Robert Meyer
Christianity & civil disobedience Part II
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By Robert Meyer
September 19, 2015

Before we delve into an example of civil disobedience, we should touch on how the government and religious consciousness came to be so adversarial.

A Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789. It begins as such...

"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor..."

This message is in response to gratitude at the framing the First Amendment. While the Amendment recognizes a functional and jurisdictional separation between the institutions of church and state, there was never a call for a separation between the providence of God and the administration of the government. This is the fiat of modern secularists. Washington makes it clear governments have a duty under God, and quite likely, even the least religious founding fathers would have had no qualms with the supposition that governments had a duty to God.

As the late, great Christian philosopher Francis Schaefer might have observed, church and state were never...
God and Caesar, but rather...
God
and
Caesar

While Caesar is distinct from the church, Caesar is under the authority of God. The contemporary secularist sees not merely a functional and jurisdictional separation of the institutions of church and state, but an absolute sequestering of biblical precepts from public policy. The word "secular" has morphed from meaning "non-ecclesiastical" to connoting "anti-biblical." Thus, the hostility increased as we decoupled government from its rightful position under God, while making it an wholly autonomous entity.

Several examples of reactions involving civil disobedience have been popularized in the discussions concerning the defiance of Kim Davis. Some people have suggested that Davis should have resigned, as did Thomas More when he disapproved of Henry The Eighth, because of his marital conduct. To resign would have been constructively consistent with the "flight" response as articulated in the bulletin points from my preceding piece: Fleeing if possible. I don't deny resignation is a noble response, but the problem is that if every Christian who is a public official resigns, it only exacerbates the trend toward cultural secularization already in place, since more and more in the government service will become non-Christian.

An example of civil disobedience I will examine involves Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated in the Birmingham city jail. From there he penned a letter justifying his activism, and directed it to fellow clergymen who were critical of his acts of protest, by claiming that they violated the state laws of Alabama. While many of the clergyman were in sympathy with the cause of racial equality, they believed that King should have waited for the issue to be resolved by the courts. One quotation provided King's rationale for civil disobedience.

"...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."' "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..."

Dr. King claimed that a just human law must square with the law of God. Dr. King evokes Sir William Blackstone as well. Who was Blackstone? The English legal luminary that served as the benchmark for legal philosophy at the time of America's founding. Blackstone suggested that proper man-made law was merely the discovery of what God had encoded in the natural order. While many people today celebrate Dr. King's activism, how many would concur with his theological rationale?

The accusations that Davis was not doing her job in refusing to process marriage applications, merely presumes a secularized understanding of the duties of public officials – service to the state without thought of conscientious obedience to God. Accordingly, any devotion to 'religious' belief can only be properly expressed in private settings. When this is the case, it inordinately narrows the scope of what 'free exercise' encompasses. No quarter is given for legitimate conscientious objection. Further, it should be noted that Davis did, in fact, wait for the courts to resolve the issue before protesting.

For many people, Davis' protest constitutes the last of a dying breed of bigoted remonstrations and stubbornness. With the benefit of hindsight we must ask if Dr. King's willingness to be incarcerated underscored an obvious injustice we all recognized at the time, or is that merely the perception based on the success of the civil rights movement?

Will free exercise of religion and liberty of conscience meet the opposite fate?

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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