Under what conditions is it permissible for a Christian to disobey the government? Romans 13 counsels believers, as a matter of witness and conscience, to obey the government as a servant of God. When, if ever, are Christians permitted to say “no” and righteously disobey the state?
Here are the conditions and principles we can derive from the Bible and historical role models of peaceful civil disobedience like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- An Unjust Law (man-made) exists that arguably violates a superior non-negotiable principle or moral law.
- A Just Law (higher law) exists that is not in alignment with or contradicts the Unjust Law and/or the duties flowing from the Unjust Law.
- An actual conflict exists between the Unjust Law (1) and the Higher Law (2).
- The Christian facing this dilemma understands the nature of the conflict and is willing to faithfully obey God, pay the price and bear the consequences for disobeying the Unjust Law in favor of the Higher Law (including verbal and physical abuse, jail, and even death).
When the Sanhedrin ordered the apostles to not teach in Jesus’ name, Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When the king threatened to throw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to his idol, they responded, “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18).
As the Reverend Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in the midst of his public opposition to the injustice of segregation:
“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.”
Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis was jailed because, as an evangelical Christian, she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Based on the information available to us, I submit that Kim Davis is exercising principled Christian civil disobedience.
Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court’s God-defying “constitutional right” to same-sex marriage (SSM) is an unjust man-made/human law that violates other non-negotiable principles or moral laws (See 1 above). The coercive imposition of SSM on the states and “we the people” violates the U.S. Constitution in that the Supreme Court acted legislatively regarding marriage which is not a matter of the authority (jurisdiction, i.e. one of its limited enumerated powers) delegated by the states and people to the federal judiciary. Marriage is rather an issue that our system of government commits to the states and to “we the people.” Yet SSM is also out of harmony with the moral law because, by arrogantly presuming to redefine marriage, it’s edict directly conflicts with eternal law and natural law, reflected in scripture’s and 5,000 years of recorded history’s model of man-woman only marriage (MWM) (See 2 above).
An actual conflict clearly exists here for Kim Davis between the Unjust Law (SSM) and Higher Law (MWM) because SSM does not square with the moral law or the law of God (See 3 above). Thus, there is a real tangible conflict of interests faced by Kim Davis here between her duty to issue marriage licenses as a county clerk in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unjust law of SSM and her deeply held religious convictions regarding the biblical teachings of only MWM. What is a Christian clerk to do? Must she issue the SSM licenses or quit, as some have suggested? What is the answer?
I submit the answer is precisely what Mrs. Davis has done! She has recognized the conflict between the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuance of an unjust edict and her superior obligations to a higher law and a higher authority. She has been willing to live out her faith publicly and face and bear the consequences of her decision. I applaud her principles and her courage. And I pray that we are emboldened to display similar Christian “backbone” when we are faced with our personal moment of truth. If you have not faced your moment already, you will soon have ample opportunities as Christianity is increasingly marginalized, demonized, and criminalized. I pray that your steadfast response is, “as for me and my house, we serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Each American generation has its own “unjust” laws to face. Some of the serious challenges we face today are abortion, same-sex “marriage”, and the rapidly growing threat to religious freedom, among others. And there are many who insist that the Church keep silent; who assert that we keep our biblical “morals” to ourselves. I have observed the growing pressure on Christians to accept the “evolving” status quo—to be silent instead of speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) in Jesus’ name. But what if William Wilberforce had been silent about the evil of slavery in the British Empire? And was not Abraham Lincoln right to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s evil Dred Scott ruling, or should he have been thrown in jail too? In the face of today’s pernicious challenges, I submit that our response must be the same as Peter’s: “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
— by Dean R. Broyles, Esq.
Broyles is a constitutional attorney serving as the President of The National Center For Law & Policy (NCLP), an organization fighting to promote and defend religious freedom. Copyright© The National Center For Law & Policy. Reprinted with permission.
Related article: Christian leaders respond to the jailing of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis