It just so happens that I taught on the “whys, hows, and whats” of civil disobedience last Wednesday night. I’ve been preaching through Titus on Sunday mornings so I thought I’d unpack the “submit to authority” section. Earlier today, a church member asked my opinion on the Kim Davis situation. He asked me this because I tweeted the other day how I was upset by the article written from the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission essentially, in my opinion, shaming Mrs. Davis for her actions. Romans 13, among other things, was used for why she should still obey the law. Those who hold this opinion are deeply misguided about the difference between obeying government and fearing God.
One quote is here: “Let us be clear: Government employees are entitled to religious liberty, but religious liberty is never an absolute claim, especially when it comes to discharging duties that the office in question requires.”
I completely disagree with this statement for reasons that I will unpack below. But let’s just say that teaching this idea reeks of placing allegiance to country and patriotism over fear and love of God.
Let me make a caveat that I am not an anarchist and I am in no way saying that society does not need laws. What I am saying, however, is that we should never elevate being law-abiding citizens over Kingdom-minded citizens.
Even as a public official, Mrs. Davis, as a God-fearing Christian, has every right to refuse to partake in a job duty that clearly approves of a governmental law that is ungodly and against God’s character. I am willing to debate readers on this issue, but I am not debating anyone on the issue of whether or not homosexual “marriage” is against God’s moral law and character: It is against His character and design and I will never change my mind on that.
With that said, since signing the marriage licenses assumes that Mrs. Davis approves of an ungodly practice and ungodly law, she is in no way sinning in withholding her signature. She has every right, since her ultimate allegiance is to God and not the state, to practice civil disobedience, even as a public employee. And she has every right to accept those consequences: job termination, jail, a fine, etc. And she has done just that.
Civil disobedience occurs all throughout Scripture: In Exodus 1, the Hebrew midwives were commanded by Pharaoh to kill the Hebrew babies. They don’t. They let them live and then lie about it! The result? God blesses them and Scripture refers to them as people who “feared God.” Skip ahead to Daniel. He refuses to bow to Nebuchadnezzar and ends up accepting the consequences: spending the night in a den of lions. Daniel knew full well the consequence. Yet, he feared God. And what about in Acts 4 and 5 when the apostles were arrested and charged to quit speaking the name of Jesus? Did they quit? Did they say, “Well, you know we should probably just obey Rome…” No! They said, “We cannot help but speak the name of Jesus” and then were beaten and rejoiced because they were beaten.
With that said, I want to give you four rights (obligations?) that you have as a child of God when it comes to thinking through the issue of whether or not to practice civil disobedience:
1) You have every right to disobey the government in a peaceful manner when it commands or forces you to participate in evil.
2) You have every right to work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change evil laws.
3) You have every right to disobey the government and accept the consequences and punishment. You can also choose to resign or leave the country.
4) You have every right to work to install new governmental leaders within the framework that has been established.
But, please, let’s not make it a practice of saying to other Christians to “pick their battles” and invoke some blind allegiance to the state through Romans 13. What we need more of is more men and women of courage to disobey the government peaceably, accepting full well those consequences.