When it comes to how a Christian is to relate to unjust government, we must realize that this is not a new dilemma facing believers. Ever since the fall in the Garden in Eden, men and women have had to deal with authority structures that wage rebellion against the instruction and rule of the one true God. Abraham was forced to settle in Egypt during a famine and then to live among kings and leaders who rejected the worship of Yahweh. Joseph served as a very high ranking official in the government of Pharaoh, who undoubtedly went after other gods. Though Israel was established as a theocratic nation under the rule of Yahweh, it soon rejected Him and sinfully demanded an earthly king (1 Sam. 8). From then until now, no matter how devoted to Yahweh a ruler has been, he or she has fallen woefully short of the holy and righteous standards of God’s kingship, and believers have had their allegiances challenged. And so if we’re not careful, we can be tempted to believe that our experience is new. But it is not, and that fact alone should give us great hope for navigating the challenges that we face today. In terms of our specific circumstances, here are few points that may guide our thinking:
- Distinguishing between Evil and Politically Disagreeable
We must be able to distinguish between what is evil and what is simply disagreeable to our political persuasions. For instance, while two people may both seek the wellbeing of the poor and other marginalized groups, they may disagree on how to go about alleviating the suffering. There may be variations in their opinions as to how much government ought to be involved or how funds/aid should be distributed, but at heart both persons want the same thing. This is not to deny that some things are most certainly evil, for surely some things are morally abhorrent and in need of us addressing them. But again, we must be sure that our focus is on things that are actually morally evil and not politically different.
- Must Christians Remain Quiet?
In those times where we’ve clearly identified an area of leadership that goes against the clear teachings of Scripture, we are to call evil, “evil.” In Isaiah’s time, the people were judged by God for calling evil, good and good, evil (Isa. 5:20). We dare not fall into such traps. Where government officials practice or order moral evil, we must not condone or take part. John the Baptist was clearly a prime example of not cowering before the authorities when it came to Herod’s sordid immorality. The apostles likewise would not bend when government called for them to go against the clear teaching of Scripture. And so whether we are quiet or vocal, we cannot be submissive when it comes to orders directing us to do something against the will of God. Not everyone will be prophetic in the sense of speaking out publicly against government evil. Some will be like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, and Martin Niemoller, who spoke and wrote publicly and passionately against Nazism, and others will be like the courageous families who, against the law, hid Jewish families without so much as a peep. Both most certainly honored the Lord.
- To Protest or Not to Protest.
At the center of this question really lies the issue of one’s opportunity to speak. In our society, we have the right to speak by vote, first and foremost. To voice opposition without voting is really to act irresponsibly. Apathy toward the political process is inexcusable for Christians (especially Christians living in a democratic republic like the USA). Beyond that, the opportunity to speak really varies among persons. Some have a platform that allows for them to address crowds while others have only their homes where they can train up their children to know and love and fear the Lord. Both are necessary and absolutely critical to the mission of God in the world. If the Lord puts it on someone’s heart to speak out against morally corrupt leadership, then after prayer, searching the Word, and counsel, I see no reason for not doing so. But again, there are different types of speaking. Some have loud, far-reaching voices, while others offer silent protests that speak volumes.
Remembering that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world reminds believers to not seek its establishment by means of force or coercion. At the same time, remembering that the gospel speaks to the everyday issues of right and wrong ensures that apathy toward injustice does not develop. Christians are responsible for praying for their leaders and striving toward a just and civil society. And how each believer goes about this will be better informed if the advancement of the gospel remains his or her highest priority.