By David Tulis
Unlike any other system in history, Christianity posits a horizontal society of local economy, service to others in a free market, charity and the enforceability of contract. It opposes vertical society, or one created by state power over the marketplace, political absolutism and ownership of national economy by elites who buy almost everything and say, “charge it.”
To make human existence more voluntary in nature and less slavish, Christianity builds what might be loosely termed “revolution” into its conception of political order. It builds into the realm of the magistrate and judge instruments that survive the rise of nationalism. The Protestant Reformation in the 1500s and 1600s ruled against royal absolutism and developed the ideas of liberty unlike any before, though this political self-consciousness gave rise to nationalism and the corporate state per se, the end of which we are starting to see more clearly.‡
Liberty is maintained in divided government, separation of powers, federalism, the rule of law, equity, interposition and nullification, political decentralization and the power of public protest — all unheard of in empires before Christ.
Public referendums and the popular vote are further aspects of this Christian influence. Chattanooga city council in a 5-3 vote plans to give benefits to live-in and love-in boy- and girlfriends of city employees. A petition drive by commoners seeks to give registered voters a chance to ratify — or overturn — the rule by plebiscite. (Plebecite comes from plebes, in Latin, or commoners, and scitum means decree — a decree for which is a vote.) The ordinance is not only a form of moral desertification, but it is outside the city’s legal authority.
The upside down
An important concept in the gospel is the throwing down of the mighty and elevatation of the weak. “The LORD is high above all nations. *** He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes” (Psalm 113:4, 7). The virgin Mary in a famous oration says God “has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly” (Luke 1:51, 52). In other words, God is king of kings and plays no favorites among men; earthly monarchs are His silly vassals and had better mind His laws. The freeman is His slave, and the slave is His freeman.
Just as a Christian takes courage amid violation of a biblical norm, he can defend the right out of provisions of human law as well such as Tennessee Code Annotated. Chattanooga has passed the domestic partner ordinance outside the scope of its authority in state law. The rule is to be defeated by revolution at the ballot box, litigation by a person with legal standing to sue or can be defied by a responsible city official with authority over the dispersal of or payment for the illegal sinecure.
It takes courage to defy lawless acts
Rebellion is resisting a lawful exercise of authority. Resistance is different. Resistance defies a lawless exercise of authority. The idea of resisting “the good people,” as one might wryly call a political establishment, is common in holy writ.
Midwives Shiphrah and Puah are ordered to watch Israelite women at their birth stools; “if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live,” the Pharaoh says (Exodus 1:16). These midwives ignore the directive and lie about it. Meanwhile, Moses’ parents, Amram and Jochebed, ignore the edict to destroy their son and save him. Moses grows up in the Egyptian court and signals ruinous plagues at God’s hand upon the land.
Rahab the harlot refuses loyalty to her lord, the king of Jericho. She hides the spies of Israel and lies about their escape to the search party. She saves her family in the destruction of the city, and stands, though an alien, in the lineage of the Savior.
Gideon is threshing wheat in the winepress “to hide it from the Midianites” who have conquered Israel and are harassing its people’s underground (free market) economy (Judges 2:11). Nathan the prophet decries the abuse of power by King David in slaying a faithful soldier, Uriah the Hittite, and cleaving unto Uriah’s wife, the beauty Bathsheba. During the reign of the malevolent king, Ahab, Elijah refuses to submit himself to a death sentence and flees after declaring God’s judgment upon the kingdom for its sins (1 Kings 17 and 18). Upon military search parties from King Ahaziah Elijah calls down bolts of fire from God and refuses to turn himself in (2nd Kings 1).
King Uzziah is hailed as a national hero, but he “was strong in his heart and was lifted up” in pride to act outside his jurisdiction. How so? By burning incense in God’s temple, bravely barred by Azariah the “valiant” priest (2 Chronicles 26:16, 17). Uzziah is made a leper.
Israelites Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego defy King Nebuchadnezzar’s order that everyone in the kingdom bow down and worship the idol he has set up in the plain of Dura in Babylon (Daniel 3). “O Nebuchadnezzar,” they reply in peril of their lives, “we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” Daniel, a governor serving King Darius, is entrapped by a law enacted by jealous colleagues forbidding any prayer other than those to the king. “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his window open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God.” He is arrested, tried and thrown into a den of lions.
The apostles of Jesus refuse to comply with commands they stop speaking publicly about the Savior. “Did we not strictly command you,” the high priest demands, “not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine. **** But Peter and the other apostles answered and said, ‘We ought to obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:28, 29).
No clearer statement than Peter’s conveys the theory of Christian resistance to rulers who overstep authority granted them by God pursuant to such passages as in Romans 13.
Principles of resistance in constitution
St. Paul was jailed repeatedly for refusing to obey civil edicts and commands. The Bible is full of the spirit of obedience to God and the fear of God; that fear is distinct from a fear of man. Because it posits God as king, Christianity establishes the idea of rule of law vs. rule of men. Laws must be lawfully enacted under God, and disobedience in proper circumstance is a Christian’s duty for God’s glory and man’s benefit.
Christianity holds that no subject owes allegiance to a wicked ruler at the point where he is wicked (not all of his acts are evil). An unlawful statute or rule that requires a citizen to sin, or prevents him from obeying God, can be disobeyed. It can be fought by words, flight or armed resistance. Resistance can be based on God’s law, or on man’s law, as was Paul’s appeal to Caesar when hounded by the calumnies of the Israelite establishment. The ACLU and the rival ACLJ rely on this concept. So did Rev. Nathaniel Craigmiles of Chattanooga when he defied state edicts he close down his casket business (he sued and won, ending a state abuse).
The spirit of resistance and submission to the will of commoners is codified in the city ordinance for referendums. The state constitution smiles upon such efforts, holding that “the doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind” (article 1, section 2). Resistance and amendment are built into Tennessee’s legal structure. Perhaps in the future it can be applied to other follies of commercial and corporate government that favor the politically connected, the mighty and the wealthy who sap the state.
Sources: John Weaver, The Christian and Civil Government (Fitzgerald, Ga.: private imprint, 1991), 203 pp
Thomas Cahill, The Gifts of the Jews[;] How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everything Thinks and Feels (New York: Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1998), 291 pp. Though an agnostic, Cahill makes remarkable admissions about Christianity.
‡ Martin van Creveld, The Rise and Decline of the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 439 pp