There is no shortage of issues dividing our country and our church today.
Here is a list.
Feel free to add to it: gun control, abortion – pro-life and pro-choice, vaccines – my body – my choice, climate change, drug legalization, gay marriage, equality, immigration, transgender rights, universal healthcare, policing, death penalty, racial inequality, income inequality, required masks, tax cuts, poverty, justice of every sort and every description, mass incarceration, women’s ordination.
Should we, as Christians get involved in these issues?
And to what extent should we get involved?
What does the Bible teach?
Isaiah 1:10-17Amplified Bible
God Has Had Enough
Hear the word of the Lord [rulers of Jerusalem],
You rulers of [another] Sodom,
Listen to the law and instruction of our God,
You people of [another] Gomorrah.
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me [without your repentance]?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of [your] burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of well-fed cattle [without your obedience];
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls or lambs or goats [offered without repentance].
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires this of you, this trampling of My [temple] courts [by your sinful feet]?
“Do not bring worthless offerings again,
[Your] incense is repulsive to Me;
[Your] New Moon and Sabbath [observances], the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure wickedness [your sin, your injustice, your wrongdoing] and [the squalor of] the festive assembly.
“I hate [the hypocrisy of] your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts.
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.
“So when you spread out your hands [in prayer, pleading for My help],
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you offer many prayers,
I will not be listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Get your evil deeds out of My sight.
Stop doing evil,
Learn to do good.
Rebuke the ruthless,
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the [rights of the] widow [in court].
The Word of God for the Children of God. Gloria! In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Amen.
In Jesus’ long list of rebukes and woes against the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 23:13-36), he rebukes them for neglecting “the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness” (v.23).
There it is first in a list of the top 3.
Jesus was essentially quoting Micah 6:8 in which the prophet says what the Lord requires of us is to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
In the Hebrew (Old) Testament alone, “justice” is mentioned hundreds of times in reference to the systemic oppression of vulnerable populations (widows and orphans and the poor and impoverished) at the hands of the rich and powerful.
Here is a very small sampling:
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free…” (Isaiah 58:6)
“This is what the Lord says: Do what is right and just. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)
“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jeremiah 22:13)
“There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts…But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:12, 24)
From these verses it seems clear to me that the Christian should protect the vulnerable and oppressed.
But to what extent?
Are these commands given for me to carry out as an individual? Are they given for the church to carry out corporately? Are they given to the government to carry out? If so, should Christians work politically to compel the government.
There is strong Biblical evidence that each of us is to individually care for the vulnerable and oppressed.
Jesus story in Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats and caring for “the least of these” it is pretty clear.
There is strong Biblical evidence that our church should care for the vulnerable and oppressed.
In Acts 4 the early church members donated, the church cared for those in need.
In Acts 6 the early church was caring for so many widows the apostles did not have time to preach. Our church should care for the vulnerable and oppressed.
Do these commands apply to governments?
On that question the evidence is less clear.
In Biblical times the idea that governments would help the vulnerable and oppressed was non-existent.
There is no Bible text that says,
“And Peter and John formed a political action committee to raise money to run ads in the Jerusalem Times and to lobby the Sanhedrin to care for the poor.”
So, we need to look at the principle behind these texts and see if we can apply it to our time.
Is it enough for me to help orphans and widows I personally, see?
My wife is a widow – so perhaps there is something biblical to consider here.
What we should see in these passages is not just a clear concern for vulnerable populations, but also that they are identifying large scale, systemic issues that are not solved by way of mission trips, church service projects, or benevolence.
These verses and many others mention relevant things like wages, taxes, greed among the rich, corruption of all levels and measures and degrees and bribery.
Many Christians say individuals and churches are supposed to help the poor and needy, but never make an effort to do so through political processes (separation of church and state) of nor impose, coerce, demand, that the government do so.
This ignores the critical context of these Bible passages and the problems they mention. Injustices caused (and propagated and maintained and sustained) by political forces cannot be easily, quickly remedied by individuals and churches.
Following the logic of these verses, it rather seems clear to me that the Bible commands Christians to personally protect the vulnerable in their sphere of influence and allows the Christian to convince others and the government to protect the vulnerable and oppressed…
So, take another look back at your list of divisive issues.
Circle all the ones that deal with protecting the vulnerable and oppressed.
Those are the issues the Bible commands Christians to be personally involved in and allows Christians to “work” to convince others, including the government.
What if the Christian works to convince and not enough people listen?
Should the Christian go even farther and engage in “acts” of protests or civil disobedience for this or any just cause?
How clear is the Word of God for the Children of God on this critical question?
Romans 13:1-7Amplified Bible
Be Subject to Government
13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. 2 Therefore whoever [a]resists [governmental] authority resists the ordinance of God. And those who have resisted it will bring judgment (civil penalty) on themselves. 3 For [civil] authorities are not a source of fear for [people of] good behavior, but for [those who do] evil. Do you want to be unafraid of authority? Do what is good and you will receive approval and commendation. 4 For he is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, [you should] be afraid; for he does not carry the [executioner’s] sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an avenger who brings punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject [to civil authorities], not only to escape the punishment [that comes with wrongdoing], but also as a matter of principle [knowing what is right before God]. 6 For this same reason you pay taxes, for civil authorities are God’s servants, devoting themselves to governance. 7 Pay to all what is due: tax to whom tax is due, customs to whom customs, respect to whom respect, honor to whom honor.
To give proper historical context, when Paul wrote this the emperor of Rome was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, also known simply as Nero.
The emperor was not known for being a moral and ethical person, to say the very least.
In AD 64 the great Roman fire occurred, with Nero himself suspected of arson.
In his writings, the Roman senator and historian Tacitus recorded,
“To get rid of the report [that he had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace” (Annals, XV).
“To prevent Rome and the Emperor from breaking down your door – keep a civil tongue in your head – live in peace by giving to Nero what is Nero’s.”
Even under the reign of a ruthless and godless emperor, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells his Roman readers to be in subjection to the government. Moreover, he additionally states no authority exists other than that established by God, and that rulers are serving God in their political office.
Mark well this exchange between Pilate and Jesus and “Government Authority.”
John 19:9-11Amplified Bible
9 He went into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus did not answer him. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me at all if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason, the sin and guilt of the [a]one who handed Me over to you is greater [than your own].”
Peter writes nearly the same thing in one of his two New Testament letters:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13–17).
Both Paul’s and Peter’s teachings have led to quite a few questions from Christians where civil disobedience is concerned.
Do Paul and Peter mean that Christians are always to submit to whatever the government commands, no matter what is asked of them?
Yes, IF that was all the Bible said on the matter.
But the Bible says more.
What do these people in the Bible have in common:
Hebrew midwives defying Pharoah, Rahab, Saul’s soldiers, Obediah, Jehosheba, Vashti, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendigo, Peter, James and John and all of the original Apostles have in common?
They broke the law of the land.
Let’s look at some examples of civil disobedience in the Bible and see if we might both discover the principle of when civil disobedience is appropriate.
In Exodus 1, the Egyptian Pharaoh gave the clear command to two Hebrew midwives that they were to kill all male Jewish babies.
An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the Bible says the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17).
The Bible goes on to say
the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them” (Exodus 1:20–21).
Its Biblically OK to nonviolently break laws that require you to kill someone.
In Joshua 2, Rahab disobeyed a command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle.
Instead, she let them down via a rope so they could escape.
Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was redeemed from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it.
Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to bring down evil governments
1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines.
However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged.
When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die.
However, the people resisted Saul and his command and saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Samuel 14:45).
Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws capricious laws that kill people
Another example of civil disobedience in keeping with biblical submission is found in 1 Kings 18.
That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” When the queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live.
Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes. Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to prevent the innocent from being killed.
In 2 Kings 12. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, began to destroy the royal offspring of the house of Judah.
However, Joash, son of Ahaziah was taken by the king’s daughter, Jehosheba, and hidden from Athaliah so that the Davidic bloodline would be preserved.
Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to prevent the innocent from being killed.
Esther 1:10-12, “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty: for she was fair to look on. But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore, was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.”
Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws to protect your modesty.
Daniel records a number of civil disobedience examples.
In chapter 3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command.
Chapter 6 where Daniel defies King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king.
In both cases, God rescued His people from the death penalty that was imposed, signaling His approval of their actions.
Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws that force you to worship false gods.
In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities that were in power at the time.
After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail.
The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).
Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws that prevent you from spreading the gospel
One last example of civil disobedience is found in the book of Revelation where the Antichrist speaks, commands all those who are alive during the end times to worship an image of himself.
But the apostle John, who wrote Revelation, states that those who become Christians at the time will disobey the Antichrist and his government and refuse to worship the image (Revelation 13:15) just as Daniel’s companions violated Nebuchadnezzar’s decree to worship his idol.
Its Biblically OK to non-violently break laws that require you to worship false gods.
What conclusions can be drawn from the above biblical examples?
The guidelines for a Christian’s civil disobedience can be summed as follows:
1, Christians should resist a government that commands or compels evil and should work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil.
2, Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands.
3, If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless he can flee from the government, he should accept that government’s punishment for his actions.
4. Christians are certainly permitted to non-violently work to install new government leaders within the election laws which have been established.
Back to my original question.
Should Christians engage in civil disobedience to convince the government to care for the vulnerable and oppressed?
I personally struggle with this one because there are so many significant issues of injustice, mankind’s inhumanity to man, which I am quite passionate about.
Government laws and policies may not protect the vulnerable and oppressed, but the laws and policies do not require the Christian to break God’s laws and mankind’s laws and commands, so the Christian should “subtly” obey them.
(S)He should keep ministering to the people whom God has placed before them in their neighborhoods, to work to change laws, yet to obey them, nonetheless.
Should the Christian engage in political protests?
The Bible does not prohibit it, peaceful protests are not against the law of the land or God’s law.
Christians should not, however, ever engage in violent or destructive behavior.
Such protests damaging property are in violation of the eighth commandment.
Protests that injure police officers or other individuals violate God’s commands to, “Love the Lord your God as you Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
While working for justice for the vulnerable and oppressed is important to the Christian, I believe there are factors that lessen the Christian’s involvement.
One limiting factor may be priorities.
In Matthew Jesus says the second command is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What is the first command? It is to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.”
Loving God is more important than loving your neighbor.
We must take care of our relationship with Jesus first. If our involvement in justice for the vulnerable interferes with our own relationship with Jesus, we reconsider our #1 priorities relevant to the fight for justice in God’s Kingdom.
First things first, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God…”
Matthew 6:33Amplified Bible
33 But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.
Another limiting factor may be gospel effectiveness.
In I Corinthians 8 Paul talks about not being a stumbling block to the weak.
Even though there is nothing wrong with eating meat, Paul says, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”
And in the next chapter, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
It is our right to work for any just cause.
But if exercising those rights cause some to be physically or economically or socially harmed (lose their businesses, their jobs, cancelled out by culture) and we ourselves do not heed to the Gospel Truth, then we have made a mistake.
John 13:34-35Amplified Bible
34 I am giving you a new commandment, that you [a]love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too are to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you have love and unselfish concern for one another.”
We must ask ourselves, “Will my involvement in this cause harm to so many people that I cannot, with the mind of Savior Christ, witness for the Gospel?”
Justice now is not the primary goal, saving people eternally is.
Definitely, absolutely, there were many enormous injustices in Jesus’ time: slavery, income inequality, racial inequality, torture, corrupt government.
Jesus did not spend a lot of time fixing those ills.
John 3:16-17Amplified Bible
16 “For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] [a]only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge and condemn the world [that is, to initiate the final judgment of the world], but that the world might be saved through Him.
He did, though, spend 100% of his maximum effort drawing people to Himself.
In the name of God, the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
Let us Pray,
Father, you have given all peoples one common origin.
It is your sovereign will that they be gathered together
as one Body of Christ, one family shaped into your image.
Fill the hearts of mankind with the Holy fires of your love
and with the desire to work and labor, ensure justice for all.
By sharing the abundance of good things, you give us,
may we work and labor to peacefully secure an equality for all
our brothers and sisters in our neighborhoods, throughout the world.
May there be an end to socio-economic political division, strife and war.
May there be a genuine Christ Minded dawning of a truly human society
built only upon thy grace and mercy, love and forgiveness and thy peace.
We ask this in the name of Immanuel, Jesus, our Risen Lord and Savior.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.