When the Court Should Not Be Obeyed?
by Chuck Colson
A few years ago the journal First Things ran an article with a
startling title: It was called "When the Court Should Not Be Obeyed."
The author, Russell Hittinger, argued that the Supreme Court, by its
rulings on abortion, has raised questions about its own legitimacy. Remember, the first
responsibility of government is to protect the lives of innocent people. Yet, with
abortion, the government supports wielding lethal force against the innocent for private
So, Hittinger argues, our government has abrogated its first
responsibilityand thereby given up its first claim to our obedience.
Is this truly a time when the Court should not be obeyed?
The abortion issue brings into sharp focus the issue of civil
disobedience. In biblical teaching, God has ordained certain authority structuresthe
family, the church, and the statewhich we are commanded to honor and obey. But none
of these structures has ultimate authority over our lives. Only God does.
That means that if any earthly power oversteps its proper jurisdiction,
then Christians have not only the right but also the duty to resistalways, I might
add, peacefully. The duty not to obey should never be taken lightly. Christians are
justified in disobeying the civil law only when it contravenes a higher law. Civil
disobedience should never stem from defiance of government, but only from submission to
The classic New Testament example, of course, is when Peter and John
were ordered to stop preaching about Jesus. They replied, "Punish us if you must, but
we will never stop preaching the Gospel."
Augustine said, "An unjust law is no law at all." And this
was the basis upon which Abraham Lincoln defied the Supreme Courts Dred Scott
decision perpetuating slavery. It was also the basis on which Martin Luther King, Jr.
advocated civil disobedience against laws discriminating on the basis of race.
So how does this apply to American Christians in the face of courts
that are perverting laws, making them contrary to the laws of God, and aggressively
interfering with the peoples right to self-government?
If courts continue to do this, we could encounter cases where unjust
laws are imposed upon us. At the moment, I believe there are democratic processes still
available to change the law, particularly with respect to abortion. And so long as this is
true, we must work within the constitutional process.
But if the courts should close the doors altogether, the Church might
have to make a deliberate decision to separate itself from government.
This is what happened in Nazi Germany. The confessing Church signed the
Barmen Declaration in 1934, rejecting Hitlers moral authority to rule. It was a
courageous act, and many Christians went to prison for it.
Hittinger has raised a crucial questionone of the most difficult
questions Christians will ever have to face, and we should pray that that day will never
come. We should pray that the Court will recover its senses and go back to its traditional
role of applying the law, not making itand certainly not promoting a culture of
In the final analysis, Christians must remember that our ultimate
allegiance is to the King of Kings, the One who rules over all.