Unlawful Orders and Options – Some Thoughts on Persecution

Steve Hays has already provided some excellent thoughts on the issue of unlawful orders over at Triablogue (link). In supplement of those thoughts, I wanted to add a couple of additional semi-related points.

1) Distinguishing Permitted Disobedience from Required Disobedience

In some cases, when someone in authority over us commands us to do something, we are required by God’s law not to follow those orders. Often, there are two ways in which can “no follow orders.”

For example, if a judge ordered a clerk to issue a “gay marriage” certificate, the clerk has a moral obligation under God’s law not to follow that order, assuming following that order was sinful. However, there are at least two real alternatives this hypothetical clerk has. The clerk could simply refuse (i.e. disobey the order) or the clerk could resign (i.e. avoid the order). Both of these alternatives are legitimate.

Some people seem to think that a Christian’s duty to disobey also entails a duty to do so following the path of least resistance. In other words, some people seem to be arguing that our hypothetical clerk must resign, rather than simply disobeying orders. This view seems to suggest that disobedience can only be a last resort – we can only disobey when our back is to the wall, so to speak.

That rationale seems intuitively wrong. It seems as though the midwives in Egypt could have sought other career options instead of continuing to deliver babies, but their choice to continue delivering babies while disobeying orders seems praiseworthy.

There may be cases where we cannot resign our way out of direct disobedience. For example, I don’t think anyone believes that the apostles had the option of resigning their apostolic office in order to avoid directly disobeying the Sanhedrin.

On the other hand, that does not mean that direct disobedience is always mandatory. Remember that sometimes Christians are called to flee persecution. For example,

Matthew 10:23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

So, in our hypothetical example, the clerk is permitted to flee persecution, for example by simply resigning.

This is distinct from cases where we may not have any way of fleeing the persecution and disobedience is our only option, as with the Apostles in front of the Sanhedrin. Still, it is important to recognize the distinction and to permit Christians their liberty in Christ to elect between enduring persecution for the name of Christ and fleeing that persecution.

While enduring such persecution is noble and praiseworthy, it is not mandatory in every case. Therefore, while we should praise those who suffer for the sake of the kingdom, we must not condemn those who flee into another city, so to speak.


5 Responses to “Unlawful Orders and Options – Some Thoughts on Persecution”

  1. michael Says:

    For me, TF, it seems the Biblical Egyptian Pharaohs and the Hebrew midwives reality as a solution in your hypothetical is weak.

    I am assuming this post is about the lady in Rowan County, Kentucky who refused the Federal Judge's direct order to issue marriage licenses to people in the public who were not Christian, one and two, were of a persuasion different than her's, being homosexual males and females wanting to marry another of their sex?

    The midwives, being Hebrew not Egyptian, were following their religious beliefs naturally and morally and spiritually. Their God commanded that procreation is the right course of action not murder. The gods of the Pharaohs are demonic beings inspiring doctrines of demons. Satan is the god of this world.

    For me, in the case of the Rowan County Clerk, being a Christian, here was the only other Biblical course of action she had as an option unless she wanted to flee the persecution of the Federal Judge which you point out was a Biblical option, too? She didn't want to flee so the only other recourse for her in my opinion was to comply with the Federal law even though, as I understand it now, there is no Kentucky State law that she violated by refusing to issue the marriage licenses to the homosexuals. She was elected to her official duties as the county clerk. Impeachment was an option for the voters who elected her if they didn't like what she chose to do. Stand up for her is another option the voters had and it seems that's what they are doing, standing up for her.

    Here's the other Biblical option:::>

    Psa 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

    She should not have stood in the way of those sinners according to Psalm 1:1. Why is it that other public “non-Christian” sinners would be issued a license to marry as their legal right that yields them public benefits from the legal system they are under in Kentucky and the United States of this fallen wicked world and these homosexual sinners would not? Both groups are categorically sinful.

    It does seem to me she is being prejudicial towards the homosexual's rights under the Federal law. And apparently the Federal Judge thinks so too.

    Now what seems to be the more egregious error here is the Federal Judge interfering with Kentucky State law and the will of the voters of Rowan County?

  2. Unknown Says:

    @michael, the “stand in the way of sinners” translation does not mean, as it sounds to us in English, to “stand in the way of someone”. It means to partake in their path. Preventing a sinner from sinning isn't a sin. Participating in their sin is.

    Notice how all three statements of Psalms 1:1 convey the same idea:
    – walk in the counsel of the wicked
    – stand in the path of sinners
    – sit in the seat of scoffers

  3. michael Says:

    Unkown //@michael, the “stand in the way of sinners” translation does not mean, as it sounds to us in English, to “stand in the way of someone”. It means to partake in their path. Preventing a sinner from sinning isn't a sin. Participating in their sin is.//

    YES! You are correct. Thank you for correcting me. I just spent awhile going over a number of commentaries and feel a bit duped by my own ignorance of that verse.

    I wonder if I am also in error with this interpretation of Psalm 15 and these Words, too?

    Psa 15:4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

    My position about this verse is this lady ran for and was elected to her public position. I do not believe that county, or the State of Kentucky or the United States reflects the godliness of Christ and His Kingdom and because she wanted that job she is obligated to follow the now ungodly requirements of that job once those requirements were changed by SCOTUS' rendering that the civil rights of homosexual Americans are being violated by her when she does not issue them a marriage license.

  4. zog Says:

    I think the real question is: How should I respond in a biblical manner to the acts of those outside the faith?. To be honest, I struggle with that question. I ask myself, should I expect the ungodly to act godly, I don't. I write insurance policies on gay couples because that's what my company and my state and the federal government demand of me. If I don't, I lose my job. Should I invest in only companies that have never given any $ to the LGBT movement? I can't, as I don't know what the 500 companies that make up the S&P 500 have given to. Did the person in Rowan county ask if one of the straight people was a professing christian and the other one was not? Did she ask the divorced couples if they had biblical reasons to be divorced before she gave them a license? Obviously not. TF, how should we who live in this world but are not of this world act in a biblical manner?

  5. steve Says:

    Nice post. I agree with you that fleeing is sometimes a responsible choice. Had Calvin remained in France, had Calvin been martyred, that would have been a tremendous loss, both to the Protestant Reformation and posterity.

    As you know, Protestant refugees who fled to England, Holland, Switzerland, and America, helped to disseminate the Protestant faith.

    Mind you, people use to flee to the US. If, however, the US becomes implacably hostile to the Christian faith, it's not as if there are many other places which will give them asylum.

    In addition, if Christians refuse to stand and fight, defeat becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    It's a judgment call, depending on the circumstances.

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