If your kayak is going over the falls, then the mainstream is the last place you would want to be. I say this because “mainstream” is not automatically a term of praise. At the same time, nobody wants to be a nutter just for grins, and so allow me to lay down some basic principles of Christian resistance to the kind of soft despotism we are up against.
By “soft” despotism, incidentally, I am talking about style, not results. Brave New World was every bit as hard and coercive as 1984, but soma was more fun for the recipient than having a jackboot in your face. Liberty is just as gone in either case. Sometimes hard seems hard, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it always is hard.
In a similar way, we are growing into a nanny state, as opposed to the goose-stepping/missile parade kind, but, at the end of the day, our millions of unborn children are just as dead. A recent case of forced abortion in China outraged the international community, which only serves to show our hypocrisy. If we remember to take the child into account, all abortions are forced abortions. Sometimes, as in China, the mother and child are both coerced. Other times, as practiced in America, only the child is. But do you think these are vital distinctions as far as the child is concerned? The dead Chinese baby and the dead American baby are both dead.
I begin with this issue because, when it comes to constitutional issues, a lot of Christians think the language of resistance is overheated and irresponsible. I say that the Constitution is dead, or nearly so, and many patriotic Christians are outraged because they desperately want to believe that everything is normal. But how many millions of American children have had their lives taken in the name of that supposedly vibrant Constitution? Over forty million, right? Can we admit that something is seriously screwed up? Can we admit that Christians need to take a stand in order to put things to rights?
That said, let’s get down to basic issues. How may we go about this?
We have to start with the distinction between reformation and revolution. Secularists have a deep faith in revolution, and so they admit (on paper) the right to revolution that the people have. But the kind of thing they have in mind is volcanic — the hot magma of the people’s wrath. What they don’t like is resistance that respects the necessity of lawful behavior throughout.
This is why they consistently misrepresent the nature of the American War for Independence — which was not a lawless rebellion, but rather a lawful application of the rights of Englishmen under the British Constitution. In short, they want the American Revolution to be of the same type as the French Revolution. But it was utterly different. Anyone who wants to pursue this further should get a copy of Gentz’s The American and French Revolutions Compared, translated into English by John Quincy Adams. The short form is that far from being a prototype of the French Revolution, the American War for Independence was lawful, from begining to end.
There is a lot here, but let’s see if I can cram it into a paragraph. The parliament of England had no legal authority over the colonies whatsoever. Claiming you have legal authority is not the same thing as having it. England had her king, and had her own parliament. Virginia had that same king, but a different legislative body. The legislative body of England had no more authority over Virginia than the legislature of South Dakota has over the citizens of South Carolina. If a citizen of South Carolina ignored a tax levied on him by the legislature of South Dakota, he may be doing a lot of things, but disregarding Romans 13 would not be one of them. In fact, a person who dutifully mailed off a tax payment to the over-reaching legislature would be the one who was disobeying the law — because he was obeying someone who was disobeying the law.
So when Christians seek out lawful forms of resistance, they are walking in the noble tradition of their fathers. When they accept the secularist dictum that they must accept the absolute decisions of their masters as final (unless that volcano goes, and then all bets are off), then they assume that putting things right is an “all or nothing” proposition. Either you just accept the way things are, or you one day mysteriously find yourself in the middle of a Parisian mob, holding aloft the duke’s intestines on a stick. Are those the only two options?
Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrates outlines a way of lawful resistance to encroaching despotism.
Now we are getting dangerously close to the brass tacks. Is it even a possibility that the American ruling class might gum things up so badly that we are way past the point where the Founders were when they took on King George? Did King George ever authorize the execution of any unborn infants? Did he ever hold gay pride events at St. James Court?
So, is it a possibility? If a person says that the American system cannot go off the rails, then we have identified the problem — it is idolatry, pure and simple. A belief that any nation in this fallen world is incapable of falling is, oddly enough, one of the standard ways people have of falling. To avow American exceptionalism is to give a risible demonstration of Americans putting on their pants the same way everybody else does, one leg at a time.
But if we acknowledge that the American system can be deranged, what do we do when it gets to that point? Do we want local officials to say something about it or not? Do we want governors to disregard an unconstitutional federal mandate? More than that, do we want governors to disobey an immoral federal mandate?
What would the Christian opponents of nullification say about a pro-life governor who outlawed abortion in his state? The legislature passed it, and he signed it. “But that goes contrary to the Roe v. Wade decision . . .” “That’s too bad,” he says.
The question then before us would be whether his action was “moral, but unconstitutional,” or “moral and constitutional.” I would opt for the latter. I don’t believe a nullifying governor has to choose between Scripture and the Constitution. But if you are among those who believe that he does have to choose, which way should he choose?