Fear God. Honor the King.

I’d like to talk a bit about what’s ethically right versus legally right, within the context of a Christian worldview. In researching this topic, I discovered that it actually broadens into something more important, but more on that later.

What originally lead me to this topic was a video I came across on Youtube. It featured a pastor who, while traveling often through border checkpoints, had decided that he no longer needed to submit to the authority of the border patrol, and refused to cooperate with them. His actual quote is, “I decided, you know what? I have the right to travel without being searched and without being questioned.” During one of his trips through the checkpoint, the pastor’s refusal to cooperate lead to the border patrol’s attempt to put him under arrest, his resisting, and the patrol eventually breaking into his vehicle, tasing him, and pulling him out of his car. Of course, as anyone who’s been assaulted would do, he immediately posted a Youtube video of it (because he also happened to have filmed the entire thing) which positioned him as some kind of martyr.

In the court proceedings following the incident the court ruled in the pastor’s favor. The decision was that legally one does not have to answer any questions or submit to a search of their vehicle at these particular types of checkpoints. The border patrol is allowed to visually inspect vehicles, but unless there’s something obviously wrong, such as drugs, weapons, or a bag filled with toddlers that you bought on craigslist, they’re not allowed to put you under arrest. They can ask questions, but you’re not legally required to answer. So, legally speaking, it is a pretty black and white case: The border patrol was wrong, and the pastor was right.

However, this seems to be a case of putting legal rights above what is ethically right. How do we know what is ethically right in this situation? Well, there are a few scriptures we can look at.

Most Christians are familiar with the verse from Matthew 22:21 (KJV):

Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

At face-value this statement is talking about taxes, but I think it has a broader application, applying more to obeying the laws of the government that you’re under. To support that concept we have Paul’s advice in Romans 13:1-7.  Verse 7, in particular says,

Render therefore to all [speaking of governing authorities, v.1] their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

We also have Peter reiterating similar advice in 1 Peter 2:13-17. His final statement in verse 17 is,

Fear God. Honour the king.

So, in modern terms: Fear God and obey the law.

Now, back to the pastor and his issue with the border patrol: One could argue, as he has, that he WAS obeying the law, since legally he didn’t have to answer the border patrol’s questions. This is really a matter of semantics though. No, the law does not implicitly state that you need to answer the questions asked by officers … however, would humbly answering their questions be causing him to sin? He was asked why he didn’t simply answer the border patrol’s routine questions and his reply was, “I was protecting my vehicle from an unlawful inspection.” Right. I’m sure his vehicle was flattered by his stalwart protection of its honor.

Anyway, before I get too wrapped up with people standing up for stupid, arbitrary causes, let’s broaden this up a bit. What about causes that are more serious? What about opposing laws and societal changes that do actually seek to encroach on our beliefs as Christians? To what extent should we “honor the king” before taking a stand against him?

Sadly, I don’t actually have a black and white answer for this. However, I do have a quote from one of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity:

To spend your time altering the state when you could be offering people eternal salvation is a bad bargain. To abandon the message that gives life to the eternal soul in favor of temporal change prostitutes the purpose of a believer’s life. That would be like a heart surgeon abandoning his life-saving practice to become a make-up artist. The church needs to use all its power and resources to bring men and women to Jesus Christ. That’s what God has called us to do.

This, I believe, is really poignant advice. I feel that Christians often times are so wrapped up with trying to make sure that society aligns with our personal ideologies, and freaking out when it doesn’t, that we lose sight of the Great Commission, which is really our main purpose as followers of Christ. I know that personally I have a hard time remembering this, so I don’t mean to make it sound simple. It’s easy to forget that the world is populated by lost and hopeless people.

I guess a good question to ask, when deciding if something is worth “standing up for” or devoting your time and energy toward, would be “what is this doing to help save people from going to Hell?”

 

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Brandon Rechten spends his days being a cog in the corporate machine as a graphic designer and spends his evenings and weekends hanging out with his wife and taking photos. In his free time he tries to think of interesting things to write in his bio.

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Posted on March 26, 2011, in "Guest Post" March, Guest Post and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. A very thought provoking post Brandon.

    From another different kind of cog in the corporate machine.

  2. Excellent observation (and well said).

    Before I even got to the part where you explained the legal aspects of this case, it was obvious to me that this pastor was out to stir stuff up (and it wasn’t the gift inside him). To me it was clear that he had a heart problem. Arrogance and pride were working together. Otherwise, he would have tried to practice Romans 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” So, it was possible, but he chose not to. To me, in light of all this, he was ethically wrong in his approach.

  3. You just gave the argument I have been giving to people for years (just with a different example!). Thank you!

    A. C. Baker finished it off nicely, I think. We too often allow our pride and self-righteousness get in the way of honoring God. When did Paul demand his rights as a Roman citizen? Only when it would help further the gospel. Did this pastor help further the gospel? If anything, he offered more fuel for contention and maybe a moment of hilarity for some people.

  4. Must echo what both A.C. and Danklemitis said. It’s incomprehensible to me that a pastor would act that way. Why do it? How does it glorify God? It seems to me it does the exact opposite.

    And it’s equally hard to believe a judge would rule for the pastor. A government must have certain powers to operate and to prevent anarchy. In this case, smuggling you-name-it across the border in the trunk of a car. We’ve come back in from Mexico many times, and never objected if the border agent wanted to look into our car our trunk. It makes no sense to me to deny that right; in fact, it comes down on the side of crime, not law and order. Which I don’t think a pastor is supposed to promote.

    And, yes, there are a good many Scriptures that tell us to love, obey, honor the government. Jesus said that. So did Paul. I would argue there are limits to that (see instances in Daniel), but this case was a long, long way short of that.

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