What does and doesn’t constitute “civil disobedience”? That’s a question that many Christians of conscience will be struggling with over the next few weeks. I’d suggest the following:
Does NOT Constitute Civil Disobedience:
1. Legal action
If a restriction related to COVID19 appears to be illegal or unconstitutional, challenging that law, or its application through the courts would not constitute civil disobedience. The Apostle Paul challenged the legality of the punishment he and Silas were subjected to in Philippi as Roman citizens and won an apology and likely increased operating permission for the church as a whole in that region.
2. Letters to political representatives
Writing to one’s MP to discuss pending legislation and to make one’s opinion and conviction known is a normal and accepted part of the democratic system and does not constitute civil disobedience.
3. Peaceful protest
Peaceful protest is an assumed part of the democratic process. A march through the streets holding signs, or a sit-in, or a rally would all be considered legitimate and legal forms of expression. In a COVID19 context, for a protest to be considered legal, it would be required to abide by all spacing, sanitation, and masking protocols.
What Does Constitute Civil Disobedience
1. Intentional defiance of Health Unit regulations for public gatherings
If the local Health Unit, in the best interests of public due to plague or pestilence, has mandated a temporary limit on worship gatherings – such as the current 30% capacity in my region – then to defy that and to fill one’s building to 50% or 100% of capacity would represent an act of civil disobedience.
2. Abuse of mask exemptions
Claiming to have a medical exemption to the current mask requirements when you haven’t been diagnosed with such a condition by a physician would constitute an act of civil disobedience.
3. Rejection of other health protocols
If you encourage your people to sing when the Health Unit has asked for a temporary halt on singing, or if you reject the 2-metre spacing requirement or the prohibition on food service at your public gatherings; these would all be considered acts of civil disobedience.
N.B. Civil disobedience may be justifiable, from a Christian/Biblical perspective, in certain circumstances, as I have written about previously.
Actions which are NOT justifiable in any circumstance, for a Christian:
1. Abuse of public officials
Even when disagreeing or protesting, a Christian will be required to conduct him or herself in a Christian manner. Abusive or threatening speech is never appropriate. The Apostle Paul apologized for speaking ill of the high priest at his trial, even though he didn’t recognize him as such at first, likely due to poor eyesight. All things done in Jesus’ name must be done in Jesus’ way.
2. Abuse of business owners or store personnel
Verbally or physically abusing business owners or store personnel who communicate health requirements is an act entirely inconsistent with Christian character. Anyone claiming to do so in the name of Christ is guilty of violating the 3rd commandment. We are to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and pray for those who persecute us, so even if you should feel that these health protocols are malicious in intent, your response to them must be informed by the teaching of the Bible and the clear mandate of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.
3. Destruction of private or public property
There is no Christian justification for rioting. Christians are to be givers, not takers, we are to build people up, not tear others down. Destruction of property is a clear and straightforward violation of the 8th commandment.
4. Endangerment of public health
Should Christians determine that the threshold for civil disobedience has been reached, or the time for peaceful protest has come, then it must be done in a way that does not endanger the health of our neighbours. To love our neighbours is to protect their wellbeing, even if that must come at the expense of our expression. If you feel you must march, then maintain 2 metres distance, wear a mask and express yourself through a megaphone or by means of some other amplification device to avoid shouting and dispersing particles that may infect others.
These are difficult times and we are processing new situations and crises. Let’s resolve to extend grace and mercy to those who arrive at different conclusions about the factors involved in these various decisions.
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.