The following was written in response to an opinion column in last Saturday's Waco Tribune-Herald. I argue that a healthy society maintains room for dissent, disagreement, and ongoing political discourse concerning what constitutes a good law and can do so while upholding the Rule of Law. I also contend Christians have a moral obligation to act upon principle and under conscience when certain laws are determined to be unjust.
Discerning How Best to Abide by the Bible
In France during the 1940s, the citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon risked their lives to harbor Jews who were sought by Nazi patrols and collaborators of the Vichy regime. The citizens of Le Chambon were Protestant Huguenots, led by Pastor André Trocmé and his deputy pastor Edouard Theis. The people of Le Chambon obtained forged identification and ration cards and helped the Jews cross the border to neutral Switzerland. By choosing to resist an unjust law they saved as many as one thousand lives.
They did not head to the voting booth. Rather, they acted according to conscience and principled beliefs. Their decision was rooted in Christian conviction. Knowing the law of the land, they chose noncompliance and instead appealed to the will of God. They were also willing to accept the consequences if discovered by the state. Rev. Trocmé spoke publicly against the Nazis and was arrested. Daniel Trocmé, Rev. Trocmé’s cousin, was murdered at Maidanek concentration camp.
In a February 11, 2017 column, “Baylor Sanctuary Movement Ignores Rule of Law,” Jay Young argues Baylor University should reject a sanctuary campus petition. He asserts, “An individual must do what the law says and must not do what it says not to do.” I disagree.
His argument hinges on a particular understanding of the Rule of Law. Mr. Young represents the Rule of Law as a principle stating “that governance of a community is dictated by mandates from the state.” Mr. Young argues that this principle necessitates that the citizenry obey the law. But the Rule of Law does not require this, and instead is a political philosophy wherein a society is subject to law rather than the dictates and whims of a ruler. It does not necessitate obedience. A free democratic order should maintain space for protest and civil disobedience while holding those who protest accountable to existing laws. Human beings propose and adopt the laws; therefore, not every law will be good.
In no way does the sanctuary campus petition deny the Rule of Law. Instead, the petition calls for noncompliance and direct political action challenging the legitimacy of legislation such as House Bill 12 or any federal law that could effect refugees, migrants, or international visitors. The petition does not “pick and choose” which passages of the Bible to abide by, but instead expresses an overall hermeneutic that seeks justice for the vulnerable. The petition asks the University to consider all implications of these laws for refugees, migrants, and international visitors who are part of the University community. It also asks that Baylor University respond publicly and with boldness.
Those signing the petition express concern, believing recent federal and state legislative actions to be unjust. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution supports the petitioners’ right to assert their view and to draw upon their religious beliefs as a basis for their convictions.
The sanctuary campus petition is not calling for arbitrary action on behalf of Baylor University and its leadership. Rather, the petition calls for principled action firmly set upon the twin pillars of reasoned conviction and deep faith. To suggest otherwise is uncharitable.
The United States is a nation of laws. Our laws grant certain rights, including the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religious expression. I thank God for those rights. But I do not believe all our laws have always reflected perfect justice. I give thanks for those of Christian conviction who have resisted those laws, been held accountable, and pushed us toward legislative change. The life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind.
I strongly urge President David Garland and the rest of the Baylor administration to regard the petition as a courageous and thoughtful display of Christian witness and to consider this appeal carefully in determining the best course for the University moving forward.
In the event the University deems any law unjust it is my hope the leaders would abide foremost by a higher law and do everything in their power to resist and reform the laws of this nation so that we might become a more perfect union. As Peter and the other apostles put it succinctly in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than human beings!”