I want to follow up on something Phillip Augustine said on my last post because I think it is important. Here is his comment.
Honestly, I’ve said this to a few folks lately, even a good friend who is a Missouri-Synod Pastor agrees, that we need to start resisting secular government that if they force us to betray our moral conscience that we must force them to imprison us. After all, the world will never see us as oppressed unless there are chains on our wrist.
Yes, and it reminded me of Rev Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, where he said this to other clergy questioning him on why he had disobeyed the law.
One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
Now remember, it presupposes that one is willing to pay the price, civil or criminal, as Dr. King, Dr. Boehnhoefer, and even Dr. Luther were. It’s by no means ‘virtue signaling’, there are often real penalties, even including your life, for this.
There is a long tradition for this, stretching back to the Greeks, as so much does. Specifically, the idea of law that transcends the civil law dates back to Socrates, what we would call natural law. In the Christian tradition, it goes back to St Augustine, who said that an unjust law is no law. Although he and Luther both said that we must obey our ‘princes’, well St. Thomas Aquinas would likely disagree, as when he defended the idea that unjust laws did not bind the citizen in conscience.
John Locke (1632–1704) taught that the government derived its authority from the people, that one of the purposes of the government was the protection of the natural rights of the people, and that the people had the right to alter the government should it fail to discharge its fundamental duties.
The writer who made the theory famous, put it into practice, and gave the practice the name “civil disobedience” was Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862). His ideas on the subject are found in the celebrated lecture that he delivered in 1848 to the Concord Lyceum in Massachusetts, under the title “On the Relation of the Individual to the State. […]
Two principles underlie Thoreau’s conception of civil disobedience. The first is that the authority of the government depends on the consent of the governed. The second is that justice is superior to the laws enacted by the government, and the individual has the right to judge whether a given law reflects or flouts justice. In the latter case the individual has the duty to disobey the law and accept the consequences of the disobedience nonviolently.
Read more: Civil Disobedience – The History Of The Concept – Laws, Law, Thoreau, and Practice – JRank Articles http://science.jrank.org/pages/8660/Civil-Disobedience-History-Concept.html#ixzz4Ov3F6oJt“
This is what Bonhoeffer was speaking of, although he found it acceptable to go beyond civil disobedience to actual armed insurrection when he spoke of “The third way “is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”
None of these are pleasant prospects, and yet, as Christians, at some point, we are justified to do whatever is necessary to bring our countries back to the rule of God’s (Natural) Law.