“We should always be good citizens and obey our government, except when doing so goes against God.”
My Sunday school class members nodded in agreement at the teacher’s statement. Two or three piped up, and one mentioned how voting is important; another brought up the issue of prayer in public schools; and yet another introduced the very pressing problem of whether or not nativity scenes should be allowed on public property.
But there’s a gigantic flaw with this variety of good citizenship: If Christians are to obey the state under all circumstances, up until the point that it goes against God, how and when is activism for the cause of freedom justified?
Despite that the opposite seems true at first glance, opposing the government is not merely justified—it is necessary.
As it turns out, the state will rarely begin encroaching upon religious freedoms without warning (revolutions excluded).
Usually an unprecedented increase in the size and scope of government, excessive regulations, an explosion of new bureaucracies, intrusion into all financial sectors of the economy, gun and weapon control laws, a police state, an interventionist economy, skyrocketing taxes and a nightmarishly large welfare state crop up years (possibly decades) before direct legal persecution comes from the government.
In other words, before the state tells you to go against God, it will tell you to empty your wallet, drop your weapons, and register belongings. Only a large and intrusive government has the power to regulate worldviews and religion, and large and intrusive governments always begin with financially controlling and crippling the populace, disarming citizens, and keeping tabs on your life and property.
Being a truly good citizen is attempting to stop these phenomena in their tracks—to try and ensure that the circumstances in which the government can or would tell you to go against God would never come about in the first place.
It should also be noted that laws going against God are not necessarily applying to merely so-called “religious” issues, like prayer in public schools or nativity scenes at city hall: God has ordained a way for government to function, a way for financial situations to work, a way for children to be educated and raised, a way for charity to happen, a way for animals to be treated.
Not even individual denominations, much less the whole of Christianity or an entire nation, can decide amongst themselves what precisely these ways entail. The best option is to leave government out entirely and to fight to keep it that way.
Good citizenship never involves silently allowing one’s self to become a host or unfair beneficiary of a parasitical state; it never involves the doormat-like existence that some modern Christians suggest is ideal; it never involves handing over weapons, children, or freedoms.
The moral problems with government control of the economy and an intrusive state is a topic for another day; but excessive government intrusion makes a Christian lifestyle gradually less possible and inevitably leads to persecution and outright laws against its existence.
The prayer in public school issue and the debate over nativity scenes on public property are two very small facets of an ever-growing underlying problem—the expanding scope of government.
So, is obeying the state at all times a Christian imperative?
No—respect the government when respect is due, support it when it deserves support, and always keep Christ your focus in politics and in matters of the state, but realize that there is a time when you must oppose government. And remember in particular that this time comes a lot sooner than when Christian beliefs are under direct legal attack.