Do you ever look around, and feel like you are living in some dystopian society? How did we get here? Why is there so much discord? This does not look like the America that I know and love, and I don’t just mean because everyone is wearing masks and treating their fellow Americans like some sort of threat. That is just fear, and we all process and respond to fear differently. That will subside. What really bothers me is the way we seem to have become allergic to difference of thought. America is known around the world for our right to freedom of speech. By default, that means we have freedom of thought. I blogged about the Corona virus earlier in the quarantine and talked about how we all have different perspectives based on our experience, data intake, and what we base our decisions on; be it facts, feelings, or fear. So, if that is true, why are we unfriending people whose experience has produced in them a different thought pattern than ours? What makes our experience, our information, our opinion truer than someone else’s? Why can’t we listen to someone else’s perspective; acknowledge it, discuss it, even agree to disagree on it, but still respect them as a person? Not only is our inability to do so un-American, its unloving.
I got a little off track there, so, back to the reason behind this blog. I am going to raise a few questions I have had, and try to answer them, without inserting too much opinion, to the best of my ability. However, I’m not making any promises. Growing up, my siblings and I were taught, like most kids, to obey without questioning, but for the most part, that is not how I’m wired. I tend to question everything. I’m pretty sure it drives Erich crazy. He will bring up a new perspective on doctrine, or politics, or apologetics, and I will question it from every angle. I need to understand it before I decide whether to accept it or reject it. I’m not trying to make Erich crazy, that’s just how I’m wired. I have a lot of friends who seem to have settled into a quiet civil obedience. I have envied them from time to time over the last couple of months and even tried following their lead. Inevitably though, I fail. It’s not in my nature to just do what I’m told without evaluating it first. Now, that is not to say that I don’t respect authority. Romans 13:1-2 is very clear: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Over the last couple of months, I found myself wondering, what are the exceptions to this rule? Aren’t there examples of civil disobedience in the Bible? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo? Daniel, Moses, Rahab, the Hebrew midwives? In the New Testament, didn’t Peter and the apostles repeatedly disobeyed the Sanhedrin? So, when is it acceptable to disobey? I have a fascination with American History, so my mind often goes to the Founding Fathers and our country’s origin. What inspired the colonists to revolt? Was the Revolutionary War unbiblical? Would America, and our freedoms, exist today if the colonists had not challenged what they deemed to be the tyrannical reign of the King of England?
Being an American and a believer, I feel a bit torn. As Christians, we know that God opposes anarchy, rebellion, and lawlessness. We know that the institution of government was ordained by God and that He commands us to respect the authority placed in our lives. As Americans, we feel rather protective over what the Founding Fathers deemed as God given, “inalienable rights,” including the right to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” So, when those rights seem to be infringed upon, how do we reconcile the two beliefs? Do they contradict each other? In my research yesterday, I found a website with a lot of really interesting information and sources, I will include a link at the end. Based on writings of the Founding Fathers as well as those of clergymen and various religious leaders, it seems obvious that most Christian denominations in the Founding Era knew that they were not to overthrow the institution of government, but recognized that that didn’t mean they were required to obey every law and/or policy. There was a distinction in their minds between resisting the general institution of government and resisting tyrannical leaders who had rebelled against God. The website points out that, based on their writings, it is obvious that “the Founders clearly believed that they were not in rebellion to God’s ordained institution of civil government; they were only resisting tyranny and not the institution itself.”
Not only did the Founding Fathers believe that government was ordained by God and was not meant to be overthrown, they also believed that self-defense was a God given right. I won’t go into all of the details, but I found it really interesting to re-learn that before the Revolutionary War began, the colonists pursued reconciliation with the King of England for eleven years, they were militarily attacked for over two years, and their entreaties for peace were met with military force. King George III sent 25,000 troops to invade the colonies. The soldiers forced their way into the settlers’ homes, took their possessions and imprisoned them without trial. I also learned that once the war started, the Americans never fired the first shot in any of the major battles, in fact, the Minutemen were instructed not to fire unless fired upon. In the Founders’ minds, there were two types of war: offensive and defensive. Founding Father Francis Hopkinson defined a defensive war as “the taking up of arms in opposition to the invasions of usurped power and bravely suffer present hardships and encounter present dangers, to secure the rights of humanity and the blessings of freedom to generations yet unborn.” They believed that a defensive war was justifiable from a religious standpoint. Founding Father James Wilson (a signer of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and an original Justice on the U. S. Supreme Court) agreed: “The defense of one’s self… is not, nor can it be, abrogated by any regulation of municipal law. This principle of defense is not confined merely to the person; it extends to the liberty and the property of a man. It is not confined merely to his own person; it extends to the persons of all those to whom he bears a peculiar relation – of his wife, of his parent, of his child… As a man is justified in defending, so he is justified in retaking his property… Man does not exist for the sake of the government, but government is instituted for the sake of man.” (Italics added).
So, with the belief that the institution of civil government was God ordained, and that God had explicitly authorized civil self-defense, the people of early America did not believe they were acting in rebellion to God. In fact, British Reverend Jacob Duche argued in favor of America, stating: “Inasmuch as all rulers are in fact the servants of the public and appointed for no other purpose than to be “a terror to evil-doers and a praise to them that do well: (Rom 13:3), whenever this Divine order is inverted – whenever these rulers abuse their sacred trust by unrighteous attempts to injure, oppress, and enslave those very persons from whom alone, under God, their power is derived – does not humanity, does not reason, does not Scripture, call upon the man, the citizen, the Christian of such a community to “stand fast in that liberty wherewith Christ… hath made them free!” (Gal 5:1)”
Where am I going with all of this? I’m not sure. I’m certainly not saying that we have need of another revolution or that it’s time for war. But there are certainly some things taking place that contradict America’s foundational beliefs. Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker puts it this way: “A good democratic government allows people to pursue their lives in safety, protected from the violence of anarchy, and in freedom, protected from the violence of tyranny.” Woah. I love that. The definition of tyranny is “a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary use of power or control.” I think we can all agree that we have seen some of that lately. In the Old Testament God raised up leaders, like Gideon and Samson, to overthrow tyrannical monarchies. Again, I’m not saying the American government needs to be overthrown. Are we being told not to worship God? No. Is the government forcing their way into our homes, taking our stuff, or forcing us to do things against our beliefs? No. Not yet anyway. However, is it possible to consider the fact that Romans 13 was instructing us to submit to the institute of government, but that there might be exceptions to laws/policies or even governors that are tyrannical in nature? Can we agree that having these conversations or raising these questions isn’t ungodly or unbiblical? Can we concede that some of the Giants of the Faith earned their place in Hebrews 11 because of their actions of civil disobedience? I’m certainly not encouraging civil disobedience, only suggesting that we not condemn or judge people who appear to be rebelling against authority without understanding their motive for doing so. So then, where is the line? If I take my kids to a playground, and the police arrive and ask me to leave, I would respectfully obey. The playground does not belong to me, it is not a God-given right. If I had a business that supported multiple families and all our families were struggling to put food on the table, would I disobey a governor’s executive order and reopen my business? I don’t know, maybe. That seems a lot more like defending the right to life for me, my family and the people who depend on me, than being rebellious.
I really don’t have any answers, only questions. Can I propose though, that if we all approached these conversations with an attitude of humility, admitting that we don’t have it all figured out, that we might be able to have more adult conversations that don’t end in “unfriending” someone who has a different perspective? Sometimes civil disobedience is anarchy, sometimes it is an act of faith, but it is not for me to decide for someone else. Peter and the apostles told the Sanhedrin that they must obey God over another human being, and at some point, the arbitrary use of power and control, may likely turn into an unreasonable abuse of power, intended to remove our God-given rights. At that point, I hope I’m not the only one willing to commit a little civil disobedience.
“Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness… We claim them from a higher source – from the King of kings and the Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us, exist with us, and cannot be taken from us by any human power without taking our lives.” Father John Dickinson, Founding Father and signer of the Constitution.