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What COVID-19 should teach Christians about Civil Disobedience

Author: Eden Estabrook

In March 2020, the world was rocked when a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 (or, more affectionately known by the masses as “COVID-19”) rapidly spread across the nation. With it, a shift in power began to happen in the United States of America as anxious citizens looked to elected officials and medical professionals to guide them through this new experience - a pandemic.

Over two years later, the nation is undergoing a pivotal moment in its history as elected officials at both a federal and state level have begun pushing the lines of authoritarianism in the name of public safety, taking a slippery slope to infringe on the people’s individual freedoms. This includes several initiatives, including (but not limited to):

  • Lockdowns, regardless of health

  • Vaccine mandates, regardless of health

  • Mask mandates

  • Digital censorship

  • Propaganda

  • Infringement on freedom of speech

  • Discrimination by political designation

As a nation, COVID-19 has divided citizens to extreme proportions. The United States of America? It’s more like, The Divided States of America.

In the midst of this political showdown, individuals are seemingly faced with two options:

  1. Comply. Then enjoy the conveniences that come with blindly following down the slippery slope.

  2. Don’t comply. Stand up for the Constitutional rights our founding fathers left us with and then risk your job, friends, family, and overall well-being.

As followers of Christ, COVID-19 and the many other political events that stemmed from it make this especially challenging. In this article, contributing author, Eden Estabrook, covers why civil disobedience may be a necessity, and her take on how a Christian can approach it in a Biblical manner.

Back to the Basics: Grounded in Biblical Truths

Before we dive into civil disobedience, let’s go back to the basics. If we believe the Bible is true in its entirety, there are several applicable facts that we must remember and hold as truth as we navigate these unprecedented times:

Death is a Consequence of a Sinful World

The third chapter of Genesis captures the fall of mankind from Eden. The moment Eve succumbed to the serpent’s temptation and ate the forbidden fruit, the world as they knew it changed for themselves and every generation to come.

Including us.

Genesis 3:17-19 tell us,

[17] To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil, you will eat food from it all the days of your life.

[18] It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

[19] By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

It’s straightforward. Because Adam ate the fruit, he and Eve will toil on the Earth until they return to the ground from whence they came. Death.

Don’t misunderstand. The deaths that have occurred from the COVID-19 pandemic are tragic. But, the right to life is a false pretense. When, in fact, death is a part of life - it’s in our DNA - and it has been since the beginning of mankind.

God is Sovereign Over Everything

There is a lot going on. This essay only cracks the surface of what has gone on in the last two years since the COVID-19 virus. With all the uncertainty, it’s easy to feel like things are out of control.

But, we can be confident in the sovereignty of the Lord. Throughout the Old and New Testament, the Bible assures us of this fact.

“[16] For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. [17] He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2

“[8] he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. [9] On that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:8-9

In conclusion, despite how uncertain the times, despite how unjust the circumstances around us, God is in control. As believers, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you land on, we can rest with a peace that surpasses all understanding in the sovereignty of God.

The Right to Question Authority

Navigating a global pandemic is a new experience for everyone. But, that doesn’t excuse authority figures from abusing their status, just as much as it doesn’t excuse citizens from passivity.

According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” While seemingly straightforward, too often people make judgements without the analysis and evaluation. Or worse, they adopt the analysis and evaluation without personal investigation.

Mid-19th century American essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson establishes this trait as a key differentiation between a healthy and an unhealthy thinker in his speech, The American Scholar:

“... the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state, he is, Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.”

It was the Founding Fathers’ (Founders) vision that the American people play an active role in the governing of this newly-established nation, not blindly following an authoritarian monarch like their British ancestors. Enter, the Constitution.

Nationally-syndicated radio host and New York Times bestselling author, Glenn Beck, explains in his book, The Original Argument,

“Americans have never been unified by our politicians, but rather by our common values and virtues. These principles, many of which are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, make up the core of who we are.

This is in sharp contrast to Europe, where unity often sprang from royalty. The British were united because they all bowed before the same king. The Founders were decidedly anti-monarchical, and they wanted a Constitution that reflected this belief…

As a result, the Constitution bans titles of nobility. No kings and queens - only presidents, senators, representatives, and judges. To the greatest extent possible, the Founders sought to make family name and wealth irrelevant to one day being put in a position to lead.”

The Founders advocated for a society in which people could think independent of a government, not just be the puppets of monarchs that were born into the position. The Constitution is the shield that the Founders put in place to help protect the individual rights of every American citizen.

If [Only] Men Were Angels

But, as Christians know well, man is imperfect and the Founders recognized that when shaping the future of our nature. Alexander Hamilton so famously wrote in Federalist 51,

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external no internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

To solve this paradox, the Founders ensured that the people were the ultimate source of power. Supervised. But, the people held all the cards. Why else would another word for “government official” be “public servant”?

When the scale starts to tip and governing officials demonstrate self-serving actions, something needs to tip the scale back to where our Founders left it. Something like civil disobedience.

A Moral Responsibility to Disobey Unjust Laws

Civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail,

“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."

Yes. In this context, he’s talking about the racial tension of his time. But, the principle still applies. When unjust laws are forced on the people, one not only has an obligation to disobey them but to fight them.

What King’s letter unintentionally demonstrates is that what we’re currently dealing with isn’t unique to 21st-Century America. King authored this letter in 1963, but he quotes St. Augustine, a theologian and philosopher who lived from 354-430 A.D. While the gap between the two is large, the problem is the same. And, will likely remain the same for centuries to come.

Christ is Lord Over Caesar

When the pandemic first hit, lockdowns were the initial action instated by governing officials to “flatten the curve.” For churches, this action alone defied the Biblical instruction to commune with other believers and worship as one body. But, in the midst of the uncertainty, many churches chose to pivot to an online format to accommodate the shift.

The goal of this essay is not to argue that decision. It’s arguable, every church leader did what they felt was best at the time, based on their personal relationship and prayers. Moreso, the rationale behind it is what is under inspection.

Whether a Christian or not, most individuals are familiar with Mark 12:17, where Jesus says,

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

It was this verse that appeared to drive Christian compliance to local mandates and ruling. While often understood to be talking about taxes in the Biblical context, this verse is often misconstrued to present an argument for submission to governing authorities.

Renowned Christian author and pastor of Grace Community Church in California, John MacArthur, chose to fight the state rather than shut down his corporate worship services, saying,

“The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church.”

I couldn’t agree more, Dr. MacArthur. In Mark 12:17, the verse doesn’t leave it “Give back to Caesar…” It also specifies to give to God what is God. Which, from a Biblical perspective, would include:

  • Loving others (Romans 13:8-9; Philippians 2:3)

  • Our worship (Luke 4:8; 1 Chronicles 16:29)

  • Fellowship with other believers (1:John 1:7; Psalm 55:14)

Yes. Technically we can get creative and love one another virtually. We can worship God in our home and watch a pastor on our TV. But, 1 Peter 5:8 warns us that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” and who better to devour, then someone who is separated from the herd?

Is locking down a church Biblical? John MacArthur didn’t seem to think so, and the Scriptures seem to agree with him. Which leads us to the main point - how does a Christian approach defying elected governmental authority?

I believe it starts with an understanding of our nation’s roots. After all, America was founded on Christian principles by God-fearing men.

One Nation Under God

While it’s often difficult to remember this in a progressive 21st-Century America, God and the Holy Bible was at the foundation of the nation. All devout believers, the Founders’ faith heavily influenced their viewpoints as they structured the Constitution. This spilled into their commentary on the rights of American citizens, which they believed to be God-given.

Alexander Hamilton explains it as,

“The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of humane nature, by the hand of the Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

Written by the hand of Divinity… Never to be erased by mortal power. We don’t write like we used to. But, I digress. It was our belief in the God-given rights of mankind that set America apart from the nations and the Founders sought to shape the central government to protect, not eradicate, those rights.

American naturalist and essayist, Henry David Thoreau, echoes in his essay “Civil Disobedience,” that it is the people’s responsibility to hold the government in check. Because without that accountability, our nation would crumble.

“If we were left solely to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance, uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank among the nations.”

America will not survive if its people are passive. They must correct what is not correct.

For the Most Vulnerable in Our Nation

The Bible appears to agree with Hamilton that what is just and right is what believers should strive for (which, logically, means that there is such a thing as that which is unjust and wrong and we should avoid it). As such, when the ability to do what is just and right is in danger, taking action is Biblical.

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Do what is just and right. 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

“This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” Zechariah 7:9

“This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” Isaiah 56:1

“Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16:20

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9

While this is just a compilation of five verses out of thousands, there are several consistencies that I find particularly relevant. The first being their placement in the Old Testament. Coincidence? Maybe. Or, maybe not. The Old Testament is well known for its account of ruthless regimes and rulers, so the authors were likely no stranger to oppression. There is also a theme that zeal should be put into action when the protection of other people is involved. In this case, “for those who cannot speak for themselves,” “the one who has been robbed,” and “all who are destitute.”

How does speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves apply to what is happening now? How can this be used to argue civil disobedience as a Christian navigating the political landscape of COVID-19? It is my observation that it boils down to this:

For the children.

Those who cannot speak for themselves. Those who will suffer from the aftermath of passivity. Those who have no say on how they go to school. Those who can’t vote for our government leaders. Those who are growing up knowing nothing other than the authoritarian policies they will soon adopt as “normal” if those who can speak up don’t.

It’s a slippery slope. First, it’s masking dictator-like policies under the guise of public health. The next, an attack on the faith we are blessed to openly practice. While it might not show in our lifetime, what about theirs? If there is even a chance that my actions now can create a better future for the child I walk by on the street, is it not worth it?

Not Safe. But Good.

I know what you’re thinking - But, if we do *fill in the blank* we could lose *fill in the blank.* And, I understand. But, as a believer, I can’t help but respond by asking when Christianity has been anything but unsafe.

Probably one of the most quoted lines from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicle of Narnia is as follows,

"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the lion, the great Lion."

"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Not safe. But good. He’s the King and he’s in charge overall. Sovereign over everything, including provision for the losses.

A Culturally-Unsafe Faith with a Good God

Throughout the Scriptures, we read about the persecution, martyrdom, and followers of Christ putting themselves in harms way for their faith, such as:

Saul’s Persecution of the Believers in Acts 8

A fairly straightforward example of Christian persecution in the New Testament, by none other than the soon to be zealot for Christ, Paul. On account of faith alone, hundreds of believers were taken from their homes, put in prison, and some killed.

[1] And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

[2] And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

[3] As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

[4] Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.

Yet, in spite of this, they continued to scatter and preach the Word of God.

Jesus’ Heals a Man with Leprosy in Matthew 8

A highly-contagious disease, lepers were deemed “unclean” by law and required to stay isolated to reduce the risk of spreading this fatal diagnosis (sound familiar?) By even approaching (much less touching) the leper, Jesus was doing the unthinkable in the eyes of the Jews.

[1] When he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.

[2] And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

[3] And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

But, he did it anyway. And a life was changed.

In Luke 17:11-19, another account of Jesus healing a group of 10 lepers is also recorded.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3

We all know the story. Jewish captives of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to bow to the king’s idols and are thrown into a fiery furnace for it.

[13] Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, [14] and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? [15] Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

[16] Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. [17] If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. [18] But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

[19] Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual [20] and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace.

And, God delivered them and used the circumstance for His glory.

A Spirit of Power, Love, and a Sound Mind

Christianity promises many things - refuge under the wings of the Lord, forgiveness of sin, eternal life with Christ, etc. The one thing it never promised was an easy life on Earth. Nor did it promise a safe life (given human standards).

As we walk away from COVID-19 and how we should navigate the scariness surrounding us, a few things stand out:

  1. Personal safety should not be our first priority as loving others is. (Corinthians 13:13)

  2. We have a responsibility, both as Americans and as believers, to speak up for our God-given rights to live in accordance with the Scriptures

2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us,

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."

We can make our voices heard. We can handle the earthly consequences of doing so. And, we can do so without fear, but with a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of Resident Skeptics.

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