What is the Biblical basis for seeking social justice when such actions are considered illegal, or in opposition to the justice system?
The Bible has many examples of carrying out God's commands despite opposition from secular, or even religious authorities.
For example, Daniel and his fellow exiles were ordered not to worship God by those in authority, but continued to do so. In Acts 4, Peter and John were forbidden to preach and heal, yet continued to do so. They specifically said:
“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
Later in response to further orders to stop, Peter says:
“We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)
In a wider context, Christians have frequently disobeyed laws that are unjust, from hiding Jews from the Nazi regime to harbouring runaway slaves in nineteenth century America.
I was unable to think of any biblical justification for Christians to seek social justice by resorting to civil disobedience and breaking the law of the land. So I found an article on the subject and present below some Bible examples which MAY be considered by SOME as the basis for opposing those in authority in order to achieve social justice:
In Exodus 1, the Egyptian Pharaoh gave the clear command to two Hebrew midwives that they were to kill all male Jewish babies. An extreme patriot would have carried out the government’s order, yet the Bible says the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive” (Exodus 1:17). The Bible goes on to say the midwives lied to Pharaoh about why they were letting the children live; yet even though they lied and disobeyed their government, “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty” (Exodus 1:20–21). God blessed the people because the midwives feared Him.
In Joshua chapter 2, Rahab directly disobeyed a command from the king of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies who had entered the city to gain intelligence for battle. Instead, she let them down via a rope so they could escape. Even though Rahab had received a clear order from the top government official, she resisted the command and was redeemed from the city’s destruction when Joshua and the Israeli army destroyed it.
The book of 1 Samuel records a command given by King Saul during a military campaign that no one could eat until Saul had won his battle with the Philistines. However, Saul’s son Jonathan, who had not heard the order, ate honey to refresh himself from the hard battle the army had waged. When Saul found out about it, he ordered his son to die. However, the people resisted Saul and his command and saved Jonathan from being put to death (1 Samuel 14:45).
Another example of civil disobedience in keeping with biblical submission is found in 1 Kings 18. That chapter briefly introduces a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” When the queen Jezebel was killing God’s prophets, Obadiah took a hundred of them and hid them from her so they could live. Such an act was in clear defiance of the ruling authority’s wishes.
The only apparently approved revolt against a reigning government official is recorded in 2 Kings. Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, began to destroy the royal offspring of the house of Judah. However, Joash the son of Ahaziah was taken by the king’s daughter and hidden from Athaliah so that the bloodline would be preserved. Six years later, Jehoiada gathered men around him, declared Joash to be king, and put Athaliah to death.
Daniel records a number of examples of civil disobedience. The first is found in chapter 3 where Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol in disobedience to King Nebuchadnezzar’s command. The second is in chapter 6 where Daniel defies King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king. In both cases, God rescued His people from the death penalty that was imposed, signalling His approval of their actions.
James 1:27 says pure religion is “to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” but that does not advocate civil disobedience or breaking the law. The Bible says “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). However, the key point is whether our actions are in obedience to God, that we do not compromise our faith when the laws of government go against God’s laws. Some people claim that the ends justify the means, but that is not biblical. Christian guidelines are to be found in Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and in 1 Peter 2:13-17.