Having just taught 1 Peter 2:11-25 which includes instruction on the believer’s submission to government and authorities, I found this post to be a good summer–and perhaps a helpful tool–to cause us to question.
In The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy Spiegel and Cowan first provide a general definition: “Civil disobedience is generally defined as conscientious, public, and nonviolent resistance to unjust public laws or policies.” Fair enough. But “unjust” in what sense? This is where some helpful distinctions can come into play:
First, some legal systems are unjust because they require evil. . . .
Second, some legal systems are unjust because they promote evil. . . .
Third, a legal system may be unjust because it permits evil. . . .
Finally, a legal system may be unjust because it prohibits good acts. . . .
In other words, someone might ask you if you believe in “civil disobedience,” but it helps to know what form of injustice requires disobedience–is it when the government prescribes evil, promotes evil, permits evil, or prohibits the good?
Cowan and Spiegel then point out that “for Christians, only one category is noncontroversial: disobeying laws of the first variety where evil actions are mandated.” But this then raises another distinction:
Passive civil disobedience involves a refusal to do what the law requires.
Active civil disobedience involves doing what the law prohibits.
So the point of this post is not necessarily “civil disobedience,” but rather the importance of thinking carefully and distinguishing judiciously.
posted by JT at Tuesday, April 28, 2009