So it is now time for us to bring some things together. I have written a great deal about unanswered questions with regard to the threat of the virus itself, and I have also written about the lack of a legal foundation for the arbitrary impositions that most of us are dealing with. We have also touched on the three forms of government that God has established among men, and how the reality of self-government is essential to all three.
But now it is time to start considering the abc’s of practical civics. This is, as they say, the place where the rubber meets the grindstone.
As we get to the practical side of this, which we will do by the end, we need to remember to stack these issues in an ascending order of importance. The basic foundation is biblical truth. What does the Bible say? Next up would be the constitutional issues. What does the supreme authority in our constitutional system say? After that would matters of the code of law. How have we historically handled these sorts of issues through our laws and courts? And then last, should I open my hair salon before the governor says I can? Should I open my restaurant up?
All Divvied Up
Many Christians are so occupied with the pressing task of providing for their families that they have neglected some larger questions about practical civics. They vote and all, but they have not reflected seriously on how our system of government is supposed to work.
Our government is constructed with different branches, and this is called “separation of powers,” or “checks and balances.” Those who are familiar with these phrases can tell you that they have to do with the fact that at the federal level we have three branches of government — the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. They are arranged this way so that each of them might check and/or balance any attempted encroachments by the other two. The men who framed this were suspicious of government officials. They were suspicious of all future American government officials.
But the worldview that carefully separated these three branches of government was interested in going a lot farther than that. You can see the same balancing outlook in the composition of the Senate, with two senators from Rhode Island and two from Texas, intended to be a check on big states pushing little states around. We can see it in the Electoral College, intended to be a check on raw democracy. We can see it in the doctrine of enumerated powers, where the Tenth Amendment says explicitly that the Federal Government only has the right to do those things spelled out in the Constitution. All other prerogatives belong elsewhere.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Now there are some obvious ambiguities in all of this. Which powers to the states? Which powers to the people? Those states and those people might have different views on the subject. What then? I hope to get to that fascinating subject shortly.
For another dose of principled ambiguity, here is a little something from Article 1 of the Idaho Constitution. I have little doubt that many other states have something very similar.
INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF MAN. All men are by nature free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property; pursuing happiness and securing safety.Article 1, Section 1
POLITICAL POWER INHERENT IN THE PEOPLE. All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal protection and benefit, and they have the right to alter, reform or abolish the same whenever they may deem it necessary.Article 1, Section 2
Statement of the Problem
I trust you see the difficulty. In our system of government, both the federal and state level have embodied in their most authoritative documents the fact that the people are the foundation of all political authority. This remains the case even when those other instiutions that were designed to represent the people are no longer doing so.
You can see this in a number of ways. The people are free and equal “by nature.” The people have “inalienable rights.” Among those rights are the rights of “acquiring, possessing, and protecting property.” “All political power is inherent in the people.” Government is instituted to protect all of this, and when the government falls down on that job, the people have the right “whenever they may deem it necessary” to “alter, reform, or abolish” whatever’s going on up there.
Now when the people get exasperated enough to do all this, it is worth pointing out that they will have very few institutional mechanisms for doing this. But they still have the authority to do it, and the exercise of that authority is not challenging the existing authority. According to the law, it is the existing authority.
But mark this carefully. It is not the existing authority if it is the mob. It is the existing authority, the foundation of all other political authority, if it is the people.
Caesar, Louis XIV, and You
So the simplistic assumption that many Christians have is that Romans 13 confers absolute authority on whatever honcho is currently claiming it, whatever Yertle has clambered up onto all the other turtles. Whoever makes the most audacious claim must be the one that God told us to obey.
But that is not the case. It is not even the case when some absolutist ruler like Louis XIV hauls up his slacks in order say things like “L’état, c’est moi.” I am the state. Even then, no.
How much more of a resounding no should it be when such claims fly in the face of all our established and documented authorities?
To make the case crystal clear, let us say that a policeman comes into your business with a “cease and desist” order, signed by the governor. The question you must ask is whether this order is legal and whether it is lawful. Those are two different questions. If your business is selling crystal meth to kids from the nearby junior high school, then we would say that the governor has a point. If your business is selling books to inquiring minds, then he doesn’t.
If you are the bookseller, and you comply because you don’t have resources for a pitched battle with the state, then you are not granting the constitutional point. You are simply acknowledging the realities ( ).
But if you are the bookseller and you comply with the governor’s unbiblical, unconstitutional and illegal demand, doing so “because of Romans 13,” then you are the one violating Romans 13. You are complicit, together with the governor, in disregarding what the law of the land requires from all of us.
So Just Say No
So when the people act in concert, there is nothing whatever that can be done about it. If the governor has ordered all restaurants and bars to close, and they all remain open, then the governor has lost the battle. Not only has he lost the battle, but he has lost the battle in just the way the system designed for him to lose the battle.
If only one courageous owner opens up, disregarding the order, and the cops come and shut him down, then we have what is called a “court case.” This too is built into the system. If a general proclamation is made and I object to it in the abstract, and that is all, I do not yet have standing.
And so here is the bottom line, that admittedly requires further development. When a Christian citizen disregards an ungodly and unconstitutional law, he is not doing something wrong, “however excusable.” He is actually exercising one of his central obligations as a Christian citizen. He is fulfilling his duty. He is being a responsible citizen in much the same way as when he goes and votes.
Notice that I said “disregards,” not “disobeys.” If I am walking down the street, and somebody’s little yippy dog runs out and barks at me the whole length of his yard, and I move on out of earshot, I am disregarding him, not disobeying him.
Like I said, this requires future development.