Businesses will reopen eventually, and others think they are in too great a hurry to get back to normal. But time itself is neutral. And, I have tried to stand between these two groups: those saying that we need conduct church services regardless of what the Government says and others who say do nothing and listen to the Government for it’s not a faith issue but a health issue. Perhaps it was not a faith issue at the start and only a health issue but in time if we do nothing it will become a faith issue. However, how we respond is the key!
I’ll close with the words of Jesus: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). That is how we respond. And the Apostle Paul which was an extremist for the Christian gospel said: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”(Galatians 6:17). So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. As Martin Luther King Jr said “Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?” Let’s be praying and proclaiming the Gospel!