The Christian and Civil Disobedience -- By: Charles C. Ryrie

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 127:506 (Apr 1970)
Article: The Christian and Civil Disobedience
Author: Charles C. Ryrie


The Christian and Civil Disobedience

Charles C. Ryrie

[Charles C. Ryrie, Dean of Doctoral Studies, Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

To say that the issue of civil disobedience has affected almost every area of contemporary life is axiomatic. Politicians and judges seem to be most directly involved. Sociologists are drawn into the debate because of the close relationship between civil disobedience and certain social and economic groups. Educators are included due to the involvement of college students in areas that concern the draft and segregation. During 1967 17% of all the instances of racial disorders involved schools, while in the first four months of 1968 the figure had risen to 44%. Psychologists and psychiatrists have contributed in their own way, for some, at least, seem to be dedicated to the proposition that everybody ought to be able to do his own thing in his own way and that no one should be blamed for his actions. There are, of course, notable exceptions to such a viewpoint although their voices are all but drowned out by others. One psychiatrist, however, observed on the basis of long years of experience that “we have been asking for, this [climate of violence] by developing a feeling that we don’t have to obey rules and regulations. When you have many people feeling this way, you have trouble.”1

But more recently another force, religion, is making its influence felt. At the fourth assembly of the World Council of Churches in July 1968, the principle of “selective conscientious objection” was adopted with only a few negative votes. That 4,000-word statement will undoubtedly assist the argument for civil disobedience not only on religious grounds but also on the basis of “the free right of expression of conscience for all persons independent of creed or belief.” In addition, churches in more than one city have encouraged the use of their buildings as havens of rest while their ministers march

with the causes of unrest. This is not to say that churches should not speak to these issues of the day, for they are crucial and pertinent—perhaps much more pertinent to a humble believer in Russia than for a Spock or Coffin or a comfortable Council leader.

What Is Civil Disobedience?

If disobedience is a “violation of a command or prohibition,” then civil disobedience is that in respect to the laws of the State. In view of today’s scene, we would probably wish to elaborate on this definition by noting some qualifying characteristics of the disobedience and suggesting some motives for it. Thus a more elaborate definition as suggested by one philosoph...

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