Disobeying the Federal Government? Moore Truth Is Needed
Prominent Southern Baptist Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission says there can be a time when civil disobedience is legitimate for believers, for example in the case of Rosa Parks, but not by civil leaders. Moore claims that public officials must uphold unjust rulings or simply resign their position. He states this argument specifically to denounce the actions of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has taken a stand in defense of the citizens of Alabama against a federal judge’s order to allow homosexual marriage in their state.
Not only are Russell Moore’s statements unbiblical, but they defy Constitutional law as well as common sense. Elected officials not only have a duty to resist unjust rulings from higher ranking civil authorities but they are in the best position of anyone to do so. They already wield authority and have committed to upholding the law, not the unlawful decrees of a higher authority. Many of our founding fathers, while actively resisting England, held public office within their respective colonies. Would Moore suggest that after achieving victory, they would have contrived a document denouncing the very practice they had all partaken?
No ruler or elected official rules autonomously. Every elected official in America is bound by the Constitution of the United States; not the interpretation of the Constitution by every Supreme or Federal Court judge who comes down the pike. Many Federal judges have been wrong. Many court decisions have been overturned or flat-out rejected. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for example, in 1927, endorsed the forced sterilization of American citizens in the case Buck v Bell, stating that,
“It is better for all the world…society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Very few today would endorse, much less “submit” to the court’s ruling in the Buck decision. If the SCOTUS told a Southern Baptist family they had to be sterilized on the basis of the Buck decision there would be outrage. And rightfully so.
Several decades before Holmes’ statements, the Federal government enacted the “Fugitive Slave Act” demanding that runaway slaves be returned to their masters, even if they fled to a “free state”. Several local churches, led by Sherman Booth, conducted a jail break on behalf of runaway slave Joshua Glover who had been apprehended by authorities in Wisconsin while fleeing from his slave owner in the south.
Glover, with the help of many abolitionists, escaped safely to Canada. Booth, an elected official himself, was brought up on Federal charges but was found innocent by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court (acting in the same capacity as Judge Roy Moore in Alabama today) as they defied the Federal Fugitive Slave Act. The court in Wisconsin rightfully recognized its duty to protect its citizenry from unjust Federal edicts.
Our founders gave us a system of checks and balances. Who is to check the Federal Government if they overstep their Constitutional restraints? Undoubtedly our Founders envisioned State officials as the intervening agents in such a scenario. We can look back and thank God for courageous men and women who did this in the past. And we should be thanking God and rallying behind courageous men who are willing to do such in our day.
WHAT DOES SCRIPTURE SAY?
Peter and John told the Roman officials who commanded them to stop preaching Jesus, “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29)
Daniel, a Babylonian civil authority, did not submit to the decree of his superior but rather chose to submit to the King of Kings – publicly. He did not resign but rather faced the Lions Den unflinchingly.
Romans chapter 13, contrary to popular opinion, does not teach unlimited submission to the higher authorities, but rather roots civil authority in the authority of God. Paul tells believers that the civil authority is God’s minister for good… and that “they attend continually upon this very thing”, thus if the Christian does what is good, “they shall have praise” from the civil authority.
So what is to be thought of the governing official who does not “attend continually upon this very thing” and rather than being a “terror to evil works” becomes a terror to good works, such that the Christian does not receive “praise” for their good works but persecution and affliction?
Clearly this behavior cannot be what Paul is referencing. The civil authority is indeed ordained by God to be a terror to evil works and promote the good. Their failure to do so renders them unfit for the honor and obedience due the office. The same is equally true of a father who is molesting his children or a pastor who is embezzling funds and committing adultery with members of the congregation. Though Scripture admonishes obedience to such God ordained offices as father and pastor, we understand clearly that such offices are NOT autonomous. Those who hold such positions have an expectation of duty if they are to receive the “honor” that is “due” the office. Fathers, Pastors, and Civil authorities, when they command that which is evil, are to be resisted, just as Peter, John and Daniel resisted, both private citizens, and public officials.
Roy Moore is exhibiting the courage of Daniel. Good men need to rally behind him and a coalition needs to emerge of elected officials around the nation who are willing to stand alongside him. My prayer is that good men will hear that call and respond like men of God.
(To listen to a lengthy discussion on this subject from prominent Constitutional Lawyer Matt Staver listen here )