God Rather Than Men
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
-- Exodus 20:3
"Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?"
-- Psalm 94:20
God has ordained civil government as an institution of justice in our present world. He also instituted the church as a ministry of grace. The two were meant to compliment and support each other but, in our fallen world, there are times (increasingly in the United States) when they come into conflict and, ultimately, collide with each other.
The question: When is it permissible for the Christian to disobey the civil magistrate?
This issue played a large role in getting me fired from my job as a police officer in Anniston, Alabama, in the summer of 2015. I appealed that decision to the city’s civil service board and had a trial over three days in August and September of that year. On the final day, both the defense and prosecution had rested and it was time for me to face questions from the three board members.
One of the board members was a man named Mike Reese, himself a former police officer. My exchange with him went as follows. The quotes are from the official transcript of the trial.
Reese referred to a speech, primarily about gun rights, I had given two years prior at a conference. It was this speech that was vilified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hateful” in a hit piece two years later that led to my instant termination after nineteen years of service.
”I read your speech and I watched your speech word for word and I have read and watched it again. And one of the things that alarmed me a little bit about the speech, and I don't think that it was brought out, one of the comments that you were making is if the order came down as far as going door to door and taking up arms...being a police officer we follow orders, that's our duty. And I think your contention might be that if you were given an unlawful order, you wouldn't follow it. Is that correct?"
Reese was referring to the part of my speech where I related a concern among many Southerners: If an illegal, unconstitutional order came from Washington, D.C., instructing soldiers and police officers to go door to door and forcefully confiscate firearms from citizens, would the soldiers and officers carry that out? I recounted the determination of county sheriffs across the country who were on record that they would refuse to carry out such orders and considered it a violation of their oath to protect their citizens and uphold the law. I commended them for it.
But by his question here, Reese felt like they should do such a thing. He took issue with me saying I would not carry out an illegal order! Apparently, he is fine with police officers going door to door of homes and forcefully confiscating firearms belonging to citizens if someone with the federal government "ordered" them to do so. This even though the federal government has no authority under the United States Constitution to direct such a thing. As a matter of fact, they are specifically forbidden to do so under the Second Amendment.
"...being a police officer we follow orders, that's what we do." He was "alarmed" that I would advocate that officers should not follow illegal, immoral orders. Self-defense is a Biblical principle, and God Himself has blessed weapon possession and usage for his children to defend themselves. If the federal government acted to confiscate firearms they would be acting in a wicked, unconstitutional manner and officers would be violating their oath if they carried out such an "order."
Here was my answer to Reese's question: "If the order in itself was unlawful, and I took an oath to uphold the law, then I could see where I could make a reasonable argument that you would be breaking the law by upholding an unlawful order."
Reese: "But you also say that you represent -- or that you follow the Constitution of the United States and if an order came down from the president, no matter what it is, whoever the president in office is, if they give an order, as police officers it's up to us to follow orders. Is that right?"
At this point I was trying to conceal my shock. Here was this former police officer, and one of three men who currently held the fate of my career in his hands, saying that he could not understand how I could not violate my oath and carry out an illegal order. He was saying that, if the president "ordered it," police officers would have no choice but to "follow orders" and turn their guns on their fellow citizens, go door to door, and forcefully confiscate the citizens' firearms. It became obvious to me just how ignorant of the actual content of the Constitution was Mr. Reese. He apparently thinks it allows the federal government to do whatever they want.
Here is how I answered that question: "
If they are lawful. And, the context of what I was talking about in that speech and the questions that were asked...the questions that a lot of people have is if this whole gun issue comes down to an unconstitutional order coming from Congress or the president asking or directing the soldiers or peace officers to turn their guns on their fellow people and confiscate them [their firearms], would that be something they would do?"
"Josh," Reese then asked, "do you believe State rights, the sovereignty of the State, over what the federal government mandates you to do?"
"I believe in States rights. To be simplistic about it, I believe that the Constitution should be followed."
Reese: "That's all I have."
He seemed to be unsatisfied with my answer. However, I found his position to be reprehensible.
The federal government does not have unlimited powers. It is restrained by the Constitution. Furthermore, as a Christian, I stand with my heroes of the faith who rejected wickedness and unlawful, corrupt civil authorities who endangered and oppressed the people. I also stand with all my ancestors who took up arms against oppressive government. It is certainly worth noting that there would be no United States of America today were it not for patriots who refused to follow orders from the British crown and parliament. Rather than assist in their own subjugation, they boldly resisted tyranny.
God's intention is that citizens submit to civil government (Romans 13:1-7), but only a righteous government. A government would have to be following its own laws (and the Constitution is the "supreme law of the land") and not tyrannizing the people to be acting righteously.
The Hebrew midwives (Exodus 1:15-22) disobeyed and lied to a wicked civil ruler, and in so doing protected innocent lives. They feared God. The priests successfully resisted King Uzziah's efforts to violate the law of God by his attempt to enter the temple (2 Chronicles 26:14-21). Uzziah was stricken with leprosy and he died. The Apostle Paul wrote four epistles recorded in the Bible while he was incarcerated in prison. They are known as the Prison Epistles. Why was he in prison? He was in prison for resisting a wicked civil government. Paul feared God.
King Nebuchadnezzar issued an order that all citizens must bow down and worship a pagan image (Daniel 3). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not "follow orders." They feared God.
Rahab the harlot (Joshua 2) not only lied to her king, but personally harbored the Hebrew spies and assisted in their escape from him, thereby protecting innocent lives. She didn't follow orders. She feared God. And God placed her among the "heroes of faith" in Hebrews 11.
The parents of Moses did not follow orders from the civil authorities. They did not murder their baby son, but concealed him and thus preserved his life. He went on to lead his people out of slavery and write the first five books of the Bible. Should his parents have "followed orders" and killed him?
King Ahaziah sent two different captains, each with fifty men, to arrest Elijah and bring him before the king (2 Kings 1). Elijah was ordered to turn himself in. He refused. Not only did he refuse, but he interceded to God, Who smote the civil authorities in a consuming fire. The death count was 102 before the third captain sent changed his tune. Elijah resisted a wicked government issuing orders meant for his destruction. Elijah understood that he owed no allegiance to an evil ruler violating the law of God. He feared God more than men.
Daniel was a government employee (Daniel 6). A "law" was passed mandating that if someone prayed to anyone except the king he would be thrown into a den of lions. What did Daniel do? Daniel prayed to God. He refused to follow orders pertaining to wicked legislation. He would not dishonor God. He feared God more than men.
I think the point is made. As a Christian, I realize that God's word is preeminent. As Peter and the apostles responded to the civil authorities when brought before them for not following orders, "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)
We are not required to be accomplices to our own destruction. "Thou shalt not murder," and its positive parallel, thou shalt preserve innocent life, would require an officer to resist an unlawful, unconstitutional "order" from Washington, D.C., to confiscate firearms from citizens. That was the position I put forward in the speech. That is the position I maintain today.
Too many Americans have made a god out of their government, and they worship it like an idol. But God is still God.