Obey or Resign: A Short-Sighted Doctrine

In the wake of the arrest of a government official in Kentucky, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has once again furthered a position that Christians who are government employees or office holders only have two options when their religious convictions are violated in the course of their official duties.  Obey or resign.

This position was restated earlier today when ERLC president, Dr. Russell Moore, along with co-author Andrew Walker penned, “Need We Jail Each Other Over Marriage Licenses?”

The article states, "When an official can no longer execute the laws in question due to an assault on conscience, and after all accommodating measures have been exhausted, he or she could work for change as a private citizen, engaging the democratic process in hopes of changing the questionable law." (italics mine)

After reading the article, I tweeted that the “‘Obey or resign’ doctrine espoused by many is based on a weak hermeneutic, a secular worldview, and a flawed view of the U.S. Constitution.”

A weak hermeneutic

No passage of Scripture Is singularly controlling, making all others stand on their head and yield to it.  More bluntly, neither Romans 13 nor 1 Peter 2 in full context require complete and total obedience to all human authority.  The context, even of these oft-cited texts, deals with using civil liberty to do good and not evil.

As for his inspired text, Peter says we are to use our civil liberties as “bondservants of God.”  Peter is one who, in the book of Acts, repeatedly defied human institutions, bluntly declaring that God's laws were higher than man's.

From the earliest pages of the Bible, we read of citizens who defied governmental laws and were commended by God.

Exodus 1:17-20 - “But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them…therefore God dealt well with the midwives…”

There is even textual evidence that the midwives lied to the governmental representatives about the whole birthing process.  And yet, God commended and blessed them for their actions.  Their heroic actions led to the birth of a deliverer.

Some will say, “Yes but they were not governmental employees.”  Though that’s a distinction without a difference, I’ll concede the point for a moment and talk about a few government employees/officials.

We could speak of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  There is no record that these provincial governors (Daniel 2:49) resigned their posts before refusing to bow.

Then there’s Daniel himself.  Daniel 6:10 records, “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed (italics mine), he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.”

Notice that the great prophet knew he was violating the law.  When he went home he didn’t pen his resignation as one of the king’s top 3 governors.  No.  He defied the king (his boss) and obeyed God.

Daniel 6:22ff records the end of the incident.  Daniel said, “My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you.”  Now the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.

Daniel testified and the Holy Spirit affirmed that Daniel did nothing wrong.  Don’t miss that.  Our immutable, unchanging God stated through the testimony of the prophet and the testimony of the Holy Ghost that Daniel was blameless, all the while holding his office and simultaneously disobeying the orders of the king.

Those who believe the Bible requires an elected official to either comply or resign are simply wrong.  It's just that simple.  The only way to state that more clearly is to say it again.

Those who believe the Bible requires an elected official to either comply or resign are simply wrong.

A secular worldview

A fundamental worldview question is “Where did man originate?”  I mean, “Did God create man or did man create God?”

This worldview question intersects the matter of civil liberties on a regular basis.  Namely, “Who/What is the source of our rights?”  It appears to me that the ERLC isn’t as clear on this question as they need to be.

Today’s article states, “We must recognize the crucial difference between the religious liberty claims of private citizens and government officials.”  With all due respect, that is a fundamentally flawed view of civil liberties, religious or otherwise.

My civil liberties are inherent and unalienable.  They come from God and not the government.  The government has never given me (or anyone else) a single right. 

The government guards and guarantees rights but has never given any.  It couldn’t if it wanted to.  It has none to give.

The government protects and preserves my rights but has never provided any.  It couldn’t if it wanted to.  It has none to provide.

This is a basic misunderstanding in today’s culture.  The First Amendment doesn’t give me ONE. SINGLE. FREEDOM.  Not a one.  The prohibition is on Congress.
Kim Davis had no fewer religious liberty rights the day she took public office than the day she was born.  The notion that anyone has fewer religious liberty claims because they have a certain employer is a bizarre one that is based on a secular, not a Biblical worldview.
Kim Davis does not have a right to be a county clerk.  If legally removed, her rights have not necessarily been infringed.  But the idea that she checked her religious liberty rights, even in some small measure, at the door of the clerk's office is a troubling notion.  More troubling in this case is that this belief is held by those whose present ministry is to speak with Biblical and constitutional clarity on such matters.

A flawed view of the U.S. Constitution

To be clear, I'm not advocating a government where individuals can disregard legitimate laws and become a law unto themselves.  If Davis has done so, she isn't the only one.  That's exactly what Judge Bunning has done as well.

Our founding document calls for a separation of powers which are governed and controlled by checks and balances.  In the present case, there is a legal remedy for an elected official who is derelict in performance of his/her duties.

Kim Davis was subject to any number of constitutionally-tenable responses from other branches of government and from the electorate itself.  The laws of this country never envisioned an elected official being arrested for such a breech.

Judge Bunning believed (perhaps rightly) that Davis’ recall/impeachment would be unlikely.  He further believed that fines would be paid by others, rendering them ineffective as a penalty.  That's not his call to make.  So he took matters into his own hand.

The laws of the state of Kentucky explicitly put the right to seek remedy in the hands of others.  Not the federal judge.  By his unilateral action, Judge Bunning became guilty of the very transgression for which Kim Davis now sits in jail.  He didn't like the outcome of following the law so he made his own decision.

It is not a judge’s prerogative to decide that when the legally-proscribed means will not produce his desired ends he can circumvent those means and decree an end of his own choosing.  Frankly, that judicial approach is what got us here in the first place.  It’s bad enough to have a legislative judiciary.  Must we have an executive one as well?

That is called monarchy.  And our forebears fought a war with red-coated British soldiers over that.

Some have rhetorically asked, "What if a county clerk were a Quaker and refused to distribute gun licenses?"  Then she, like Kim Davis, should be subject to the laws that govern derelict officials.

In the present matter, Davis is not limited to two options, obey or resign.  She can exercise her own religious liberty while submitting to the actual laws of the state of Kentucky.  If properly recalled or impeached, she can pack her office and go home.  Quietly.  Respectfully.  Legally.


In the meantime, those who limit her choices to only two might be well advised to reconsider their position on the basis of Biblical, natural, and constitutional law.