The Reader Writes

Dear Sirs:

VIEWPOINT…needs corrective lenses, surely, in an article about Dr. King. Romans 13:1 is cited, and needs to be in every struggle. It is true that “we must be subject to the higher powers.” And we may quote many other texts, I Peter 2:13–14, Titus 3:1, I Timothy 2:1–2.

John Calvin correctly points out that the “higher powers” are not the highest power. Calvin does not deprive subjects of all right of resistance. The classical passage here is in the Institutes IV, xx, 31. Speaking of the Ephors of Sparta, the Roman tribunes, or the Demarchs of Athens, (I mention this because of that phrase in Viewpoint, “even the devilish Roman Empire”), “it is not only their right, but their duty to oppose the King’s violence and cruelty.” It would be “nefarious perfidy” for them to fail in this duty, and thus “betray the liberty of the people.” Thus John Calvin.

Jeremiah fiercely rebukes the people for not civilly disobeying King Jeroboam II. Peter and John civilly disobey the rulers. Jesus (disciples) civilly disobeyed the rulers by threshing wheat on the Sabbath. He seemed purposely to heal people on the Sabbath breaking civil law.

John Bunyan breaks civil laws and gets thrown into prison, etc.

Dr. King says, and keeps on saying, as he did in Chicago this week, “when protest is necessary let it be carried out in strictest observance of law and order, and let the protest be disciplined and directed to specific abuses that can be corrected.”

Sometimes, however, civil disobedience is necessary to root out evils entrenched. in custom and law. When Jim Crowism is enhanced by long standing custom and law, when courts and juries seldom or almost never convict a white man of an injustice done to a negro, when government intensifies the evils of segregation, poverty, discrimination, and recourse to law is absolutely futile, there is only one way open. And Dr. King has chosen what seems to be biblical directive (or as near as anyone could come to it), that of non-violence as a means of struggle for social justice.

This letter must not be too long. But have you read his books, “Why We Can’t Wait,” “Strength to Love,” “Stride Toward Freedom”?

The Free University knows what it is doing. The judges for the Nobel Peace prizes must know something. And John Calvin knew what he was saying when he wrote the last few paragraphs of his Institutes.

Mayor Daley, I think, is not particularly happy with Dr. King’s presence in Chicago, nevertheless, he had this to say, “Certainly there can be no disagreement that we must root out poverty, rid community of slums, eliminate discrimination and segregation wherever they may exist, and improve the quality of education.” Dr. King, by the way, is in close touch with this country’s finest police superintendent, Mr. O. W. Wilson.


WILLIAM VERWOLF Evergreen Park, Ill.


We appreciate the comments of pastor Verwolf as an attempt to present the other side of the coin in this most pertinent and pressing issue. In this way our thinking may become more clear. May we then respectfully request him to consider also the following?

1.) In citing John Calvin, our correspondent has unwittingly chosen the theologian who par excellence condemns all rebellion by private citizens. In his sermons on I Samuel 11 ff., Calvin states; “Samuel warns the people, however, that they must patiently bear the domination of the kings and that they must patiently submit their necks to their yoke. It appears that the subjects cannot and may not rebel against the kings and princes; even though they are tyrannical, even though they oppress their subjects with plundering, and even though they do not take into account God, fairness and right.”

2.) Calvin is very clear, when he advocates resistance to “the fierce licentiousness of kings” by ephors, tribunes and demarchs, that he is not advocating civil disobedience. For instead of being disobedient subjects, these men were government magistrates of the people, says Calvin, appointed in a legal way for this very purpose of “restraining the willfulness of the kings.”

3.) It is Viewpoint’s opinion that the only example of disobedience to governments in the Bible were on occasions when people were commanded to sin, e.g., when Daniel was forbidden to pray, or Peter and John were forbidden to preach. Today the Negro is not commanded to sin when he is forbidden to drink a soda at a drugstore. He is deprived—and wrongly so—but unlike Daniel, Paul and John, he is not ordered to sin. The Bible gives no example or theoretical warrant for disobeying governmental authorities in such cases. On the contrary, it says that to resist is to resist God himself.

4.) In quoting Dr. King that protests must “be carried out in strictest observance of law and order,” pastor Verwolf has forgotten what King wrote on page 82 of his Why We Can’t Wait (1964), namely, that he will only obey laws that he considers just, and “conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” This is direct1y contrary to the Word of God. One has a moral responsibility to disobey only those laws that command him to sin.

5.) Our correspondent has failed to distinguish between King’s goal and his method. Viewpoint lauded King’s goal justice for the Negro -but it deplored his method—resisting the powers that be and obeying only the laws that seem to be right in his eyes. The latter course will end in anarchy, and the Bible wisely and with common sense prohibits such disobedience.