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Forgive Us Our Trespasses? A Biblical View of Civil Disobedience and Operation Rescue

David Hagopian

Operation Rescue advocates attempt to claim the moral high ground, but their arguments clearly fail to meet Biblical requirements.

The drums beat on and on. As the fire is stoked and the metal turns to a scalding hue, parents lay their first born child in the fire-ridden arms of this god and then stand by stoically without so much as a grimace. Trum -- trum -- trum. No matter how loudly the drums beat, however, they cannot completely drown the cries for help which echo throughout the valley of Hinnom. And the drums beat on and on until the next parents come to offer their precious little sacrifice. And the drums beat on and on.

While modern Americans often scoff at the "barbarity" and "ignorance" of ancient peoples -- like the Ammonites who sacrificed their firstborn to Molech -- they too sacrifice their children to a Molech of sorts, a Molech of convenience. Even as Ammonite parents stoically watched their precious sacrifice cremated alive, so in our eminently humane country, parents burn their children, albeit with a saline solution. Instead of the valley of Hinnom, though, these modern sacrifices take place in the comfortable and sterile environs of a physician's office.

Whether with fire or saline solution, whether in the valley of Hinnom or a physician's office, the net result is the same: children are murdered. And the death toll continues to rise. Americans offered nearly one and a half million sacrifices just last year alone and nearly twenty-five million since Molech worship became legal in this country in 1973. In fact, before this day elapses, over four thousand such sacrifices will be made on the altar of modern convenience. And the drums beat on and on.

In an effort to halt this genocide, a group of deeply sincere individuals has arisen, laying claim to the name Operation Rescue.[1] Comprised of conservative Protestants, Roman Catholics, Mormons, and a modicum of Orthodox Jews, O.R. is an ecumenical pro-life movement which employs both legal and illegal means of attempting to save the life of the unborn. Such illegal means include violations of court-ordered injunctions and violations of trespass, loitering, assembly, and public access laws. O.R. also makes no qualms about resorting to physical intrusion, obstruction, and coercion prior to being arrested, passive resistance while being arrested, and dilatory tactics after being arrested.[2] While many critics rightly question the legitimacy of O.R.'s illegal and physically coercive tactics, they should nonetheless recognize that O.R. has made valuable contributions to the American social landscape in the past few years. O.R., for example, has utterly exposed the fundamental hypocrisy of the American press and public[3] as well as law enforcement officers.[4] O.R. has also stripped the veneer off of organizations like Planned Parenthood which, for years, attempted to maintain a facade of neutrality, a facade of presenting "all of the options" to pregnant women. In addition to exposing individual and institutional hypocrisy, O.R. has also invigorated public debate on abortion and has added to the rolls of many traditional pro-life organizations. Even more importantly, O.R., along with sidewalk counsellors, has convinced a handful of women to bring their children to term.[5] Indeed, O.R., to the shame of many Christians, has shown that while Christ is Lord of the believer's heart, His Lordship by no means ends there. Rather, Christ is Lord over all areas of life; and as Lord over all areas of life, Christ has given us directives in His Word which apply to all areas of life. Christianity, therefore, is a world-and-life-view which touches upon all of life, including legal, moral, social, and political issues like abortion. In short, it's time for the Christian community to commend O.R. for putting feet to the Christian faith.

But are those feet headed in the right direction? Are they marching the way King Jesus has commanded them to march in Scripture? Make no mistake about it: we should laud O.R.'s commitment to save the life of the unborn. Yet, does the end of saving life justify any and all means of saving life? Specifically, does Scripture endorse the illegal and physically coercive tactics O.R. employs in order to save life?

In order to see that the illegal and physically coercive tactics O.R. employs are unbiblical, we must not turn to the emotionality, sincerity, or popularity of a particular position since emotionality, sincerity and popularity are fallible. Rather, we must turn to the infallible and supreme standard of Scripture, which is the believer's standard for all of faith and practice, for all that he believes and does. Scripture and Scripture alone is the standard of truth, a standard which provides us with clear guidelines for dealing with multi-faceted issues like civil disobedience and O.R.

While many O.R. proponents appeal to the "higher law," of Scripture to justify their illegality and physical coercion, their reasoning is superficial and fallacious. Sadly, it is also downright unscriptural. What does the "higher law" of Scripture say about our duty to obey human law? When, if ever, must Christians disobey the State?[6] And if Christians, under some circumstances, must disobey the state, does Scripture ever allow or require them, as private citizens, to coerce others in society physically to conform to a Christian ethic?

In the following study, we will answer those all-important questions by examining what the "higher law" of Scripture says about our obedience to the state. Thereafter, we will apply those principles to O.R. and analyze the arguments O.R. supporters proffer to support their cause, a task to which, Lord willing, we will return in the July/August issue of Antithesis. [7]

I. A Biblical View of "Higher Law"

A. An Overview: Two Errors Refuted

As we begin to examine the relevant Biblical principles regarding civil disobedience and O.R., we must answer the following question: when, if ever, must Christians disobey the state? The history of Christian thought reveals a whole host of answers to that question, two of which are mutually exclusive but equally erroneous.
1. The Anabaptist Error
At one extreme is the view that Christians are never in principle to obey the state since the state itself is evil. This view was prevalent among the Anabaptists of the Reformation era. The sixth of the seven Anabaptist articles of Schleithem in 1527, for example, states that the magistrate's office is "carnal" and that Christians are to reject the sword of the magistrate.[8] Thus, because the Anabaptists adhered to a radical sacred/secular distinction, they believed that the state was of the world. And because the state was of the world, the state was evil and was never, in principle, to be obeyed.

Over and against the Anabaptist error, Scripture teaches us that God establishes civil authority, vests it with legitimate albeit derivative authority, and generally commands Christians to obey that authority. Scripture, then, refutes the Anabaptist view that it is always wrong to obey the state.

2. The Monarchicalist Error
Just as some Christians have erroneously taught that it is always wrong to obey the state (i.e., that obedience is never justified), so other Christians have erroneously taught that it is always right to obey the state (i.e., that disobedience is never justified). This latter view was prevalent among those who attempted to defend the divine right of royalty, sometimes known as Monarchicalists or Legitimatists.[9] While Scripture, to be sure, teaches that generally Christians are obligated to obey those in authority over them, Scripture also teaches that under certain narrowly prescribed circumstances, Christians are obligated to disobey the state and to obey God. That is, Christians are generally to obey the state except if they satisfy the Biblical criteria for disobeying the state.[10]
Christian Views Regarding Obedience to the State
The Anabaptist Error The Monarchicalist Error
Never Obey the State Always Obey the State
The Biblical Position
Generally Obey, Except if Satisfy Criteria for Disobedience

B. A Detailed Study: Five Principles

Having refuted the Anabaptist and Monarchicalist errors with a broad brush, we will now examine in detail what Scripture says about the Christian's obligation to obey the state. Obedience to the state can be summarized by means of five basic principles which, if properly understood, will guide Christians through the matrix of arguments for and against O.R. or any other "Christian" civil disobedience movement.
1. All Authority Belongs to God
Scripture unequivocally teaches that absolute authority belongs to God alone. According to the Christian worldview, God is the sovereign Creator and sustainer of all life, the one who possesses "all authority... in heaven and on earth" (Matt. 28:20).[11]
2. God Has Established Civil Authorities
But just as Scripture teaches that God alone has absolute authority, so it also teaches that God has established authorities on earth. This, of course, is just another way of saying that all human authority in every sphere of life ultimately comes from God: (1) at the individual level, each man is to exercise authority over his own life (self government, Gal. 5:23); (2) at the familial level, the husband is to exercise authority over his wife and parents over their children (family government, Eph. 5:22-6:4; Col. 4:18-21); (3) at the ecclesiastical level, elders are to exercise authority over their congregations and presbyteries (or their equivalents) over elders (church government, Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:1-3; I Tim. 5:12; Heb. 13:17; Acts 15); (4) at the occupational level, employers are to exercise authority over their employees (occupational government, Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 4:22-5:1); and (5) at the civil level, magistrates are to exercise authority over their citizens (civil government, Prov. 24:21; Rom. 13:1-7; Tit. 3:1-2; I Pet. 2:13-17).

In addition to teaching us that God created different spheres of government in general, Scripture also teaches us that God created civil government in particular. In his epistle to the church in Rome, for example, Paul declared that "there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God" (Rom. 13:1). Wisdom personified continues much in the same vein when, in Proverbs, she opines, "[b]y me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly" (Prov. 8:15-16). In fact, God vests human rulers with legitimate authority such that elsewhere in Scripture they are called "gods" (Ex. 21:6, 22:8, Ps. 82:6), "ministers" (Rom. 13:4) and "servants" (Jer. 27:6, Rom. 13:6). These laudatory appellations signify that rulers have a mandate from God. They are vested with divine authority from God and serve as God's representatives, acting in a representative capacity for Him. According to Scripture, then, rulers do not rule by chance, fortune or happenstance; they rule because God has ordained and established their rule by His sovereignty and upholds their rule by His providence.

3. Generally, God Commands Christians to Obey Civil Authorities
Because God has established civil authorities and vested them with legitimate, albeit derivative authority, Christians are generally commanded to obey those who are in authority over them. Proverbs 24:21, commands such obedience: "My son, fear the Lord and the king. Do not associate with those who are given to change."[12] In Titus 3:1-2, Paul commands Christians to "be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men." Along the same lines, Peter commands the readers of his first epistle:
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men....Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (I Pet. 2:13-17).
Finally, with utmost clarity, Paul informs believers that their operating presumption -- what they are generally to do -- is to obey those in authority over them in the civil realm. In the first seven verses of the thirteenth chapter of Romans, he writes:
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience's sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Scripture not only informs us that we are generally to obey those in authority over us; it also tells us why we are to do so. First, Christians are generally to obey civil rulers because God commands them to do so. Thus, to obey such rulers is to obey God, and conversely, to disobey such rulers is to disobey God. That is why the apostle writes that "he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:2). Second, God commands Christians to obey civil rulers because God will punish those who disobey (1) by often allowing the disobedient to suffer the penal consequences of their disobedience (i.e., suffer the sword of the state -- Rom. 13:4), and (2) by ultimately subjecting the disobedient to divine punishment (i.e., they will receive condemnation upon themselves -- Rom. 13:2). Third, God commands Christians to obey civil rulers because their obedience generally provides a sound Christian testimony. In the words of Peter, when Christians obey rulers, they silence the ignorance of foolish men (I Pet. 2:15).
4. Scripture Neither Permits Nor Requires Christians to Disobey Unjust Civil Authorities Who Merely Permit Evil
According to Scripture the Christian has a prima facie obligation to submit to civil authorities, even when those civil authorities are evil and may even permit evil.[13] To be sure, Scripture admonishes rulers to rule righteously. Toward that end, rulers are commanded, among other things, to do justice and righteousness (Jer. 22:3), to deliver the oppressed and those led away to death (Ps. 82:1-4, Prov. 24:11-12), to rescue the needy and the destitute (Deut. 1:16,17), to judge impartially and turn their faces from bribes (Deut. 16:19).

Even though Scripture admonishes rulers to rule righteously, the fact remains that no human ruler ever perfectly accords with God's perfect standards of holiness, justice, and righteousness. Often, in fact, rulers are unjust and permit injustice to reign supreme. Sometimes God even raises a wicked ruler as a judgment on His people (Job 34:30; Hos. 13:11; Is. 3:4, 10:5; Deut. 28:29).

When Christians claim that they may disobey rulers because those rulers permit evil, they bespeak a profound ignorance of Scripture. Nowhere does Scripture permit or require Christians to disobey civil authorities merely because such authorities permit evil. Quite the opposite is true. When the state permits instead of commands evil, Christians can avail themselves of all legal means of effecting a godly end and/or of protesting or reforming an evil law. In other words, God clearly commands Christians to submit to rulers who permit instead of command evil. Several Biblical exemplars, recorded in Scripture for our instruction (Rom. 15:4), hollow out that claim.

To begin with, Scripture introduces us to the not-so-venerable King Saul, the first king of Israel. Toward the end of his reign, Saul was bent on wickedness. Even though David had already been anointed as the king-elect, even though Saul pursued David's very life, even though David could have ostensibly claimed the privilege of self-defense, David declared "...who can stretch out his hand against the Lord's anointed and be without guilt?...As the Lord lives, surely the Lord will strike him, or his day will come that he dies.... The Lord forbid that I should stretch out my hand against the Lord's anointed" (I Sam. 16:9-13). Hence, even though Saul was wicked and abused his God-given authority, David refused to lift his hand against the Lord and against His anointed. David submitted to Saul's authority.

In addition to teaching us about Saul, Scripture also contains the example of Nebuchadnezzar who was the same wicked ruler who oppressed God's people by taking them into captivity in Babylon, a wicked ruler who performed wicked deeds and permitted evil of all kinds. Despite the fact that Nebuchadnezzar permitted such wickedness, Scripture declares in Daniel 2:21, 37-38:

[I]t is He [God] who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings....You, O King [Nebuchadnezzar], are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all.

Through the prophet, God told Nebuchadnezzar that he was God's "servant," that all nations would serve him, and that God would curse any nation that refused to serve him (Jer. 27:5-8, 17). Not only was Nebuchadnezzar raised by God and called God's "servant;" he was also to be supported by the prayers of the very people he conquered. After being taken captive into Babylon, the people of God were commanded to pray for their conqueror: "And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare" (Jer. 29:7).

Then there is the example of Nero, perhaps one of the most wicked tyrants the world has ever known. As the fifth Roman emperor after Julius Caesar, Nero died in A.D. 68. As such, he was the emperor who was most likely on the throne when Paul wrote Romans and Titus and when Peter wrote his first epistle. Yet in Romans, Titus, and First Peter, Paul and Peter commanded Christians to obey civil government. In fact, Paul and Peter wrote to quell any insurrectionism or revolutionary ambition on the part of the early church.

Some may protest at this juncture that the epistle to the Romans was written around A.D. 55 to 59, while Nero was still a "model ruler."[14] Yet, even were one to assume for argument's sake the veracity of this early dating theory, he still would be unable to prove that his conclusion follows on the basis of his premise. While it may be true that Nero's infamous blood bath of A.D. 64 was still a few years away, it is a mistake to think that the Roman Empire was "model" or that the Roman Emperor was a "model ruler." Make no mistake about it. Rome was no heaven on earth. The Roman Empire permitted all sorts of evil, including abortion. In fact, Rome specifically permitted abortion to such an extent that abortion was widely practiced and legally protected throughout the Roman Empire. So rampant was abortion in ancient Rome, that Michael Gorman notes in his historical study, Abortion and the Early Church:

Although the explicit references to abortion are rare in the Greek period and in Rome before the Empire, both pagan and Christian writers attest to its universality during the Empire. Rich and poor, slave and free, young and old aborted themselves and were given abortions. Various efforts, pagan and Christian, were made to limit abortion, although no legislation making abortion itself a crime in the Roman Empire was enacted until the third century.[15]
So even assuming an early dating of Romans, abortion was rampant in the Roman Empire precisely because the state permitted it even as in our present era. Yet even though civil authorities permitted abortion to such an extent that it was universally practiced throughout the Roman Empire, New Testament writers did not issue a call to civil disobedience; rather, they explicitly commanded Christians to obey the very civil authorities who permitted abortion and who promulgated and enforced other evil statutes and decrees! Scripture, then, takes great pains to teach us that we must obey civil rulers who may even permit abortion.[16]

Thus, Scripture provides no safe harbor for those who, contrary to Scripture, teach that Christians may disobey rulers who merely permit evil. On this score, Calvin rightly observes that the propensity of rulers to sin and to allow others to sin is no reason for Christians to fail to submit to them. Because God has appointed rulers, however much they may fall short of their divine appointment, the Christian must not on that account cease to cherish what belongs to God.[17] Those who claim that Christians may disobey rulers who fall short of their divine appointment by merely permitting evil have also not thought through the logical implications of their position. Were state-permitted evil to justify disobedience, Christians could constantly disobey civil rulers, since fallible human rulers, in one way or another, will usually (if not always) fall short of God's perfect justice by permitting evil in one sphere or another. Followed to its logical conclusion, therefore, the notion that state-permitted evil justifies disobedience leads down the slippery slope to continual rebellion. Scripture endorses no such absurdity. And praise God for that.

5. Christians Are Required to Disobey Man Only When They Are Commanded to Sin and Only When They Have No Legal Means by Which to Obey God
If Scripture neither permits nor requires Christians to disobey civil authorities who merely permit evil, may Christians ever justifiably disobey authorities? An accurate view of God's higher law, unlike the distorted view echoing in some corners, reveals that Christians must disobey civil authorities only when such authorities command Christians to sin and only when Christians cannot legally obey God.[18]
a. Rulers Must Command Christians to Sin
Christians are obligated to disobey rulers when those rulers command them to sin. Since we can sin by doing that which God has commanded us not to do (sin by commission) or by failing to do that which God commands us to do (sin by omission), Christians must disobey rulers only (1) when they are commanded to do what God forbids (i.e., commanded to sin by commission), and/or (2) when they are forbidden to do what God commands (i.e., commanded to sin by omission).

Commanded to Do What God Forbids

As demonstrated above, Christians are not permitted or required to disobey human authorities when those authorities merely permit or tolerate evil. If Christians, however, are commanded to do what God forbids, then they must obey God rather than man. Several Biblical exemplars substantiate this principle.

First, Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives and Moses' parents to kill Hebrew male children (Ex. 1:15-22), a command that contradicted the law of God (Gen. 9:6). Exodus 1:22 says that, "...Pharaoh commanded all his people saying, Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.'" Because Scripture forbade unjustified killing, the Hebrew midwives and Moses' parents were commanded to do what God forbade. As such, they were obligated to obey God rather than man.

Second, we learn the same Biblical truth from the fire-tested faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego who were commanded to bow their knees to a false god (Dan. 3:1-30), a command which contradicted the law of God (Ex. 20:3-6). In Daniel 3:4, for example, we clearly see that the three Hebrew youths were commanded to violate Scripture: "Then the herald loudly proclaimed: To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn...you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar has set up." Because God forbade idolatry, and because Nebuchadnezzar commanded the Hebrew youths to commit idolatry, the Hebrew youths were obligated to obey God rather than man.

Third, the king of Jericho commanded Rahab to turn over the Hebrew spies she was harboring (Josh. 2:3), a command that contradicted God's demand of her in the situation since it would have made her an accomplice to murder. The text explicitly states that "...the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house....'" Because she was commanded to sin, she was obligated to obey God rather than man.

Fourth, Herod commanded the magi to report the whereabouts of the Christ child (Matt. 2:1-12) so that Herod could ostensibly worship the Christ child (although Herod really wanted to kill the child). Note that God, by special revelation, commanded the magi not to return to Herod: "And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way" (Matt. 2:12). Since Herod commanded the magi to do that which God forbade, the magi were obligated to obey God rather than man.

The Biblical narrative, then, is exceptionally clear: the Hebrew midwives/Moses' parents, the Hebrew youths, Rahab, and the magi were all commanded by force of law to do what God clearly forbade. As such, they were obligated to obey God and not man.

Forbidden to Do What God Commands

Just as Christians are obligated to disobey man when they are commanded to do what God forbids, so they are obligated to disobey man when they are forbidden to do what God commands. At least two Biblical exemplars corroborate this point.

First, the satraps of King Darius cajoled him to enact a binding law which forbade others, including Daniel, to pray to anyone other than the king (Dan. 6:1-30). Because we are commanded to worship God alone, Daniel was forbidden to do what God commanded. As such, he was obligated to obey God rather than man.

Second, the Sanhedrin forbade the apostles to evangelize in Jerusalem (Acts 4-5), even though Christ commanded the apostles to do so in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8. In Acts 5:28, the Sanhedrin proclaim: "...We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name [Jesus]...." At this juncture, Peter and the apostles uttered one of the most frequently misquoted verses in all of Scripture: "We must obey God rather than man" (Acts 5:29).

Those who appeal to Acts 5:29 to support their civil disobedience often fail to exert exegetical sensitivity when they ignorantly rationalize their disobedience by reading into this text that which it does not teach. As we have already seen, Scripture does not endorse the notion that Christians may disobey rulers who merely permit evil. Many who advocate Christian disobedience interpret this verse to mean that any time man's law falls short of God's law, we may disobey man and obey God. But is that what Acts 5:29, understood in context, really teaches?

Read in light of the general context of Scripture as a whole (see the preceding analysis), and in light of the particular context of Acts 4 and 5, Acts 5:29 teaches that when one is put in a position where he must either choose between obedience to God or obedience to man, he must then obey God rather than man. In other words, in order to disobey man, the Christian must face a genuine dilemma. Hence, Acts 5:29, rightly understood, teaches us that the believer is obligated[19] to disobey man's law only when man's law contradicts God's law, that is, only when the Christian is put in a position of choosing between man's law or God's law. Of course, this is just to say that before the Christian Biblically disobeys the state, he must have no legal means by which he can obey God. And this brings us to the second Biblical criterion Christians must satisfy before they disobey the state: the duty to exhaust all available means of legal recourse.

b. Christians Must Exhaust All Available Means of Legal Recourse
Just as Scripture teaches that Christians who disobey rulers must be commanded to sin, so it also teaches us that those who disobey must have no other legal means by which they can obey God. As we saw above with Acts 5:29, the Christian is obligated to disobey the state only when he faces a situation where he must choose between obeying God or man, when there is no tertium quid, no third way out. Remember that in Acts 1:8, Christ commanded the apostles to evangelize in Jerusalem, then in Samaria, and then in the remotest parts of the earth. In Acts 4-5, the Sanhedrin forbade the apostles to evangelize in Jerusalem as Christ had specifically commanded. They had no alternative but to disobey man and to obey God.

We have already seen that God established civil rulers and commands us to obey such rulers, even when they permit evil. If Scripture really teaches us that our operating presumption is to obey those in authority over us, then Christians must try to work within the system before they resort to rebelling against the system. If, for example, saving the life of the unborn is your goal, and if you can save life legally, then as a Christian you must forego illegality and save life legally. This, of course, is just another way of saying that disobedience, for the Christian, is always a last resort.

This important truth, though, not only follows from an accurate interpretation of Acts 5:29 and by good and necessary consequence from the presumption of obedience to the state outlined above; it is also taught by means of several Biblical exemplars. One need only think of Daniel's diplomatic request (Dan. 1:8-16), Paul's judicial appeal (Acts 25:1-27), Moses' confrontation with Pharaoh (Ex. 5:1-21), Obadiah's legislative reform (I Kg. 18:3-16), Ezekiel's legal public protest (Ezek. 4:1-5:17), and Esther's self-humiliation (Esth. 5:1-2). While it is true that many of the individuals named above eventually turned to disobedience, they first tried to work within the system before they rebelled against the system.

Against the backdrop of these Biblical exemplars, even one O.R. supporter admitted earlier in his career that a "veritable arsenal of Scriptural tactics has been supplied to the believer in order to stay him from the last resort of rebellious confrontation."[20] With poetic prose, this O.R. supporter continues by asserting:

Though tyranny may incline zealous disciples toward libertarian activism, though godlessness may provocate grief in their bowels of compassion, though the barbarism of inhuman humanism may rankle their wrathful ire, believers have a Scriptural mandate to do God's work, God's way, in God's time.... To advocate civil disobedience before the exhaustion of alternate resistance is to thwart God's redemptive program and the rule of law.[21]
Sadly, this O.R. supporter, as with most O.R. supporters, seems to have forgotten this all-important truth. But no matter how many forget or attempt to minimize this truth, it nonetheless pierces to the heart of any "Christian" movement which prematurely resorts to disobeying the state. Instead of allowing our activism, compassion, and ire to lead us down the path of disobedience, Christians who are true to Scripture must seek to channel that activism, compassion, and ire toward fully exhausting their legal alternatives before they resort to disobedience.

This brief survey of higher laws reveals that while proponents of O.R. tout a "higher law," their actions reveal only a profound misunderstanding and misapplication of that higher law. God's higher law, properly understood, teaches us that God (1) possesses absolute authority, (2) establishes civil authorities, (3) commands Christians generally to obey such authorities, (4) neither permits nor requires Christians to disobey authorities who permit evil, and (5) requires Christians to disobey authorities only (a) when such authorities command them to sin (command Christians to do what God forbids or forbid them to do what God commands), and (b) when Christians have no legal means by which they can obey God.

II. Analyzing the Case for O.R.

With an accurate view of God's higher law clearly delineated, we must now begin to examine the case for O.R. to see that while Scripture sanctions the end of saving life, it by no means sanctions the illegal and physically coercive means by which O.R. seeks to bring about that end. While O.R. supporters claim that they satisfy the Biblical criteria above, we will see that their claims do not stand up to the weight of Biblical scrutiny.

The best case for O.R., in "syllogistic" form, runs something as follows:

Major Premise:

If "rescuers" are forbidden to do what God commands and have no legal means by which they can obey God (save life), then "rescuers" must disobey man and obey God (i.e., their disobedience is Biblically justified).

Minor Premises:

Premise A. "Rescuers" are forbidden to do what God commands

Sub-premise 1. since the Biblical law of bystander liability commands Christians to participate in "rescue missions" (i.e., to intervene physically between an abortionist and an expectant mother and thereby block access to abortuaries in order to rescue babies from being murdered), and

Sub-premise 2. since human laws (e.g., trespass laws) forbid "rescuers" from fulfilling the law of bystander liability.

Premise B. "Rescuers" have no legal means by which they can obey God (save life).


Therefore, "rescuers" must disobey man and obey God (i.e., their disobedience is Biblically justified).

A."Rescuers" Are Not Forbidden to Do What God Commands

In order for "rescuers" to be forbidden to do what God commands, they must be able to prove that the law of bystander liability commands them to "rescue" the unborn by conducting "rescue missions" (as they define the term) and that human law forbids them from obeying the law of bystander liability.[22]

1.The Biblical Law of Bystander Liability Does Not Command Christians to Participate in "Rescue Missions"
Despite O.R. rhetoric to the contrary, those who claim that the illegal and physically coercive tactics of O.R. are not Biblically justified do not deny the validity of the law of bystander liability. To be sure, God commands Christians to be their brothers' keepers (Gen. 4:9),[23] to return wandering livestock (Ex. 23:4-5; Deut. 22:1-4), to come to the aid of those who are sexually molested (Deut. 22: 23-27), to rescue the weak from the wicked (Ps. 82:1-4), to deliver those led away to slaughter (Prov. 24:11-12), and to apply curative aid to those who are attacked (Lk. 10:30-37). In short, the law of bystander liability boils down to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39). Basically, the law of bystander liability is the flipside of the sixth commandment's prohibition of murder. The sixth commandment, then, not only prohibits unjustified murder, it also requires that we take affirmative measures to protect and preserve life.

While ceding that the law of bystander liability imposes a wide-reaching affirmative duty to protect and preserve life, O.R. advocates fallaciously apply the law of bystander liability to justify the concept of "rescue missions." In other words, this analysis grants the principle, but argues that O.R. advocates misapply it in their attempt to justify "rescue missions."[24] While Scripture commands us to "rescue" in the common sense of the word, by examining many of the major O.R. "proof" texts, we will see that Scripture does not require Christians to participate in so-called "rescue missions."

a. Genesis 4:9
After God chastised Cain for slaying his brother Abel, God asked Cain where his slain brother was, to which Cain retorted, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?" On the basis of Genesis 4:9, proponents of O.R. wish to argue that unborn babies are our "brothers" and that we must conduct "rescue missions" to "keep" (protect) them.[25]

It is difficult indeed to see how this passage justifies the concept of "rescue missions." To suggest that Genesis 4:9 justifies "rescue missions" is to eisegete, that is, to read into the text that which it does not teach. As those who must rightly divide the word of truth (II Tim. 2:15), however, we must exegete passages of the Scripture, that is, draw out from the text that which it actually teaches.

While granting that we are our brothers' keepers, this passage does not justify "rescue missions" for at least three reasons. First, Genesis 4:9, strictly speaking, deals with direct liability for murder, and as such, has little if anything to do with bystander liability. O.R. advocates cannot just assume that what is true of direct liability for murder is necessarily true of bystander liability.

Second, even assuming for argument's sake that Genesis 4:9 relates to bystander liability, it does not present a conflict between God's law and man's law. As such, it cannot be read in isolation from what Scripture has to say about the Christian's duty in such a situation. O.R. proponents must realize that they are fallaciously interpreting passages such as Genesis 4:9 when they interpret such passages along a single axis (bystander liability) instead of along a dual axis (bystander liability and disobedience to the state), since "rescue missions" typically involve disobedience to the state. This is not to say that Christians are never justified in disobeying the state to fulfill the law of bystander liability. It is only to say that advocates of O.R. cannot just assume that they have satisfied the criteria for disobeying the state, since that is the very question in dispute.

Third, because Genesis 4:9 says nothing about the conflict between God's law and man's law, those who appeal to Genesis 4:9 and thereby conclude that "rescue missions" are justified beg the crucial question in dispute: that "rescue missions" fulfill the mandate of this passage. To merely assert that this verse commands one to intervene illegally and physically between an abortionist and an expectant mother (i.e., to assert that this verse commands "rescue missions" as defined by O.R. advocates) is to beg the question as to the means we are to employ to fulfill the mandate of this passage. Genesis 4:9 simply does not justify "rescue missions."

b. Exodus 23:4-5, Deuteronomy 22:1-4
In these case law applications of the general bystander principle, we learn that we have an affirmative duty to return wandering animals or lost goods, whether those animals or goods belong to an enemy or a neighbor. And, as Paul reminds us in I Tim. 5:18, what is true of animals is all the more true with respect to human beings. Yet, while these passages impose an affirmative duty to return wandering animals or lost goods, they do not justify "rescue missions."[26]

First, several crucial differences serve to obviate any analogy O.R. advocates wish to draw out of these passages to justify their tactics. To begin with, notice that the object of concern (i.e., the animal or the good) has wandered away from the one who "controls" it (namely, its rightful owner). Exactly how does that work out in the present case of O.R.? Far from wandering away from a rightful owner (or far from being misplaced), the unborn child is contained in the body of his mother! Additionally, since the object of concern (the unborn child) has not wandered away (because he is contained in his mother's body), there is no feasible way to "return" the child which is the duty these passages impose. Moreover, with a wandering animal, the owner would nearly always consent to having his neighbor return his animal, whereas the expectant mother does not always consent to the "rescue." Furthermore, returning a wandering animal or good does not entail physically coercing someone to conform to a Christian ethic, whereas even O.R. advocates admit that the methods they employ involve such physical coercion.

Second, as with Genesis 4:9, these passages say absolutely nothing about violating human law, in general, let alone trespassing on private property, in particular. O.R. proponents simply beg one of the most crucial questions in dispute by just assuming that these passages somehow permit, or even require, Christians to trespass in order to "rescue." And, not only does the O.R. advocate assume without argument that he can violate human law with impunity, he also assumes without argument that the tactics he employs fulfill the mandate of these passages.

c. Deuteronomy 22:23-27
In this passage, God imposes capital punishment for rape as follows: if the woman does not cry out, both the woman and the rapist are to be put to death (verses 23-24), but if the woman cries out, only the rapist is to be put to death (verses 25-27). While one who overhears the woman cry out should do whatever is reasonably necessary to extricate her from the rapist, is "rescuing" the woman the focus of this passage? A close reading of this passage reveals its true focus: the woman's consent to the rape. The woman's cry proved that she did not consent to the rape and, hence, was not worthy of death.

But even assuming that the focus of this passage is rescuing the victim from sexual attack (for which there is no textual evidence), O.R. advocates seek to justify the concept of "rescue missions" by employing two related, but equally false, analogies. Analogy one: If a stranger raped a woman on his private property, should the Christian "rescue" the woman? Analogy two: If a mother allowed a stranger to kill her newborn baby on his private property, should the Christian "rescue" the child?[27] According to O.R. advocates, if "rescuing" the woman (or the child) is Biblically justified, then so is rescuing a child a la "rescue mission."

Careful scrutiny, however, reveals that such analogies fall prey to serious errors. First, the best case scenario: even granting the analogies for argument's sake, the analogies generate a serious logical dilemma for their proponents, especially as pertains to O.R.'s alleged commitment to "non-violence." O.R. advocates themselves admit that if they were faced with the woman (child)-in-the-field scenario they would "do whatever was necessary" and whatever they could do[28] to rescue the woman or the child. At the same time, however, they adamantly insist that their methods are "non-violent."[29] But if you came across a woman about to be raped (or a child about to be killed), and you would do "whatever was necessary" to "rescue" the woman (child), then, in principle, you would use violence (extreme force) if necessary to rescue the woman (child).

At this point, O.R. advocates retort by contending that such extreme force is unnecessary to "rescue" the unborn since they have "rescued" children without recourse to such extreme force.[30] But even O.R. advocates would tell you that of the thousands of children that they could have "rescued" they have at best "rescued" a few hundred.[31] So, have O.R. advocates really done whatever is necessary to save the life of most every single child about to be killed as the analogies suggest? Since members of O.R. really believe that abortion is murder, and since their analogies suggest that they would do whatever was necessary to "rescue" the child, then they should -- by their own analogies -- be willing to use even extreme force, if need be, to save every single child.

These analogies, then, pose a serious dilemma for O.R. advocates: either (1) O.R. advocates must admit that the analogies are false since O.R. advocates, on the one hand, claim to be "non-violent" but, on the other hand, offer analogies which admit the possibility and legitimacy of such violence (in which case O.R. advocates are reasoning irrationally); or (2) O.R. advocates must admit that in principle they would use violence, if need be, to rescue the woman (child) -- every woman (child) -- about to be raped (murdered) (in which case their professed commitment to "non-violence" is arbitrary). So much for the best case scenario which assumed the veracity of the analogies for argument's sake.

There is no reason, though, to grant the analogies in the first instance. Two crucial differences obviate such analogies. The first reason why the proffered analogies are questionable is that the analogies presuppose that the "rescuer" will actually extricate the victim from the aggressor. Exactly how does that play out in the case of a "rescue mission?" If, on the one hand, the O.R. advocate views the expectant mother as the "aggressor," then how does he go about extricating the "victim" from the aggressor?[32] If, on the other hand, the O.R. advocate were to view the abortionist as the aggressor, then the deadly threat perceived by the "rescuer" would warrant a deadly level of force, if necessary, to save each and every child. Once again, the one who proffers these analogies is thrown back into the violent/non-violent dilemma articulated above.

The second reason why the present case of O.R. is readily distinguishable from the proffered analogies is that no one is "rescuing" the children about to be aborted in any meaningful sense as the analogies suggest. What the "rescuers" really do, on their own analogies, is the functional equivalent of lining up three hundred Christians on the private property of the murderer to sing hymns and pray -- not exactly what the ordinary usage of the word "rescue" implies. Meanwhile, one of three things usually happens: (1) enough supporters of the mother show up to escort her onto the murderer's field, (2) the mother returns to the same field a few hours after the "rescuers"(?!) have been taken into custody, or (3) the mother takes her child to another murderer down the street. Now, I ask you, is this a "rescue" as the analogies suggest? The rhetoric of O.R. simply does not accord with the reality of O.R.

d. Psalm 82:1-4
Many proponents of O.R. appeal to this passage which, in part, commands, "Vindicate the weak and the fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute; Rescue the weak and the needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked." From this passage, O.R. advocates posit a general duty "to physically intervene on behalf of the children about to be sacrificed."[33] This argument warrants three responses.

First, if one were to read this passage in context, he would note rather quickly that this passage is directed primarily to rulers and not their subjects. Those who do not endorse the illegal and physically coercive tactics of O.R. believe that rulers should be counseled and advised to fulfill the dictates of this passage. That is why they lobby intensely, protest rigorously, and preach faithfully. But that is far from suggesting that this passage requires Christians, as private citizens, to participate in illegal and physically coercive "rescue missions."

Second, O.R. advocates are once again interpreting this passage along a single axis which is all the more culpable in this instance since the context of this passage itself reminds us of our general duty to obey civil authorities. Were O.R. advocates to read this passage carefully, they would see that, even in the process of indicting rulers for not judging according to God's dictates, this passage refers to rulers as "gods" (cf. Ex. 21:6, 22:8). Why does Scripture refer to such rulers as "gods?" As we have already seen, such rulers are called "gods" in these passages not because they rule perfectly in accord with God's perfect justice, but because they rule in a representative capacity for God. This passage, then, refers to rulers as gods to encourage them to rule as God does and to encourage all men to submit to their authority.[34] As imperfect sinners, however, rulers fall far short of ruling perfectly in accord with God's perfect justice. When rulers fail to abide by God's perfect justice, such rulers need to be reminded of their divine commission. Nowhere does this passage encourage subjects to disobey such rulers. Rather, this passage, properly understood in light of its context, instructs us to obey such rulers. Thus, even though this passage indicts rulers for failing to abide by God's perfect justice, this passage confirms the fact that believers are generally to obey civil rulers who may even permit evil in their midst.

Third, as with each passage we have reviewed so far, O.R. advocates continue to eisegete and beg the crucial question at issue: that the passage in question supports O.R.'s illegal and physically coercive tactics (i.e., that physical intervention via a "rescue mission" is the way one goes about fulfilling the mandate of this passage).

e. Proverbs 24:11-12
This passage is parallel to the Psalm 82 passage analyzed above and enjoins readers to "[d]eliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, O hold them back." From this passage, O.R. advocates wish to justify "rescue missions."[35] Yet, while this passage provides a moral imperative to rescue, there are several reasons why that moral imperative does not justify "rescue missions."

First, in accordance with a sound hermeneutic, we must never wrest passages of Scripture from their context. O.R. advocates spurn such interpretive guidance and simply assume that this passage justifies illegal and physically coercive "rescue missions." Read in light of its immediate (local) context and in light of the general context of Scripture as a whole, this passage counsels against disobedience. Just ten verses after the proffered O.R. proof text, the author commands his readers, as we have already seen, to "fear the Lord and the king; Do not associate with those who are given to change" (Prov. 24:21). Those who are "given to change" are those who oppose the law and lawful authorities.[36] The immediate context of this passage could hardly be clearer. And, as we have also seen, Psalm 82:1-4, a passage parallel with Proverbs 24:11-12, also instructs us to obey imperfect rulers. Thus, the context of Proverbs 24:11-12 eschews the illegal tactics employed by O.R.

Second, while it is true that Proverbs 24:11-12 contains a moral imperative, O.R. advocates themselves admit that this moral imperative is not absolute (unconditional). The moral imperative in Proverbs 24:11-12 does not give Christians carte blanche to use any and all means of saving the life of the unborn (e.g., kidnapping expectant mothers until they give birth, bombing abortuaries, or murdering abortionists). So the real question becomes: Exactly what is the nature of the moral imperative taught in this passage?

In order to ascertain the exact nature of this moral imperative -- in order to rightly divide Proverbs 24:11-12 -- we need to answer three questions: Who are the victims? Who is to rescue the victims? And how are the victims to be rescued?

To begin with, the ablest commentators on the Book of Proverbs are well-divided as to the identity of the victims in this passage. Exactly who are these victims? Keil and Delitzsch, for example, believe that the victims are capital criminals; as such, Keil and Delitzsch believe that this verse condemns all capital punishment.[37] Whybray strongly disagrees with their interpretation and notes that the victims referred to are recipients of violence in the streets.[38] Still other commentators offer other plausible alternatives. Turning a blind eye to this textual difficulty, O.R. advocates build their argument on a rather weak foundation, since the verse does not explicitly or implicitly identify the victims about which it speaks.

But even granting for argument's sake that, at the most general level, the victims to be rescued are those unjustly sentenced to death, we must still note that the passage nowhere specifies exactly who is to rescue them. Because this proverb is parallel with Psalm 82, and because Psalm 82 is primarily directed to rulers, it would appear that this passage is directed primarily to rulers and only secondarily to their subjects. But even if rulers fail to rescue these victims, neither passage gives private citizens, acting without authorization from the state, the prerogative of disobeying such rulers and resorting to physical force, whether minimal or maximal.

Assuming that the victims of this passage include unborn children and assuming that citizens are given an imperative to rescue them, exactly how are such children to be rescued? Read carefully, Proverbs 24:11-12 nowhere specifies exactly how such victims are to be rescued. Once again, O.R. advocates beg the question as to the legitimacy of the means they employ. They simply assume that a tactic developed primarily by Ghandi and popularized in America by Martin Luther King, Jr. fulfills the moral imperative of this passage -- a gratuitous assumption, to say the least.

But Proverbs 24:11 may provide us with a hint as to how innocent victims are to be rescued when it commands, "O hold them back." The Hebrew verb used in Proverbs 24:11 is hasak, and conveys the notion that the actor has power over the object.[39] In the closely related language of Ugaritic, the verb means to "take hold of." In other words, the root of this verb sometimes conveys the unmistakable sense of physical force. In Isaiah 14:6, for example, the King of Babylon is said to have "subdued the nations... with unrestrained persecution [hasak]" -- physical persecution that could not have been stopped. What's the point? If hasak is used literally to convey the notion of physical force, then all Christians have a mandate to use force far greater than merely strewing their bodies in front of a door or on a sidewalk. [40] Yet, while Scripture sometimes uses hasak literally to convey the notion of physical force, sometimes Scripture uses hasak figuratively with absolutely no hint of physical force, not even a limp body. Used figuratively, hasak conveys the notion of restraining without any physical force. For example, Scripture commands us to "hold back" our lips (Prov. 10:19), our words (Prov. 17:27), and our feet (Jer. 14:10) from evil.

So, exactly how are we to rescue innocent victims? How are we to interpret hasak? No matter how hasak is interpreted, Proverbs 24:11 simply does not support the concept of "rescue missions." If hasak should be interpreted literally (actual physical force), then all Christians have a mandate to use as much force as is necessary to save every victim being led to death, thus proving that O.R.'s alleged commitment to "non-violence" is both arbitrary and unbiblical. The only problem, though, is that Scripture does not give private citizens the prerogative of using physical force apart from state authorization. The general context of Scripture, then, seems to counsel against interpreting hasak literally and using Proverbs 24:11-12 to justify "rescue missions" since "rescue missions" necessarily involve physical coercion contrary to state authorization.

Since it appears that hasak is to be interpreted figuratively, then Proverbs 24:11-12 does not sanction physical force at all, not even the minimal force of a limp body strewn in front of a mother about to enter an abortuary. Interpreted figuratively, hasak includes preaching and praying, protesting and picketing, lobbying and lawyering, counseling and consoling. All would be legitimate ways to fulfill the moral imperative in Proverbs 24:11-12 in contradistinction to the illegal and physically coercive tactics employed by O.R. The bottom line is that either way one interprets this passage, it simply does not support "rescue missions."

f. Luke 10:30-37
O.R. advocates mistakenly appeal to the parable of the Good Samaritan to justify "rescue missions" when the parable, properly understood, offers no support whatsoever to "rescue missions."

First, the Good Samaritan, unlike members of O.R., never broke any human law when he rendered aid to the victim. Once again, O.R. advocates are interpreting this passage along a single axis.

Second, the Good Samaritan did not physically coerce others in society to conform to a Christian ethic, an essential ingredient of "rescue missions" as even O.R. advocates themselves admit but try to minimize.

Third, far from coming on the scene before the attack to prevent it, the Good Samaritan came on the scene after the attack to render curative aid. This, of course, is not to suggest that Christians are to refrain from preventing physical attacks, but it is to suggest that this parable cannot be pressed into service to justify "rescue missions" which, by definition, are preventative and have nothing to do with administering curative aid once an attack has already occurred.

"But," asks the O.R. advocate, "what if the Good Samaritan had come on the scene before the attack? What would he have done then?" These questions, though perhaps well-intended, are misplaced, since we are to speak only where Scripture speaks and to remain silent where Scripture is silent. But, even granting the legitimacy of the questions for argument's sake, there is one thing the Good Samaritan, in all likelihood, would not have done: he would not have lined up three hundred other Samaritans to sit down along the Jericho road and sing hymns![41] Fourth, O.R. advocates appeal to the Good Samaritan parable and thereby imply that Christ's castigation of the priest and the Levite applies with equal force to those who do not endorse "rescue missions." Once again, O.R. advocates demonstrate a propensity for jumping to conclusions and drawing false analogies to Biblical texts. Read carefully, Christ contrasts the priest and the Levite who did nothing with the Good Samaritan who did something. Many of those who vocally disagree with O.R.'s unbiblical tactics are involved in all facets of Christian social action, in general, and saving the lives of the unborn, in particular. Consequently, they do not fall under the castigation of the priest and the Levite.

g. Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-29
As noted above, the law of bystander liability can be summarized by Christ's command to love our neighbors as ourselves. In context, the Markian account reads as follows:
And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He [Christ] had answered them well, asked Him, "What command is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.
Though this passage definitely teaches that Christians are to love their neighbors as themselves,[42] it by no means mandates "rescue missions."

Those who appeal to this passage to justify "rescue missions," commit themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, to serious theological and logical error. If this passage justifies "rescue missions" to prevent abortion, then it also mandates "rescue missions" to prevent idolatry and a whole host of other evils. O.R. advocates attempt to deny this Biblical analogy to idolatry by claiming that the former involves the finality of physical death whereas the latter does not.[43] Such a distinction, while persuasive at first blush, does not accord with Biblical categories of thought.

First, in the passage above, Christ taught that the foremost commandment (in terms of breadth and scope) is to love God, while the second greatest commandment is to love one's neighbor. But even O.R. proponents would readily admit that one cannot properly love his neighbor until and unless he first loves God. Since, then, the foremost commandment broadly implies the second, a society that does not love its neighbor (a society that permits abortion) is a society that does not love God (an idolatrous society). If this passage justifies "rescue missions" to obey the second greatest commandment, then a fortiori it justifies "rescue missions" to obey the greatest commandment. So, if the command to love one's neighbor as oneself compels Christians to participate in a "rescue mission" to prevent entry into an abortuary, then it likewise compels "rescue missions" to prevent entry into a mosque. To escape the throes of inconsistency, the O.R. advocate must either admit that he is bound to prevent idolatry by resorting to "rescue missions" or that this passage does not justify the concept of "rescue missions."

Second, consider the parallels between abortion and idolatry. (1) Just as God absolutely prohibits abortion (Ex. 20:13, 21:22), so He absolutely prohibits idolatry (Ex. 20:3-4). (2) According to Scripture, both abortion and idolatry are capital crimes (Ex. 21:22-25; Deut. 13:1-18). (3) Contrary to Scripture, both abortion and idolatry are legally protected and permitted in the United States to such an extent that both are considered to be "constitutional" or "civil" rights. (4) As a result of this legal protection, millions of children have been led away to death, physically (in the case of abortion) and spiritually (in the case of idolatry). (5) God commands us to rescue those led away to spiritual death (Js. 5:20; Jude 23) even as he commands us to rescue those led away to physical death. Since O.R. advocates wish to infer a duty to participate in "rescue missions" to prevent abortion, were they consistent with their rhetoric, they should also be willing to participate in "rescue missions" to prevent idolatry.

Third, the judgment of God knows no distinction between abortion (murder) and idolatry. In fact, one of the texts O.R. advocates are fond of quoting (out of context) is Leviticus 20:1-5, which speaks of God cutting off His people for sacrificing their children to Molech. To be sure, Molech worship involved murder. But that murder was merely a function of the underlying idolatry of Molech worship, which required child sacrifice. Were O.R. advocates to read this chapter in context, they would note in verse six that the very same judgment of God which would befall those who sacrificed their children to Molech would also befall those who merely consulted spiritists and mediums. What is the common denominator? Idolatry. Therefore, if Leviticus 20 justifies "rescue missions" in the case of abortion, then it also justifies "rescue missions" in the case of idolatry.

Fourth and finally, our Lord himself taught us that eternal death (the end result of idolatry) is far worse, and to be feared far more, than mere physical death (the end result of abortion) when He commands us not to "fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul" (Matt. 10:28).

So, according to Scripture, is abortion categorically different from idolatry or somehow more heinous so as to justify the illegal and physically coercive tactics of O.R.? Were one to examine the full testimony of Scripture instead of isolating and misinterpreting alleged proof texts, he would see that, if anything, idolatry is even more heinous to God than abortion. Thus, from God's perspective, abortion and idolatry are not Biblically distinguishable, as proponents of O.R. erroneously maintain in order to justify "rescue missions" in the case of abortion.

Why, then, do O.R. advocates vehemently attempt to resist the Biblical analogy to idolatry? Because that analogy, perhaps better than any other, reveals the tenuous justification for "rescue missions." Even many O.R. advocates grant that there is no Biblical justification for blockading temples and mosques since idolatry is only state-permitted and not state-commanded. Precisely! The same is true of abortion.[44] Thus far, we have seen that O.R. advocates erroneously press the law of bystander liability into service to justify "rescue missions." By examining many of the verses to which O.R. advocates appeal, we saw four common errors which permeate the case for O.R. First, each supposed proof text is distinguishable from the present case of O.R. such that those who appeal to them construct Biblically false analogies. Second, O.R. advocates read into these bystander passages permission to disobey the state when these passages are either silent on that score, or in context, actually command Christians generally to obey the state. As we saw, O.R. advocates interpret these passages along a single axis (bystander liability) instead of along a dual axis (bystander liability and disobedience to the state). Third, O.R. advocates assume without argument (i.e., they beg the question) that their illegal and physically coercive tactics (i.e., "rescue missions") fulfill the mandate of the bystander principle. Fourth and finally, at many crucial junctures, O.R. advocates selectively and inconsistently interpret various bystander texts to justify "rescue missions" while they simultaneously deny the logical implications of their erroneous interpretations.

2. Human Laws Forbidding Trespass Do Not Forbid "Rescuers" from Fulfilling the Law of Bystander Liability
If, as argued above, the bystander principle does not compel or permit illegal and physically coercive "rescue missions," then human laws forbidding trespass, loitering, and unlawful assembly do not forbid "rescuers" from fulfilling the bystander principle (properly understood and applied). Consequently, while such laws may prohibit "rescue missions," they do not prohibit the Christian from fulfilling the law of bystander liability since the Christian has numerous means by which he can save the life of the unborn and thereby fulfill the bystander principle. Thus, to argue that laws prohibiting trespass prevent the Christian from fulfilling the bystander principle is to reason by means of a false dilemma (either participate in a "rescue mission" and thereby fulfill the bystander principle, or refrain from a "rescue mission" and thereby disobey the bystander principle).

In addition to employing this false dilemma, O.R. advocates also fail to see the logical conclusion of their rhetoric at this juncture. O.R. advocates, for example, suggest that if laws forbidding trespass keep one from preventing an abortion, then such laws have "everything to do" with preventing abortion.[45] Aside from rivaling newspeak, this argument can be reduced to absurdity with relative ease: if laws which forbid trespassing have "everything to do" with abortion, then laws which prohibit murdering, bombing, and kidnapping would also prevent one from fulfilling the bystander principle (as interpreted by O.R.), and on the logic of this argument, would have "everything to do" with abortion.

B. "Rescuers" Have Legal Means by Which they can Obey God (save life).

So far, we have seen that O.R. advocates have been unable to establish that they are forbidden to do what God commands. They are also unable to prove that they have no legal means by which they can save the life of the unborn.

When faced with the Biblical requirement to exhaust all available legal means of recourse, O.R. advocates usually retort by noting that there are no alternatives for "that" baby[46] about to enter the abortuary (let's call him "baby John"). In other words, the O.R. advocate claims that while there are legal means to save the unborn in general, there are no legal means to save baby John in particular; apart from a "rescue mission," we are told, baby John will die. As we will see, however, this argument is suspect since it assumes (1) that baby John should be a "rescuer's" focus, (2) that no legal means exist to save baby John, and (3) that the O.R. advocate acts consistently with his rhetoric.

First, baby John is not the only baby to be saved in the short and long-term. Christians must use their finite resources (time, money, manpower, etc.) to save as many baby Johns and baby Susans as possible. Imagine, for a moment, that the O.R. advocate is correct when he states that there is no legal way to save baby John. Suppose, further, that staging a "rescue mission" to save baby John will require an inordinate amount of resources (time, money, manpower, etc.). Suppose further, however, that the same amount of resources could save ten or twenty babies or more, if not today then tomorrow. No one wants to make these kinds of tough choices. We want to save all the babies! But saving all the babies is not currently feasible. So the real issue becomes how we can best use the limited resources God has bestowed on us to save as many babies as possible. This may mean that we must instead use these same resources to save baby Mark, baby Susan, and baby Amanda; but they are just as precious in the sight of God as baby John.

Admittedly, some of the legal means currently available are long-term solutions. Christians, for example, can work to regenerate individual members of society which is the only sure path to long-term social and cultural transformation so that even more baby Johns and baby Susans will be saved over the long term. They can reform society to Biblical standards by engaging in legal, peaceful, and non-coercive appeals, pickets, and demonstrations. They can study the salient issues in the abortion controversy, learn to become articulate spokespersons, and seek to influence and educate society, accordingly. They can vote with their consumer dollar by refusing to patronize doctors who perform elective abortions, by withholding contributions from organizations which are involved in the abortion holocaust, and by simultaneously contributing to pro-life causes and organizations. They can encourage those who have been traumatized by abortion to bring lawsuits to force abortionists to internalize the "cost of doing business," drive malpractice premiums to cost-prohibitive levels, and force abortionists out of "business" (since they will no longer have an economic incentive to "stay in the trade"). They can develop a long-term perspective and fight the battles now to prevent the legalization of RU-486 (the "abortion pill") and, thereby, over the long term, save millions upon millions of baby Johns and baby Susans. (After all, were RU-486 to be marketed, it would render O.R.'s current tactics futile, unless, of course, O.R. is willing to post a "rescuer" in the home of every woman who attempts to swallow the pill!)[47] Second, not all currently available legal methods are long-term solutions. In fact, we can save baby John today by dissuading his mother from aborting him, and we need not perpetrate illegality and physical coercion in order to do so. We can save baby John by promising to adopt him or by giving needed financial assistance to his mother before, during, and after she gives birth, thus convincing her to carry baby John to term. We can work in crisis pregnancy centers or engage in sidewalk counseling. Even O.R. advocates themselves confess that "many babies have been saved and will continue to be saved through these efforts."[48] If, by their own admission, members of O.R. have legal means by which they can save life, then they have no Biblical basis to disobey civil rulers because, contrary to the Biblical principles articulated above, they are not being commanded to sin and they are not put in a situation where they must choose between obeying God or man. In fact, they are not put in a position where they must choose between God or man precisely because there is a tertium quid, a third way out: they can obey God by saving lives legally -- perhaps even the life of baby John.

In order to even make the baby John argument, then, the O.R. advocate must first assume that a "rescue mission" is the only way to save baby John. But, when push comes to shove, crisis pregnancy workers and sidewalk counselors have saved far more baby Johns than O.R. without squandering limited resources, without galvanizing pro-abortion opposition, and without perpetrating illegality and physical coercion. If O.R. advocates want to claim that a "rescue mission" is the only effective way to save baby John (which is what the "baby John" argument postulates), then at minimum they better be able to marshal empirical data to prove that their illegal and physically coercive methods save more lives, more efficiently, than any other legal and non-coercive means. No such empirical data is forthcoming.[49] And, even were such data produced, such data would still not prove that members of O.R. are without legal means of saving baby John. To be sure, crisis pregnancy workers and sidewalk counselors will not make the evening news. But they will save life. And they will be able to save the lives -- the baby Johns -- O.R. members cannot save, because crisis pregnancy workers and sidewalk counselors do not have to contend with the "down time" of arrest, arraignment, imprisonment, and/or trial.

In response, some O.R. advocates claim that legal alternatives, such as sidewalk counseling, are ineffective since sidewalk counseling without a "rescue mission" only gives the counselor a few seconds, whereas sidewalk counseling with a "rescue mission" gives the counselor several minutes to dissuade a mother from aborting her child.[50] But, if a stopwatch determines the moral propriety of "rescue missions," why not just slide down the continuum of physical coercion a bit more and kidnap mothers for nine months until the child is born. Surely nine months, on this logic, would be better than several minutes!

Third, while O.R. advocates profess that they save baby John, in reality they barricade an abortuary in the hopes of saving as many babies, in general, as possible. Were O.R. members really out to save baby John in particular, they would have no reason to stop when his mother enters the abortuary. But no! They profess to save baby John when, in reality, they are only interested in baby John until his mother enters the doors of the abortuary! So, while O.R. advocates seek recourse in the baby John argument, their actions betray their own rhetoric. While they say the issue is not saving lives generally (because then they would have to admit that they have numerous legal means to do so), in reality they end up only saving lives on a general basis and not an individuated basis as they purport.

Indeed, we should save life. But we must save life in the way God has commanded us to do so. If God has provided us legal ways to save life, how can members of O.R. shrug Him off? Do they know better than God? While members of O.R. claim that they are forbidden to do what God commands, we have seen that this claim is not supported by Scripture. Members of O.R. are not forbidden to do what God commands because they have misinterpreted and misapplied the law of bystander liability in an attempt to justify "rescue missions" and because they can avail themselves of numerous means by which they can legally and non-coercively save the unborn.

By perpetrating illegality and by physically coercing others in society to conform to a Christian ethic, members of O.R. basically proclaim "enough is enough!" But God says that His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways (Is. 55:8-9). Members of O.R. say "enough is enough!" But God says that He makes all things beautiful in His time (Ecc. 3:11). Members of O.R. say "enough is enough!" But God says that we should not lose heart in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not grow weary (Gal. 6:9). So where does the "enough is enough!" attitude come from? From God -- or Ghandi?

Isn't it time members of O.R. really learned to obey God rather than man?


[1] Since the dispute over "Operation Rescue" boils down to whether Scripture commands believers to "rescue" the unborn in the way Operation Rescue seeks to do so (i.e., "rescue missions"), "Operation Rescue" gets quite a bit of mileage from its name, thus sweetening the wells in its favor at the outset of any inquiry. Primarily for that reason and secondarily for the sake of brevity, we will hereafter abbreviate "Operation Rescue" as "O.R."

[2] For a general description of the tactics employed by O.R., see Terry, Randall A., Operation Rescue, (Pittsburgh, PA: Whitaker House, 1985), pp. 18, 124, 236-37; see also Belz, Mark, Suffer the Little Children: Christians, Abortion and Civil Disobedience, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), pp. xi-xiv.

[3] The American press and public, for example, hail Nelson Mandela and the ANC (an individual and organization which accept the use of extreme violence to defy unjust laws) while the same press and public condemn Randall Terry and O.R. (an individual and organization which employ resistance methods to prevent extreme violence). See Hagopian, "Hailing Mandela," Antithesis, Vol. I, No. 2, p.2.

Incidentally, Randall Terry no longer appears to be the leader of O.R. While Keith Tucci, a Pittsburgh minister, has reportedly succeeded Terry as the organizational director of O.R. (the de jure leader of O.R.), Joseph Forman (formerly second-in-command as the National Field Director of O.R.) appears to have become a de facto leader of sorts. Thus, it appears that some of O.R.'s "most prominent spokesman are...heading down slightly separate roads." -- "Decentralized Rescue Group Now Stressing Tow Facets," World, Vol. 5, No.4, pp.5-6, April 21, 1990.

[4] For an insightful analysis of the hypocrisy of law enforcement officials (and the media) see, William Allen (former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights), "Why No Outrage This Time?" Citizen, Vol.4, No. 3, March 1990.

[5] As of May 1989, Joseph Foreman claimed that O.R. had saved 250 lives. Foreman, Joseph, debate with David Hagopian, "Is Operation Rescue Biblically Justifiable?" (May 13, 1989). See the advertisement on p. 5 of this issue.

[6] This article will use the following terms interchangeably: "state", "(civil) government", "(civil) magistrate", "(civil) ruler", "(civil) authority".

[7] This article focuses on the main argument O.R. advocates proffer to support their cause, that they are forbidden to do what God commands and have no legal means by which they can obey God. Lord willing, the July/August issue of Antithesis will give us the opportunity to examine many of the subsidiary arguments O.R. supporters advance.

[8] Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960 [1559]), Book IV, Ch. XX, pp. 1486-1487. See also the editorial comments of John T. McNeil, editor, at those pages.

[9] Dabney, R. L., Lectures in Systematic Theology, (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Press, 1985 [1871]), p. 864. Dabney uses the name "Legitimatists" to describe those who advocated the divine right of royalty and taught, inter alia, "passive submission" to civil authority.

[10] Obedience to the state, as this article will make abundantly clear, is a general duty subject to exception. Thus, the presumption of Scripture is that believers are to obey the state unless they satisfy the Biblical criteria for disobeying the state (commandment to sin and exhaustion of legal alternatives). Generally speaking, then, Christians obey God by obeying the state.

[11] All Scripture references are to the NASB, The Lockman Foundation, (NY, NY: Collins Publishers, 1973 [1960]).

[12] It is amazing how Proverbs 24:21 appears only ten verses after Proverbs 24:11, the alleged proof text par excellence in favor of O.R. For more on the proper interpretation of Proverbs 24:10-11, see II, A, 1, e below.

[13] To say that Christians have a prima facie obligation to obey the state is to say that the believer's general duty is to obey the state. Of course, this prima facie obligation is rebuttable: Christians must obey the state unless they satisfy the Biblical criteria for disobeying the state (commandment to sin and exhaustion of legal alternatives). Although Christians must submit to rulers who permit (instead of command) evil, Christians can still avail themselves of all legal means (1) of effecting a godly end or (2) of protesting and reforming an evil law. Nonetheless, state-permitted evil does not justify disobedience to the state.

[14] No O.R. advocate has articulated this objection. In order to construct and refute the strongest possible arguments in favor of O.R., however, this argument will be addressed.

[15] Gorman, Michael J., Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982), p. 27.

[16] At this juncture, some O.R. advocates may be tempted to respond by erroneously accusing their theological opponents of fallaciously appealing to silence when they argue that Romans 13, Titus 3, and I Peter 2 do not issue a call to civil disobedience. O.R. advocates who argue in this way need to understand two important points. First, an appeal to silence is fallacious only when the party articulating it bears the burden of proof and seeks to subvert that burden by appealing to silence. This article, however, has explicitly argued that Christians are subject to a general duty, operating presumption, or prima facie obligation to obey the state. In other words, properly understood, Scripture places the burden of proof on those who disobey the state to prove that they meet the Biblical criteria for disobeying. Thus, even assuming this argument is an appeal to silence, it is not a fallacious appeal to silence since O.R. advocates themselves and not their opponents bear the burden of proof. Second, due to the explicit discussion of the historical context of these passages and the explicit injunction to obey civil authorities these passages teach, the argument articulated in the article is not an appeal to silence in the first place. Thus, the argument given in the article is neither fallacious nor an appeal to silence.

[17] Calvin, John, New Testament Commentaries, trans. by T. A. Smails (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972 [1555]), Vol. 10, p. 206 (commentary on I Tim. 2:2).

[18] The two criteria mentioned in this article (commandment to sin and exhaustion of legal alternatives) are really two perspectives of a single criterion. Properly understood, the command to sin must place the believer in the situation (dilemma) of choosing between God or man. Thus, those who cede the first criterion (commandment to sin) and not the second (exhaustion of legal alternatives), as Foreman did during our debate, fatally misunderstand Scripture at this juncture. The "criteria" are separated in this article only for the sake of pedagogical clarity.

[19] At the outset of his opening statement, Foreman claimed that he was "ambivalent" and "torn" as to whether the command to disobey was required (obligatory) or permitted (optional). In light of the fact that Acts 5:29, understood in context, is rather clear ("must"), Foreman's ambivalence was inexcusable. Also as one who chose to defend O.R. in a public debate, Foreman should have thought through this foundational issue ahead of time.

[20] Grant, George, The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action, (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), p. 159. Of course, Grant may very well respond that there are no legal alternatives for the particular baby about to be killed. For an analysis of this response, see II, B, below.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Before examining the case for O.R., we must deal with an important issue: the disturbing way many O.R. advocates simply assume that O.R. trods the high moral ground (i.e., the how-dare-you-Biblically-question-what-we-do attitude). While many O.R. proponents may wish to assume that the disobedience they advocate is Biblically justifiable, Scripture itself informs us otherwise: according to Scripture, those who disobey the state bear the burden of Biblically justifying their disobedience. As we have already seen, Scripture commands us that we must generally obey civil rulers, and that we must disobey such rulers only when they command us to sin and only when we have no legal means by which we can obey God. Until and unless O.R. supporters can prove that O.R. satisfies the Biblical criteria for disobeying the state, they have not met the burden which Scripture itself places on their shoulders, a burden which they cannot wish away by simply assuming the Biblical propriety of their disobedience.

[23] See the analysis of Genesis 4:9, II, A, 1, a below.

[24] Those familiar with the contours of legal reasoning will immediately recognize the structure of this argument: while this analysis grants the validity of the bystander principle (the "rule of law") illustrated in the various bystander passages ("cases"), this analysis argues that the present case of O.R. is distinguishable from those cases. The flaw, then, is not with the bystander principle, but rather, with the way O.R. advocates apply it.

[25] Foreman, debate with Hagopian.

[26] Crenshaw, C. Herald of the Covenant, Vol. 13, No.1, p. 7

[27] Terry, Operation Rescue, pp. 2, 194, Belz, Suffer the Little Children, p. 31, and Foreman, debate with Hagopian.

[28] Terry, Operation Rescue, pp. 23, 194.

[29] Foreman, debate with Hagopian. Belz, Suffer the Little Children, p. 154.

[30] Foreman, debate with Hagopian.

[31] During the debate, Foreman claimed that, as of May 1989, O.R. had "rescued" 250 lives. While we praise God whenever life is saved, and while God may save lives in spite of and not because of disobedience, that is not the point in dispute at this juncture. The point in dispute is that what O.R. advocates do is not anything like swooping a child in their arms and galloping to safety, which is the image their false analogies suggest.

[32] Because the analogies suggest that one can feasibly remove the victim from the aggressor and because there is no way to do so in the present case (since the child is contained in the body of his mother), O.R. advocates reason by means of a false analogy when they appeal to such analogies to justify "rescue missions." During the debate, I took this proffered analogy to its logical conclusion by asking Foreman how O.R. members extricate the victim from his aggressor in the present case without performing an abortion or cesarean section. Foreman's only answer was that the question was ridiculous. I immediately responded by informing Foreman that the absurdity was intentional since the question was formulated as a reductio ad absurdum of Foreman's analogy. Because Foreman did not grasp the argument, he resorted to ad hominem invective, something he demonstrated a propensity to do throughout the entire debate.

[33] Terry, Operation Rescue, p. 122.

[34] Spurgeon, Charles, The Treasury of David, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers, no date), Vol. II, p. 415.

[35] Interestingly, during the debate, Foreman admitted that Proverbs 24 cannot be used to prove a Biblical obligation (option?) to rescue.

[36] Keil, C. F., and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1989 [1872]), Vol. VI, p. 138.

[37] Ibid., pp. 131-132.

[38] Whybray, R. N., The Book of Proverbs, (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 140.

[39] I am indebted to Greg Price for bringing the definition of hasak to my attention.

[40] In other words, if this passage justifies "rescue missions," then this passage proves too much.

[41] See the refutation of the rape-in-the-field and child-in-the-field analogies in II, A, 1, c above which can be applied with equal force to refute the Good Samaritan analogy.

[42] Christ taught that one's "neighbor" includes all men, including one's enemy.

[43] Foreman, debate with Hagopian.-Nj`JGOncluding one's enemy.

[44] This is true since both abortion and idolatry are state-permitted and not state-commanded. If the O.R. advocate rejoins by arguing that human laws forbid him from obeying God, then the same logic applies with respect to idolatry. Trespass laws, after all, would also prevent Christians from staging "rescue missions" at mosques and temples. Far from commanding any Christians to sin, the state permits others to sin. And, as we have already seen, Scripture does not permit or require Christians to disobey the state merely because the state permits others to sin.

[45] Foreman, debate with Hagopian.

[46] Ibid. See also Belz, Suffer the Little Children, p. 79.

[47] Foreman chose not to respond to this argument during the debate, a tactic he often employed.

[48] Belz, Suffer the Little Children, p. 128.

[49] Although Foreman, during the debate, said that he could empirically prove that O.R.'s illegalities alone have saved the 250 lives O.R. claimed to have saved (as of May 1989), he never marshaled forth such empirical data. This was not the only time Foreman overstated his case by merely asserting or assuming what he should have proved.

[50] Foreman, debate with Hagopian.

David G. Hagopian, B.A., J.D., is an attorney with a leading Los Angeles-based law firm and a senior editor of Antithesis.
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