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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

“The Christian and Civil Disobedience” (A Seattle radio station interview)

Presbyterian Journal
January 30, 1985

On November 9, 1984, Curtis Beseda was convicted in Federal Court in Washington State of fire bombing two abortion clinics in Everett and Bell¬ingham, Wash. (and was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison). A week later Robert A. Case ll, fulfilling a previous commitment, presented a day-long seminar to state anti-abortion leaders entitled “A Look at Christian Civil Disobedience.” The seminar was given in Everett, Wash. at the Lake Stevens Presbyterian Church (PCA) pastored by Rev. John Pickett. Case is the past director of the Christian Action Council based in Washington, D.C. The timing and content of the seminar resulted in an interview of Case over Seattle radio station KCIS. The following is an edited portion of that widely heard interview.

KCIS: Why spend an entire day in a Bible study on civil disobedience when there is ample precedent in American history for civil disobedience?

Case: For many of us to become civilly disobedient, we must be persuaded that it is commanded in God’s Word because we simply have too much to lose to do it on any other grounds. I am not persuaded by historical precedent or political practicality or sociological imperative to take to the streets and put my reputation, my livelihood, and perhaps my life on the line unless I see my marching orders clearly detailed in Scripture.

The Bible tells Christian they are to be obedient to the laws of the land. But what about laws that go against the laws of God?

The pre-eminent issue at stake in the relationship between the individual Christian and the organs of government is the lordship of Christ. That is, anything or anyone that attempts to supplant the reign of Christ in the mind and heart and actions of the believer must be resisted (Matt. 6:24; Acts 5:29). It is, however, a fine line between what is government supplantation and governmental freedom and license to be ungodly and immoral. In short, not everything that is sinful can necessarily be illegal. Matthew 5:21-48 teaches this. It seems to me that the moral lines of conduct which cannot be breached by government are given in Exodus 20.

We have seen abortion clinics picketed, not only in the Puget Sound area, but throughout the nation. Violent acts against abortion clinics such as arson and bombings have been on the increase in 1984. Is this type of action justified to stop what many believe to be murder?

It seems to me Scripture teaches that there is no disharmony between so-called “human rights” and so-called “property rights.” I say “so-called” because Scripture doesn’t refer to “hu¬man rights” and “property rights.” That is language that we have subsequently developed. On the contrary, what Scripture has is an intricate, inseparable fusing of human rights and property rights in key places, i.e. the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20), the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), the law of love (Rom. 13:8-10), and I Peter 4:14-16. What I am saying is that I don’t think it is ever justifiable from a Biblical point of view to destroy someone else’s property in the pursuit of so-called “human rights.

Are you saying that acts of property damage begin to erode God’s moral principles?

If you say, “Well, I can destroy a building, I can burn down an abortion clinic, in the pursuit of saving a life,” then it seems to me you’re saying, “I can steal another person’s property in order to prohibit murder” (Prov. 22:28); that is turning the unity and consistency of God’s revealed character on its head, and you can’t do that and be faithful to God’s Word.

Attempts have been made by the pro-life movement to stop, or at least slow down, the number of abortions performed each day, by picketing, blocking access to clinics and counseling pregnant women.

Many times these tactics have not worked. What is the next step?

A Biblical principle which clearly needs to be understood in this context is that we are not responsible for the consequences of our refusing to break the moral law of God. We are not accountable for tragedy beyond our control. Specifically, we are not accountable for abortions when we fail to use sinful means to prevent them. So, just because our counseling and our picketing and our demonstrations and our blocking access to abortion clinics does not always avert the murdering that is going on inside does not mean that we are obligated then to move to the next radical step of destroying the clinic to stop the murderous practice. We are always to use moral means to stop immorality. Romans 3:8 and 6:1-2 clearly teach this. The means we use to advance Kingdom morality are as important as the end we seek. The consequences of doing evil are always on the head of the evil-doer (James 2:10-11) and it is our sovereign God alone who must deliver those consequences (Rom. 12:17-19).

You have made the comment that Christians need to look at the people who are per¬forming abortions in a different light Explain.

One of the things that disturbs me about some elements of the evangelical right-to-life movement is that we have set up straw men for our abortionists. These abortionists have become, to this evangelical element, not image-bearers of God but rather fiends from hell and therefore no longer worthy of being treated with dignity and value and love. And we become, therefore, guilty of adopting the same sinful view of human life as the abortionist. This hateful attitude is not only a reproach to God, but it also sets up a rationale for doing anything to stop them murdering the unborn.

What then, in your opinion, is in the future for the evangelical pro-life movement?

If abortion is ever going to be eradicated as a scourge from this land, the victory is going to come as a result of pressure on the local level and not so much at the federal level. Therefore, every Christian in every community can have a powerful influence in stop¬ping abortion and its related evils. However, we must never forget that God is not pleased if immoral means are used in our struggle. We must always be careful to wage our battle in a moral manner, consistent with the Ten Commandments, if we are to be pleasing in God’s eyes.

In addition to being former director of the Christian Action Council in Washington, DLC., Robert Case is the owner of a family business in Ellensburg, Wash. Active in Washington State politics, he is currently chairman of the Board of Trustees of Central Washington University. He is a 1973 graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

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