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I admire the courage of Kim Davis …
the Rowan County clerk who has stubbornly refused to grant same-sex marriage licenses in her district. She stated to do so would be to disobey God’s authority. For her, it was a choice between heaven and hell. Gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin stated he was “absolutely” standing by Mrs. Davis and pointed out she has every right to exercise her first amendment rights – the free exercise of religion.
This past Thursday District Court Judge David Bunning ordered Kim Davis imprisoned – which was not exactly a commensurate penalty for her offense.* That prompted former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to tweet, “Kim Davis in Federal Custody removes all doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country.”
Kim Davis knows the Bible clearly states that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. She believes her name on the license would indicate her endorsement of what God’s Word labels a perversion. Therefore she had three choices: (a) She could refuse to issue a marriage license to same sex couples, (b) she could comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling and violate her conscience or (c) she could resign her position as County Clerk. She chose the first option knowing full well her refusal would create a significant stir.
What would you do? …
That question may be more relevant for you in the near future than you imagine right now. As our culture becomes increasingly intolerant of the basic principles of the Christian faith, someday soon you may be called upon to make a choice between obeying God’s Word and obeying man’s law.
The Bible plainly teaches that believers are to be submissive to the government authorities over us. (See Romans 13:1.) On the other hand there are several examples in Scripture of individuals who received God’s approval for disobeying a man-made law that was in direct opposition to His will. The Hebrew midwives who refused to kill the firstborn Israelite male babies, Moses’ parents who defied Pharaoh’s order to kill their newborn son, Daniel who disobeyed the King’s edict not to pray, the three Hebrews who refused to bow down to the king’s image are all Old Testament examples that come to mind. In the New Testament when Peter and John were ordered by the Jerusalem authorities not to preach publicly in the name of Jesus they responded, “We must obey God, not man. We can’t help but speak about what we’ve seen and heard.”
When is civil disobedience appropriate? …
That’s a question God’s people have wrestled with from the days of the Israelite slavery in Egypt to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in America. Here are several guidelines that help determine when and how Christians are to disobey human laws.
1. The legal order must be in direct violation of God’s Word. We have no right to disobey laws because we think they are illogical or unfair. But if a human law directly contradicts a Divine command we have a right and a responsibility to obey God first.
2. The objector’s life should be above reproach. Civil disobedience turns the spotlight on the conscientious objector, so there needs to be a consistent Christian life backing it up. The pacifist who refuses to go to war shouldn’t have a recent police record of being arrested in bar fights. Critics of Kim Davis have been quick to point out that she has been married four times. That doesn’t help her cause. But in fairness, she didn’t become a Christian until four years ago. (I’m convicted that she’s gained more courage in four years than some of us have in forty!) No one is perfect but the spotlight shouldn’t reveal rank hypocrisy.
3. The objection is communicated clearly to the proper authorities. When Daniel learned of the king’s edict not to pray, he prayed at an open window so his defiance of the law was evident to all. Peter and John declared openly to the Jerusalem authorities, “We must obey God, not man.” It should be obvious to all why we are disobeying to the law.
4. The objector is non-violent and acts with respect and courtesy toward those who disagree. Civil disobedience is not a call to violence or an excuse to engage in shouting contests. When the Jerusalem authorities saw the courage of Peter and John, “… they took note of them that they had been with Jesus.” The disciples didn’t deliberately antagonize. They calmly stated their objection and stood their ground, reflecting the spirit of Jesus.
5. There is a willingness to accept the consequences administered by the government. The Christian shouldn’t refuse to pay the fine, resist arrest or whine about imprisonment. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that by refusing to worship the king’s image they were destined to be thrown into a fiery furnace. But they told King Nebuchadnezzar, “… we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this mater. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).
A few years ago …
I signed “The Manhattan Declaration” along with over half a million Christian leaders. It was a call to conscience that issued a notice to our nation’s governing authorities that we would stand for life, for marriage and for religious freedom regardless of the consequences.
The final paragraph reads, “Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
In 1846 Henry David Thoreau was jailed for refusing to pay a poll tax that he objected to. When Ralph Waldo Emerson saw him behind bars he asked, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau is purported to have answered, “Waldo, the question is: What are you doing out there?”
In light of the imprisonment of Kim Davis maybe that same telling question should dig at our conscience. Maybe we should be asking, not why Kim Davis is in prison, but why we aren’t morally outraged at our government and doing something about it?
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