The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is Civil Disobedience Ever Justified?
“WHEN you see your own people raped and killed,” said a Catholic missionary of 30 years, “when you see whole towns uprooted by soldiers, and kids conscripted out of their homes, and when you realize that 2 percent of the population already controls three-quarters of the wealth, you cannot bury your head in a Bible and ignore these realities.”—Italics ours.
If you were in this missionary’s shoes, what would you do? Join in a peaceful demonstration or in a strike? What if these do not bring the needed change? Would violence then be justified? A revolution or a coup? What do the “spiritual leaders” of today recommend? Note these reports:
□ A clergyman in Nicaragua said that he serves God by serving the people and the revolution.
□ In the Philippines a minister was expelled from the country for fomenting political unrest and portraying Jesus as a rebel.
□ Priests and nuns have sided with guerrillas in an effort to bring down a government in Central America.
Their actions trumpet a loud and clear message: Civil disobedience is justified or even deemed a Christian duty. But is this true, even when the motives and goals are sincere and humanitarian? What is the Bible’s viewpoint?
‘A Stand Against God’?
God has a clearly defined policy with regard to human governments or authorities. The Bible states: “There is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God.” Yes, Jehovah God has the necessary power either to interfere with or to terminate any existing authority at any given time. If they function, it is because he allows it.—Romans 13:1.
After establishing this fact, the scripture adds: “Therefore he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves.” (Romans 13:2) In view of these words, can a Christian conscientiously say that he ‘serves God by serving a revolution’? Is one taking ‘a stand against God’ by participating in, or even advocating, activities that directly challenge the existing governmental authority?
Let us look to Bible history for an answer. By the end of the seventh century B.C.E., Jehovah had allowed the Babylonian Empire to dominate Israel, making Zedekiah of Jerusalem a vassal king. After eight years of submission, however, Zedekiah felt compelled to resist such an arrangement. He called on Egypt for help. No longer was he going to allow a foreign power—pagan at that—to dominate God’s people. His motives seemed pure. Yet, how did God view it? Was Zedekiah to become a divinely approved “freedom fighter”? No! For in rebelling against Babylon, he was also rebelling against God. On account of this revolt, Jehovah decreed that Zedekiah would die as a captive in Babylon.—2 Kings 24:17-20; Ezekiel 17:15, 16.
Zedekiah’s case is not an isolated one. History has shown over and over that civil disobedience, even when well intentioned, cannot bring lasting solutions to man’s problems. The fact is that uprisings and revolutions often tend to worsen the situation. In many cases, after the apparent success of a revolution, the “liberators” themselves eventually become guilty of tyranny and oppression. In time, a new generation of oppressed people seek to revolt. Such a vicious cycle has been experienced in many countries. For example, one country in South America recently experienced its 189th coup in 154 years!
Why is it that sincere men cannot free mankind from exploitation and oppression? Simply because they lack two things—the wisdom and the power. No wonder the Bible warns us: “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs.”—Psalm 146:3.
To illustrate, picture yourself in a hospital awaiting surgery. You cry out in pain and discomfort. Suddenly, a janitor passing by hears you, grabs a scalpel, and offers his help to bring needed relief. Would you allow him to operate? Of course not! Why? Because his love and compassion alone simply do not qualify him for such a difficult job. His actions will only worsen your suffering, even placing you in mortal danger. Such behavior would be presumptuous and highly irresponsible and ignores the fact that a time has been set aside for a qualified surgeon to operate. It would, by far, be much better for him simply to reassure you that help is on the way.
Similarly, true Christians today do not engage in civil disobedience. They await the day and hour when qualified intervention by God will come. Only he has the wisdom and the power to bring lasting solutions to mankind. Through their preaching work, Jehovah’s Witnesses reassure those who are suffering from injustices that such relief is soon to come.—Isaiah 9:6, 7; 11:3-5.
In the meantime, we can pursue any legal and peaceful means available to establish and defend our rights and seek relief from oppression. Should these fail, however, it would be wrong to resort to civil disobedience. Accordingly, the apostle Paul advises: “As far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” Genuine and obedient Christians take this wise admonition to heart.—Romans 12:18, 19.
[Picture Credit Line on page 23]