Can a Christian be civilly disobedient?

How do we balance the call in Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 to be subject to government and yet still stand up for injustice and tyranny in our government?  In Romans, Paul says that God established the government, which suggests that your obedience to it correlates with your recognition of God’s sovereignty.  In 1 Peter, Peter calls us to be subject to every human institution, whether it’s the emperor or whomever else, even when it was that emperor, Nero, who ultimately killed him according to Christian tradition.  Both Paul and Peter are telling you to be subject to a government that is in direct opposition to you and your message.  Your call is not one of revolution, but subjection.

This call to be subject to government is often one of the most neglected commands in Scripture.  As some of us American Christians see our government straying far from our ideals and what our nation historically stood for, we can be tempted to kick against the goads; feeling justified in our rebellion and complaint.

Yet there are times when civil disobedience may be called for.  Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season … a time to kill, a time to heal … a time for war, and a time for peace.”  Our dividing line for civil disobedience should not be dictated by our level-headedness or lack thereof; neither should it be dictated by right-wing, pseudo-Christian media moguls who claim to speak for us.  Our dividing line for civil disobedience is God Himself.  When told to do something in direct violation with God’s expressed commands, Peter says in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  God, Himself, through His Word determines our obedience or disobedience to government.  We honor the emperor (and his government) but we fear God (1 Pet 2:17).  If my government tries to limit what I say from God’s Word, then I will obey God rather than government.  If they arrest me for speaking out against societal injustice then I will be an ambassador in chains (Eph 6:20).  Be subject to the government insofar as it allows you to be subject to God.  For more on this subject, check out this week’s sermon.