In Response…

The editors of TORCH AND TRUMPET, being concerned with a Biblical approach to current social problems, devote this issue to the problem of civil disobedience. Dr. Edwin Palmer’s position paper was sent with the accompanying letter to Christian scholars throughout the United States and Canada. The editors hope that this interplay will contribute to a Biblical understanding of the Christian’s responsibility in the area of civil disobedience.

The respondents to the article are:

John H. Gerstner – Professor at Pittsburg, Theological Seminary.

L. Nelson Bell – Executive Editor of Christianity Today

W. Stanford Reid – Professor at the University of Guelf in Ontario, Canada

Wendell Verduin – Director of the Community Action Program for Grand Rapids, Michigan

Merle Meeter – Professor at Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa

Gordon H. Clark – Professor at Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana

Dennis Hoekstra – Professor at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Bernard Ramm – Professor at California Baptist Theological Seminary

Albert H. Freundt, Jr. – Professor at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi

Morton H. Smith – President of the Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi

Roger Nicole – Professor at Gordon Divinity School, Wenham, Massachusetts

Dr. Palmer develops well a thesis which we find generally sound. However, we will ask a few questions. First, has he defined his basic principle sharply enough? If we are to obey authority except when it would compel us to sin what authority is to determine whether this authority is, in fact, compelling us to sin? If the individual himself is the authority to decide the legitimacy of authority in each instance does this make him the ultimate authority?

If Dr. Palmer means that the Bible is the ultimate authority and since it commands us to obey the powers that be, we must do so unless the;se penultimate authorities transgress the ultimate one from which they derive theirs, this should be clearly stated. Instead of saying we must obey penultimate authority unless it commands us to sin should we not more specifically state; unless it commands us to violate the clear dictates of Scripture (the ultimate authority).

If this precisionizing is in accord with Dr. Palmer’s thinking should he not go on to be more thoroughly consistent? If within these confines he does acknowledge constituted authority and if the American colonies had constituted representatives of the people, would these representatives not have the authority to decide that the colonials’ rights were being violated and give directions which those whom they represented were obliged to obey? (Calvin’s principle). When Dr. Palmer questions the legitimacy of the American Revolution is he not implicitly denying the right of representative government and its authority over those it represents? Would the colonists not have been disobedient to their immediate authority if they had not obeyed its call to rebellion? To put the question another way; does the Bible enjoin subjection to the powers that be or only certain kinds of powers that be?

We append a few concluding footnotes:

1. Thoreau’s principle – “the only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right”—can be accepted, adding, “it is always right to obey proper authority, with the one aforementioned exception.” 2. Since ecclesiastical authority includes the right to require support of its program, though this should include someone we deem “modernistic,” we must accept this abuse of proper authority as Christ did when he paid the temple tax. 3. If our country requires us to drop a hydrogen bomb on an “innocent” country so far as we are concerned that country is not innocent unless we have absolute, demonstrative, indubitable evidence to that effect. 4. By what authority do we restrict legitimate authority to government authority and forbid strikes, if they are forbidden at all, to those against her? 5. Segregation is unfairly discriminated against by defining it as discrimination “against the image of God on the basis of skin pigmentation.” 6. Jesus forgave the soldiers for crucifying him, they not “knowing” what they did when they obeyed Caesar’s evil, though authoritative, decree; but followers of Jesus cannot forgive Eichmann for something infinitely less heinous?



The fine line between civil disobedience and anarchy is obvious to any who look at the American scene today. It is commonplace to witness “peaceful demonstrations” degenerate into fighting in the streets and fighting to become the occasion of looting and burning. In fact, this pattern is noticeable in city after city and there is no indication of an end.

In the time of the Judges we are told that the people did that which was right in their own eyes and chaos resulted. Today, under the canopy of civil disobedience there are those who take the law into their own hands and, when constituted authority attempts to restore order, there are immediate cries of “police brutality,” as though the police exist to protect those who break the law rather than to enforce the law.

The writer witnessed one anti-war demonstration a few months ago, a demonstration which was organized, with men carrying walkie-talkies and directing every move.

There is incontrovertable evidence that Communist agitators thrive on demonstrations and that some honestly wanting to do no more than demonstrate for what they feel to be a just cause find themselves a part of something far more serious—a direct challenge to law and order.

Those who are now advocating a “massive dislocation” of the life of the city of Washington, or any other city, are no longer talking about civil disobedience as it has been known. Rather it is a challenge to the processes of law and order and an open invitation to anarchy.

Even within the context of the Christian’s concern for love and justice for all, it is easy to be caught up in an emotional approach which considers desirable ends only and loses sight of the consequences of ill-advised means. The very life of a nation demands respect for law and order and the overwhelming evidence in America today is that “civil disobedience” is more and more degenerating into lawlessness.

There are legal processes whereby wrongs may be redressed. They may be slow but they are available and any attempt to bypass such processes can create contempt for law and, if pushed to excess, bring about the break down of the very basis of national security itself.

For some, civil disobedience means coercion and the change in laws by duress or legislative panic. That which was meant by “civil disobedience” in a past generation is a far cry from the “civil disobedience” indulged in today.



The article of Dr. Palmer concerning civil disobedience sets forth quite clearly and quite well the Christian position on this matter. His stress upon all authority as ultimately finding its source in God is something that needs to be re-emphasized strongly in our own day.

There are however, one or two elements of weakness in the article. I feel that he has failed to bring out the full implications of the meaning of “sin,” in society. He holds that no Christian has the right to revolt because he is deprived of some of his rights or freedoms, but the question then arises as to what a Christian should do if he is involved in depriving other people of their rights or freedom. For instance, if the owner of a drug store forbids his employees to serve Negroes, is he not thereby commanding his employees to sin and should they not disobey? If the state orders a Christian to oppress his neighbor in some way must he not then disobey? This matter of sin in society would seem to be much more complex and involved than Dr. Palmer would imply.

Furthermore the question of demonstration against oppressive laws likewise involves rather complex problems. When does the token demonstration become a riot? Furthermore, if the civil authorities use oppressive measures and make physical attacks upon demonstrators is it not the duty of Christians to help the people who are being unjustly, unfairly and often illegally attacked by those who are supposed to enforce law and order? This is not a simple but very difficult question to answer.

It might have been well also if Dr. Palmer had pointed out the practical consequences of the present trend towards violence for in society as in physieal nature, action brings equal and opposite reactions, so that physical violence is met eventually with physical violence and the outcome is civil war. The fact that extreme rightwing groups are beginning to develope on university campuses and the like, indicates clearly the direction i.n which we are heading unless some sort of rationality regains control.

Finally I would raise one question that Dr. Palmer has not touched upon; What do Christians do in this situation today? Setting forth the theology or theory of opposition to civil disobedience is not enough. What must the Church do and what must individual Christians do in this present situation? It is a very practical matter but Dr. Palmer has not touched on this. What does he think is the answer?



It is quite clear that Scripture demands general obedience to authority. These demands are probably best summarized in Romans 13:1, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.”

This clarity is lost, however, when we seek to apply the general law to specific areas or when we seek to cite exceptions. Dr. Palmer in his article, “Civil Disobedience,” states that there is a time to disobey authority. “That time is when such an authority commands someone to sin.” From his examples it is plain that each individual is left to choose whether or not a specific command or law will lead to sin. The individual must choose whether or not a missionary is “modernistic” before he provides support; a military pilot must decide a country’s guilt or innocence before dropping a hydrogen bomb; and children must determine the guilt or innocence of a parental command before they disobey. Once these decisions have been allocated to the individual, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain the application of the general law.

This difficulty becomes more clear when we cite some examples from Scripture. In the Old Testament God’s people were time and again ordered to transgress the rules and commands of oppressing nations. They were even ordered to be violent. Christ defied both ecclesiastical and civil authority when he caused chaos in the temple by overthrowing the tables of the money changers, and the apostles deliberately disobeyed governmental orders not to preach in the streets.

The difficulty in applying God’s general rule against civil disobedience to specific, individually determined cases becomes apparent also when we seek to understand Dr. Palmer’s acceptance of “token disobedience for the purpose of bringing the problem to the courts.” We thus seem to be in the position of accepting small sins of civil disobedience while condemning “massive” ones.

If we allow individual choice in the matter of civil disobedience—and I agree that we must—can we condemn the modem peace marcher who in good conscience has determined that the enemy we are fighting is innocent? (How does this vary from the pilot with his hydrogen bomb?) Or can we condemn the civil rights marcher who has in good conscience determined that the state by forcing segregation has fostered prejudice and forced men to sin?

The issue at hand appears to be quite clear. It can be compared to Scripture’s exposition of the fourth commandment which requires respect and honor for the Sabbath day but leaves a great deal of specific application to the individual.

It is good for our Christian community to discuss the issue of civil disobedience. It is to be hoped, however, that this discussion does not overshadow issues and problems that are of far greater significance. The timeliness of this issue also raises some grave questions. Civil disobedience has long been tolerated (even quietly extolled) in our circles. For years we have taught our children to identify positively with the colonial role in the Revolutionary War; tax dodging has been quietly accepted by many as a legitimate way of curtailing a spendthrift government; outwitting the local police over a traffic or parking violation often receives open admiration; in a more somber vein, Ku Klux Klans and White Citizen’s Councils have long advocated drastic forms of civil disobedience while our “Christian” community has remained strangely silent.

Now civil disobedience appears to be directed in such a way that it negatively affects many of us personally, e.g. the march on the “Christian” slumlord, the picketing of a “Christian” businessman because of prejudicial hiring practices, and the sit-down strike in front of a discriminating real estate agency. Now we become concerned—not with the injustices that have prevailed for centuries but with the “disorder” that affects our lives or our pocketbook. We seem to condemn this type of misbehavior only when we are threatened personally.

The current predisposition to condemn civil disobedience beclouds the real issues of the day. By condemning civil disobedience, crime, delinquency, violence, etc., it appears that we somehow, perhaps subconsciously, hope to justify our inaction to the problems that have caused these conditions.

Clearly the Bible teaches that civil disobedience is sinful and that governments are to be obeyed except where they make demands that are contrary to Scripture. But we make a serious mistake if we get “hung up” on this issue. That same Bible teaches that the real issue (we will be judged by our works) is the inexorable demand of God to be about the business of caring for our fellow man—to feed him, clothe him, house him, teach him. help him, love him—and all this without judgment. Instead we have judged him, criticized him. accused him—frequently without love. Our over-reaction to the problem of civil disobedience fosters a continuation of this inattention to the second table of the law and it blinds us to the real causes of the crisis that faces our land.

The Christian church does not have time for a lengthy discussion of this issue. We must be about the more important matters of which civil disobedience is only a symptom.



In his excellent Biblically-based essay “Civil Disobedience,” Dr. Edwin Palmer asserts, rightly, that the “time to disobey” is when we are commanded to sin, not when our rights are infringed.

“Our rights” and “justice,” however, are frequently the battle cry of groups clamoring for their “cut” of public tax monies. But such claims to equality as a basis for political action seem to me especially (though unintentionally) treacherous when, for example. by demanding federal funds to support Christian education. we are implicitly denying the Biblical principle—see Deuteronomy and Proverbs—that education is the God-given prerogative of parents, not of the state.

That’s why it is perilous for a Christian to join any pressure group, however reputable, that tends to follow the liberal secular lead to state subsidy, inflation, exorbitant taxation, socialism, collectivization of private enterprise, diminution of personal freedom, and the resultant totalitarian state ruled by self-deifying social planners (who are already seriously proposing two-child-maximum families for the United States—coupon children by government permission only).

If an organization of Christians—members of the body of Christ, his church—puts first the Kingdom of God, then it may well have to forego certain “rights”; it may have to tolerate some injustice and personal suffering for the sake of obedience to less apparent but none the less fundamental Biblical-Christian principles. If an organization such as Citizens for Educational Freedom. for instance, is working primarily and self-consciously to glorify Cod in Jesus Christ and to advance the redemptive program of our Savior-King in the whole-life freedom wherewith he has made us free. that is. if declaring and promoting the Lordship of Christ in the sphere of formal education is its purpose, then it will surely be blessed by God. But if its aims are based, instead, on a humanistic-humanitarian “equal rights” philosophy, it is antithetical to the Christ-centered life and it will inevitably perish in anthropocentric idolatry. The same is true, of course, of every human organization or system that denies the centrality of the Christ, in whom all things cohere. have their Meaning-full, Truth-full interrelatedness.

Enduring inequity without complaint, therefore, may sometimes be the requirement of a faithful. obedient Christian witness. “For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it. if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example…, who did no sin…, who…, when He suffered, threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (I Peter 2:19–23) – emphasis added.



It would be ungenerous to criticize Dr. Palmer’s article on ClVIL DISOBEDIENCE because the subject is too vast to be adequately treated in a short article. May I therefore take the liberty of indicating one or two allusions in the article, which could stand further study.

Clearly the Scripture derives the just powers of government from God. Clearly also Rousseau was not a Christian. But this does not prove that the just powers of government do not come from God through the consent of the people. The account of Cain’s fear of capital punishment seems to imply that God had authorized every individual to punish crime. The verse on capital punishment at the time of Noah also suggests that what are now governmental powers were in the hands of individuals. If these powers were not in the hands of individuals, who then relinquished them to government, it would be necessary to find some other way in which God gave these powers to governments.

The article dimly points to one other method. Perhaps governments get their just powers simply by military force. Someone gains control. and the New Testament tells us to be subject to the powers that be. This idea seems embedded in Dr. Palmer’s argument that the American Revolution was not justified. One must then wonder whether military might is an evidence of God’s approval of a given government. Does the Scripture imply that successful seizure of power confers rights on the governor? If so, the American Revolution was justified because it was successful.

The Scottish Covenanters, e.g. Samuel Rlitherford and Richard Cameron, had quite different ideas of what the Scripture teaches; and a full discussion of civil rights. since it must include a theory of government would necessitate consideration of these Reformed Presbyterians.



I appreciate Dr. Palmer’s attempt to speak Biblically to one of the pressing social problems of our times. It seems to me, however, that the following issues remain unresolved in this article:

Inconsistency Between Principles Enunciated and Practices Allowed.

The major point of the article is summarized thus: “Whether or not to disobey laws should be decided solely on the basis of the command of God and not on pragmatism” (pp. 6–7). Furthermore, it is categorically claimed that “There are no Biblical commands Or examples of disobedience when a person is deprived of his rights. The sole criterion is: Is he commanded to sin?” (p. 5). So absolute arc these Biblical principles that such unqualified judgments as this can be made: “Upon this Pauline-Petrine principle of civil obedience, it is wrong for government employees to go on strike” (p. 6). Yet after many more applications of this kind, it is asked: ‘What measures, then, may be taken to rectify injustices? One is token disobedience. To say this is not to negate all that we have said so far” (p. 6). On what basis, other than of rejected pragmatism, can this “token disobedience” be allowed? Even “token” allowances seem to contradict radically the absolute, universally applicable Biblical principles delineated as the main point of the article.

Excessive Absolutism Creates Practical Confusion in Delineation of Obedience-Disobedience Principle

In “A Time to Disobey” and “A Time to Obey” (pp. 5–6), this unqualified distinction is made: “When sin is commanded, disobey; when rights are deprived, obey.” This distinction is called “the heart of this article” (p. 5). This clear, clean, absolute distinction is alluringly attractive in the confusion and chaos of our times. The author applies it categorically to all sorts of practical situations. He speaks much of first century conditions. Yet historical circumstances and practical consequences have almost no effect on the formalistic, universal application of this distinction to all sorts of immensely complex contemporary problems. Largely ignored is the fact that life, and Christian socio-ethical choices in life, almost never come in formal, a-historical, circumstanceless packages. Thus in certain historical contexts and in view of probable results, almost every practical application of this distinction in the article could be questioned on Christian grounds. I shall cite for analysis only one of the many illustrations used:

“A teacher may be excessively repressive with one of his pupils. He may punish the child out of hate and anger…The child is deprived of fundamental human rights, but he is not made to sin. That is the difference. His solution is to rectify the situation in legal ways, but it is not to disobey the God-ordained authority” (p. 5).

Without becoming environmental determinists, Christian and non-Christian scholars alike agree that at some vaguely defined, but real point, an excessively repressive environment does form persons who compulsively or unknowingly engage in acts and ways of life that are sinful in a descriptive sense. In many cases the educational or personality damage resulting from this repressive environment is so great that a person can hardly be held personally responsible for his “sinful” way of life. Yet on the absolute principles enunciated in this article, under no circumstances may civil disobedience be used to change such an environment, no matter how repressive it may be or how completely resistant to change through other means. Thus the attractive absolute distinction to guide Christians in civil obedience and disobedience creates confusion rather than clarity. The confusion may be lack of verbal precision. But it may also come from failure to recognize that even absolute Biblical principles cannot simply be formalistically applied in the same way to every situation without regard for historical context or social consequences.

Danger of Making Desirable ContemporanJ Social Changes Unattainable through Questionable Interpretation of Historical, Sociological, and Biblical Evidence

The author claims that “The conscience of America has not been stirred to the great peaceful revolution in race relations primarily by civil disobedience but rather by peaceful demonstrations, education, and legislation, although civil disobedience has prodden the revolution to a faster clip” (p. 6).

Sociological Evidence – The vast majority of sociologists who have written on the subject, Christian and non-Christian alike, hold that without organized dissent, generally bordering on and often forced to become civil disobedience, neither the “stirred conscience of America” nor “the great peaceful revolution in race relations” would have become “realities” in our times. In the past 50 years, almost every significant breakthrough in this “revolution” at federal, state, and local levels can be traced directly to organized social dissent and disorder, which often became civil disobedience because of repression by local government officials. Furthermore, how deep, really, is the “stirring of America’s conscience” and the “race relations revolution,” when in the week during which this is written a few of the events chosen from the news are: The State of Mississippi refuses to prosecute in the murder of civil rights workers by respected citizens of Mississippi, including a county deputy sheriff, in spite of federal court evidence proving the cold-blooded murder; Michigan legislators eviscerate and reject a fair housing law for fear of their constituents; and over 100,000 Detroit residents demand a referendum to repeal an open housing ordinance of the City Council, denouncing those favoring it as “do-gooders, churchmen and socialists.” In view of this evidence, I submit that just as in the past, civil rights in the future will not be extended significantly without the means this article rejects categorically as sin, that is, the use of continued organized civil disorder and disobedience.

Historical Evidence – For centuries by local and state ordinances or by common consent, and by “law of the land” from 1896 on, “separate but equal” racially segregated public facilities were allowed or required. Without civil disorder and disobedience and without “pragmatic” arguments from sociology, psychology, and education, the Supreme Court simply would not have radically reversed in 1954 this “law of the land,” which ushered in “the great peaceful revolution in race relations.” Furthermore, implementation of this court decision over the past fourteen years has depended largely on civil disorder and disobedience. Thus while extolling this “revolution” on Christian grounds, the author of this article, allegedly on clear Biblical grounds, deprives all those favoring the extension of this revolution of the one effective means primarily responsible for beginning and extending it.

Biblical Evidence – For Christians, “yes” or “no” to civil disobedience depends finally upon what Biblical Revelation requires of them. Is an absolute “no” required by Scripture, as argued in this article? I suggest that further Biblical analysis along these lines is required: The Biblical principle of Cod-given authority is clear: husbands over wives, parents over children, masters over servants, governments over citizens. But in applying its principles to practice, is the Bible as oblivious to historical context and probable consequences as Dr. Palmer is, allegedly on Bib Heal grounds? [ think not. Space requirements make it necessary to clarify this point by analogy and example rather than by use of arguments from the article itself. For example, note that at one time Paul categorically refused to circumcise Titus to “preserve the truth of the Gospel” (Gal. 2:3–5); but at another time he voluntarily circumcised Timothy simply “because the Jews knew his father was a Greek” (Acts 16:3). Why? Until a better answer is given, different historical contexts and different probable consequences seem the best answer. So too, it is impossible to object on explicit Biblical grounds to the institution of slavery (cf. e.g. I Cor. 7:20–24, Eph. 6:5–9, I Peter 2:18–21). But after centuries of the leavening influence of the Gospel making men aware of the awful inhumanity to man as the consequence of slavery, are American Christians today allowed or required to continue to support slavery on Biblical grounds? Is Dr. Palmer prepared to argue that in Civil War days. or under any circumstances today, it would be unbiblical to use any civil disobedience to abolish the institution of slavery, its vestiges or its return? I doubt it. Yet many Christian ministers and slave owners, facing, as we do today, the threat of awful social disruption, did in pre-Civil War days use exactly the same method of Biblical interpretation that is used in this article to provide Biblical support for slavery and against any social disruption or civil disobedience to abolish it. Today we see their fallacy. They failed to see the valid and necessary distinction between the abiding Biblical principle of authority of master over servant and the culturally and historically conditioned practice of slavery as allowed or required in Bible times. Precisely similar failure to distinguish adequately between Biblical principle and practice is also present in the argumentation and conclusions of this article.

Much civil disobedience today is foolish, needlessly disruptive, non-constructive, selfish. and sinful. But we shall have to analyze the Biblical evidence much more carefully, I believe, before we accept without qualification the remedy for it given in this article.



I believe that Dr. Palmer’s article is formally correct. That is to say 1 believe that his line of reasoning is generally the one that most evangelical Christians would take. The point where I would take issue with the article is that the article does not deal with the fundamental issue. I can express it in two ways. (i) I believe that a large part of our population feels itself estranged from government or the class of people who govern. They feel some how that these people have done them in or cheated them or hold on to special priorities. Civil disobedience is then but a symptom of feeling of estrangement. No matter how soundly we reason about civil obedience we shall never move these people an inch as long as they feel estranged. (ii) To put it another way, these people who are civilly disobedient do not believe any longer in the general righteousness of the democratic procedure. The usual ways of changing laws by electing certain candidates or by petition or by writing to one’s congressman are ineffective. If the general methods of a democratic method have broken down then the only way open is the method of violence. Therefore again I must say that a well-reasoned essay on the virtues of civil obedience will not impress either a black man or a white man who feels that the whole political machinery is in the hands of a reactionary Establishment. I do not feel that the people who advocate civil disobedience arc anti-God. but they arc against the Establishment which seems so indifferent or hard in the presence of human suffering, poverty, and inequality. The real problem in American life today is the problem of estrangement and not a technical problem whether civil disobedience is right or wrong.



Dr. Palmer’s article on Civil Disobedience is a sound attempt to relate the teaching of Scripture to one of the crisis areas in American life. He is on solid theological ground, deriving all real authority from its divine origin. He allows disobedience only when a given authority requires violation of a divine command. He is rightly alarmed at the anarchistic direction such modern trends such as the civil rights movement have taken. His stand should be commended and supported.

I think, nonetheless, that the actual context in which citizens must decide to obey or disobey is not always so simple and so clear. Not only are there separate spheres of society life, each with its own sovereignty under God, for example. family, school, church, and government. There are also various dimensions and levels of authority in a particular sphere such as government. The problem of conflicting authorities presents questions which make Dr. Palmer’s article appear on some points a trifle oversimplified.

In American government authority is distributed between federal, state, and local levels, and over various branches of government on each of these levels. If governments violate their own constitutions, who is to interpret the citizen’s duty? If the executive and judicial branches differ, is there any wonder that the private citizen may be confused? Is his obedience due to the de jure government or to the de facto government?

Did the American colonists owe ultimate allegiance to the British Crown and Parliament or to their own colonial legislatures? Was the ultimate civil loyalty of the Southerner prior to the conclusion of the Civil War due to his state or to the Federal Union? Does an individual in occupied territory have to submit to the powers that be, or may he resist in the name of a government in exile? If the government commits murder, is the citizen bound to submit or to flee?

Do Rhodesians owe ultimate loyalty to the British Crown or to their own independent government?

By all means, legal methods must be pursued to change laws, or respect for all law is threatened and anarchy results. Subversion of law and order cannot be defended. But when authority is distributed and checks and balances are built into a given system of government, a citizen can hardly be condemned for defending one focus of sovereignty or one level of authority against another, until a proper interpretation of a specific ordinance can be reached or until the problem can be orderly resolved.

Calvin would have given the Christian prince or magistrate the right to interpose between imperial sovereignty and the citizen to protect from imperial tyranny.

Governments are also subject to change. And the ruler and the citizen have mutual responsibilities. In a democratic society there are methods for challenging laws deemed to be unjust. A man may challenge a law, not in the name of autonomy, but in the name of a higher law. A citizen has the right to question and to work for the improvement of laws. But whether he disobeys government out of conscience or decides to withhold obedience in order to test the validity of a particular law, he must be willing to accept the consequences of his choice and action. Law cannot be questioned—it is the validity of one law against another.



It seems to me that Dr. Palmer has made the issue very clear, and I find myself in basic agreement with him on the whole subject.

The only area in which I differed with Dr. Palmer was in his very strong statements concerning segregation. I feel that he overstates the case in saying that “Segregation in the United States is wrong, immoral and unbiblical.” Also, when he says, “Segregation is indefensible on every score…” I feel that he is overstating the case. It seems to me that there is a case for segregated culture to be found in the Bible itself. I do not think that you want this matter debated, however. Other than this, I find myself in essential agreement with Dr. Palmer’s treatment of civil disobedience.



There is much in this article with which I heartily agree, as a corrective against a lamentable trend toward disobedience, sometimes violent disobedience, as a means of registering protest against certain alleged injustices. I heartily agree with the emphasis on the Biblical view of obedience to authority as constituted by God and further on the moral obligation of the individual or the group to resist authority when it commands what is in direct violation of God’s law revealed in Scripture.

I am not sure that Dr. Palmer has sufficiently explored in this piece the propriety of some disobedience as a form of protest against the invasion of rights. He does delineate, I believe, that some such thing is possible on occasion, but does not appear to have made room for it in his main thesis so that we are left in a quandary as to the circumstances when the exception applies. Here I would, therefore, not essentially differ but ask for further elucidation.

I am not sure that I would follow Dr. Palmer in his analysis of the Boston Tea Party and other deeds of the American Revolution as wrongful acts. It is possible that 1 am swayed in this by certain patriotic attitudes which should not be allowed to influence one’s judgment, and so I would be prepared to receive further light in this area. At present, however, I must say that the case of Dr. Palmer in this matter does not carry complete conviction for me. I fear that if consistency is maintained here, with the lines that he sets forth, we shall be constrained to the judgment that scarcely any revolution in the history of mankind was justifiable. This would apply to the Swiss liberation, to the Netherlands, to various English revolutions, to much Scottish unrest and practically all emancipation movements with which I have some acquaintance.

Finally I would add that in a day in which the gravity of the injustice perpetrated against certain segments of our society, notably against the Negroes, is so grievously apparent it behooves the Christian to express his sense of burning indignation against what has been morally wrong. I believe that Dr. Palmer shares in my view of the matter, as exemplified on page 6, but I fear that his article would be interpreted by Negro people as simply taking away an effective means of protest without providing any legitimate kind of replacement. I would be most extremely loath to do anything of the kind and for this reason I would like, in connection with this article, to register my uncompromising opposition to segregation and my deep seated conviction that the injustices of the past, and alas frequently also of the present, may need to be counteracted in some cases by preferential treatment accorded to its victims.