Christianity, Politics, and Civil Disobedience

GMN_BundyRanch_CoverIn 2 Samuel 11 & 12 we read the account of David & Bathsheba and the fallout from his adultery, deceit, and murder. I find it interesting that God is so disgusted with David’s behavior that he sends the prophet Nathan to share a parable with him.

There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him” (2 Samuel 12:1-4)

Most of us familiar with the story recall David’s outrage upon hearing this story, only to learn that he was that man.

This week there has been a lot of news coverage of the Bundy Ranch in Nevada. The story has inspired and outraged me at the same time.  Inspired because of the courage of Cliven Bundy and his neighbors. Outraged by the actions of the Reid family and the greedy corporations who will use the strong arm of government to drive this man from his family homestead. It reminds me a great deal of the two men in Nathan’s parable.

The more I ponder this story (and others like it), the more I realize there is a place, no there is a divine obligation for Christian people to stand against government when they choose to oppress the poor and under-privileged. Now you may be thinking, “Cliven Bundy isn’t poor. He does alright for himself,” but I would argue you are missing the point. Our government has already robbed people of their jobs, their dignity, and in many instances they are now infringing on their ability to worship God freely. If they steal Cliven Bundy’s ranch, they can take whatever they want from who ever they choose.  Jefferson was right, “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have” (January 20, 1777).

As Christians, aren’t we commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…” (Romans 13)? This is often the default passage used to suggest Christians shouldn’t engage in politics, or serve in the military. This misapplication would have us all crawl like driveling worms under the iron rule of oppressive regimes.

Allow me a few examples of why there is a time and place for Christians to revolt and stand against the strong arm of government.

God’s people have always been called to stand up for the oppressed. Isaiah was a strong spokesman and opponent of those who would oppress the poor and helpless. “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).  “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-3). See also: Isaiah 58:10; Amos 2:6-8.

God’s people are bound by a higher calling. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused the King’s proclamation and would not bow down. (Daniel 3). These men clearly exercised civil disobedience for their conscience sake. It is important to note that they also willingly accepted the penalty for their disobedience – but they did disobey. We see a similar situation with Peter and John as they stood before the Sanhedrin. When they were commanded “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” they responded “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20).

God’s people can assert their rights when they are being oppressed. While preaching in the city of Philippi, Paul and Silas were beaten and cast into prison. the local magistrates where going to quietly send them on their way, but Paul said, “wait just a minute.” Paul and Silas were Roman citizens and responded, “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us in prison. And now they want to get rid of us quietly? NO! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” (Acts 16:37). This is not the only time the apostle appeals to his rights as a Roman citizen. In Acts 25, standing before the Festus, Paul once again appeals to his rights, “I am now standing in Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done anything wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” (Acts 25:10-11).

Brethren, open your eyes. Our government is increasingly antagonistic to religious freedom. They oppress the poor, and worse, their policies keep people in poverty for generations. The government has now become so bold as to step right in and steal land, perosnal property, and the hard earned wages of those who speak out against them.

God’s people not only have a right to speak out against our oppressive government – we have a moral obligation to do so.

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