The following is written by a Twitter friend of mine named Nate. I greatly appreciate his thoughts on a range of topics and he displayed some tactful courage and boldness in how he addressed many of the recent race-related current events. He's a man after my own heart because his desire is to put his worldview through a rigid Biblical grid. Undoubtedly he and I have different experiences in life, but we seem to come to many of the exact same conclusions because we filter our experiences through God's word. I'm grateful he took time to share his heart and mind on some issues and pray you'll be as challenged as I was to really, really examine the purpose of a Christian life.
A few days ago, on the evening of December 1, I encountered what I do on a regular basis throughout the day: tweets on Twitter. These tweets in particular concerned Rosa Parks. They were praising her for her bravery in refusing to move to the back of the bus, which set off the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, as well as the greater Civil Rights Movement.
Until I saw those tweets, I was completely unaware it was the anniversary of her actions. It shocked me that this anniversary came within days of the grand jury decisions concerning Michael Brown and Eric Garner, which have incited more than a few riots (both in the media and on the streets). What shocked me even more, however, was that a person I followed on Twitter to provide spiritual (i.e. mature Christian) insight was praising someone for disobeying God.
Yes, it’s true: on December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks broke the law. She committed an act she knew to be in defiance of a Montgomery city ordinance. Why? That’s probably too complex a question to be answered definitely (as are most questions of that nature), but as a Christian I know of only a few good (that is, Biblical) reasons to break a law. As an African-American, I do feel immense pressure to praise and never question not just Mrs. Parks, but the entirety of the Civil Rights Movement. Usually I am told they were "fighting for justice", and without their "sacrifice" I would not have the benefits I do today. I'm told that these elements make their actions commendable. I'm told Mrs. Parks was "brave" to attend to to her oppressors, and for that should be applauded. But after studying the relevant Scriptures, it becomes clear Rosa Parks was not honoring God that day.
There has long since been the popular notion that Christians are to “obey the [government’s] law, unless it conflicts with God’s law.” This is a good start. We see Peter and John in Acts 4:19 and 5:29 explain why they defied the commands of the their local Jewish leaders, who had told them (twice) that they were not allowed to tell people about Jesus. They were adamant they had to “obey God rather than people”.
That same Peter writes in his letter to 1st-century West-Asian Christians about obeying the government. Take a moment to think about that. Even as the quintessential example of (Christian) civil disobedience, he teaches that the government is “commission[ed by God] to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). Despite his own experience of persecution, he is all too willing to acknowledge that even those who mistreat him are appointed by God for a purpose. He goes on to encourage slaves to obey their masters—which warrants a blog post of its own—but even those thoughts (and what follows) provide massive insight:
“...be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse. For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth.When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:18-25, New English Translation (emphasis mine)
After reading that passage, I am left with one question: Why did Mrs. Parks suffer on that day? The answer is simple. At the end of the day, she sat in a cold jail cell because she got fed up with her unjust treatment under the law, did not wait for God’s justice, and enacted her own—with an entire Black community backing her. It was great for the movement, but terrible for Christian obedience.
I don’t know if Rosa Parks claimed to be a Christian, or if she claimed to have been acting in a particularly Christian manner on that day. Nor can I say the Civil Rights Movement claimed to be a Christian movement, though Martin Luther King’s use of the local church pulpit for most of his movement-defining speeches probably speaks for itself. In any case, what truly troubles me is when I see Christian brothers and sisters (who I can otherwise applaud) post irresponsible, Biblically indefensible thoughts on the internet, especially when these and the next few weeks may afford Christians a more attentive audience than usual.
What will be the Christian’s message to the world during this time? In a world where evil reigns (though no more or less than any other era, cf. 1 John 5:19) and oppression is built-in, what solution will we offer? As “Sunday-School” as it may be, the answer is Jesus. It’s all we have as Christians, which isn’t so bad since Jesus is everything. Call it “pie-in-the-sky”, but that’s some darn good pie.
Jesus didn’t offer us temporal peace and justice on earth before His return. In fact, he promises the opposite (John 16:33). What he did offer was his own life as a substitute for ours, as well as the power he himself used to come back from the dead. Among his people (i.e. all Christians everywhere), there is racial reconciliation; we are united in Christ, and there is no stronger union. It transcends blood relation—or rather, it is based on better blood (Acts 20:28). It is an eternal family. In it there is radical obedience, both to God’s law and to the government’s. Likewise, if we want God’s justice, and not just vengeance or personal vindication, we must learn to suffer like Jesus: without a word, no matter how cruel the oppressor.
There is no louder protest.