Week 20 in the year of our Lord 2021

Shrewd civil disobedience

9 minutes to read

A power ethical, politic, or moral, to oppress, is not from God, and is not a power, but a licentious deviation of a power; and is no more from God, but from sinful nature and the old serpent, than a license to sin. —Samuel Rutherford

For earthly princes lay aside their power when they rise up against God and are unworthy to be reckoned among the number of mankind. We ought, rather, to spit upon their heads than to obey them. —John Calvin


One reader wrote to ask us a question about civil disobedience. While it is quite specific, our answer can be applied with very minor modification to pretty much any situation you may find yourself in—which in many places is looking increasingly common:

The neighboring town has a Planned Parenthood. The door to the facility is a little more than 100 ft. from the nearest public sidewalk. The town prohibits public speech that can be heard from over 50 ft. It seems that the city primarily enforces the ordinance if any amplification device is used, electronic or otherwise. That said, simple preaching is technically a violation and, if Planned Parenthood made a complaint, would be cited. If I was cited for preaching the gospel at Planned Parenthood, I don’t think I should pay it, even if they jail me for a stint. What is your take? How would you attack this problem?

Things were so much simpler back when you could just get a flogging and go back to work, huh?

As a matter of principle, we agree that paying the fine implies its legitimacy, so it’s not the ideal option. However, pure principle leads to “burn the house down” idealism, rather than “fix what is broken” reformationalism. We must be principled pragmatists (or pragmatic principlists), which means there are two things we must do before getting into a fight.

Firstly, clarify your objective. If your goal is sidewalk ministry specifically—i.e., convincing women entering Planned Parenthood not to kill their babies—then they need to be able to hear you for that to work. While it might be logistically challenging to be heard from 100 feet away, it will be much more challenging to be heard from jail. So if this is your objective, then either you want to find a way to preach that complies with the city’s noise ordinance, or you want to reach those women another way (e.g., signs, a mobile pregnancy support trailer, etc)—or just pay the fine and consider it a cost of doing ministry. It is perfectly legitimate to offer up a fine to the Lord as a sacrifice, for the sake of saving some by any means. Consider how joyful the disciples were to be counted worthy of unjust punishment in Acts.

That said, you should still approach this shrewdly. Find out who is responsible in your jurisdiction for citations, and who would be prosecuting them. Learn what kind of people they are. Speak to them if possible, and ask directly if they would, in fact, press the law on someone preaching in public. If you can get a principled commitment from them, and they turn around and then try to change their mind because they don’t like you preaching against abortion specifically, outside a murder mill, then it is going to be much harder for them if you can document their hypocrisy and hold them to their word.

If your objective is broader than just street ministry, and you’re intending to fight for religious liberty and free speech, then once again you want to do this kind of due diligence, but even more so. Talk to a local lawyer ahead of time so you understand the battlefield. Pick the most sympathetic person to be your representative. To win a legal fight, you ideally want to use the enemy’s tactics against him. Pick someone in a group that is culturally/politically favored, and arrange your case if possible so that for a judge to find against you, they have to position themselves against that group. In other words, find an injured war veteran, a racial minority, a sweet young mother with kids, etc. to be your representative. Also, call the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). They deal with this kind of thing every day, and have lawyers in both the USA and internationally.

This ties into the second thing you need to do, which is count the cost. What king, before going to war, assesses whether he can win against ten thousand with his little army of one?

Counting the cost means that you have done your due diligence, have some idea of what is going to happen if you resist, and are prepared to see it through. It means that you are ready to be abused by a system designed to make it very hard on someone who flouts the rules. It means you are ready to spend more time in jail waiting for a hearing, than you would spend under the maximum sentence for your infraction. It means you are ready to be put in solitary confinement for no reason. It means you are prepared to pay the legal fees necessary for adequate representation. It means you are ready to earn no income for weeks or months.

The worst might not happen. But you must be ready for the worst. If they decide to make an example of you, what will that look like, and how will it affect your family? What happens if they let you go, and then cite you a second time?

You want to find out things like:

  • Who is the prosecutor in your area and what kind of person are they? Fair, or a political hack?
  • Who are the judges who might hear your case? Are they impartial or corrupt?
  • Is there existing case law for this infraction? What happened to the last guy?

Remember especially that it is a fault of younger Christian men to rely on strength rather than wisdom. That is natural for us. But while we should never shrink back from a fight, we should also never get a beat-down when there is a shrewder way we could have dealt with the situation. Consider how Paul stands on his rights as a Roman when he is unlawfully beaten (Acts 16), and later uses his right to appeal to Caesar as a way of entering the royal court to evangelize the leaders of Rome. But consider also how he escapes Damascus in Acts 9. Before attracting the attention of the law, make sure you have looked for craftier ways to achieve your objectives—ways that don’t leave you easily open to counterattack. And think long-term strategy for the war, not just short-term tactics for the battle.


It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen. ―Aristotle


New content this week: #

A new podcast episode: Nice Guy-ism Part One


A new article: Genesis 3:16: Is patriarchy a curse of the fall?


Michael’s sermon from Philippians 4:2-3, coincidentally preached on Mother’s Day: Christian Women Sin. A section to whet your appetite:

There is another aspect to why I think saying “women sin” generates such a strong reaction.

I don’t think women are used to it. I think most pastors are scared of women or feel they must flatter and pander to them. Or, perhaps, they think women sin less.

Many have actually argued that women possess a spiritual goodness that men somehow lack.

In 1964, James Alberione wrote a book entitled Woman: Her Influence and Zeal, and it is representative of the attitudes that have come dominate Western Christianity.

In it, Alberione claims “…woman is more naturally inclined to the practice of holiness.”

How?

“[Woman] is more understanding in things of the heart, she is more spiritual than man. More humble, more tender, and consequently, more religious than man, she is more inclined to prayer, to charity, and to hope. More than man, woman feels the need for pure love; her love, less egoistic, is unselfish and prone to sacrifice.”

This attitude was pervasive within the clergy in the 1800s in the States. It led society to conclude that “women had to be the saviors of men, drawing the errant male sinner back to home and heaven.”

Sarah Hale, the 19th century poet who also wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb, argued that “[man] is naturally selfish in his affections; and selfishness is the sin of depravity. But woman was not thus cast down.” She and others saw the “womanly element predominated” in Jesus. Therefore, Jesus’s “human soul, derived from a woman, trained by a woman, was most truly womanly in its characteristics.”

This stuff has been in the air we breathe and the water we drink for centuries. It’s not always as bluntly stated as it was by Hale or Ablerione. It’s usually more subtle.

But its there.

You see it in the unwillingness of ministers to call women to repent. They’ll call out people in general but not women specifically.

I can’t abide by that. The biggest problem in your life, ladies, is your sin. It’s what keeps you from fellowship with God. It’s what destroys your relationship with friends, family, and your spouse. It’s what robs you of joy and relegates you to misery. It what blinds you to the goodness of God in this life.

If a pastor loves women, he will call them to repent.

Ladies, repent.

And don’t repent in the general and generic. Name specifics sins to God. Ask for forgiveness from him and from others. Relationships can be restored when sin is acknowledge and dealt with honestly. Be reconciled.

There is grace and mercy for humble and repentant women. But God will resist the proud woman.


Notable: #

Doug Wilson providentially ties in with the sermon above, in How Do I Find A Church With A Spine?. His chief insight is in identifying what a spine looks like—and preaching against the state is not the first place he suggests you look.


Eric Conn interviews Pastor Rich Lusk on Masculinity and the Church for the Hard Men Podcast.


A convictional complementarian demonstrates why complementarianism was doomed from the beginning: https://twitter.com/howertonjosh/status/1391590264129589251


Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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