It can hardly be denied that the Bible establishes the right of private property and the responsibility of the individuals who possess it. It is God who gives us all things to enjoy and in giving us our possessions he at once also confronts us with the responsibility of stewardship. Private property and responsible stewardship go hand in hand. The Biblical account of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts makes this very plain. These two were not punished because they held property, but because in their giving and sharing they were deceitful. By their deceitfulness they denied the fellowship of the communion of saints in the Church of Christ.

The God-given right of ownership and the equally God-given responsibility of stewardship arc today both being denied. In January of this year Martin Luther King announced that he was taking over an apartment building and that he and his organization were assuming the “trusteeship” over it. The rights of ownership were summarily denied upon a “supralegal” basis. The law of the land was apparently of no consideration because King and his organization declared that they were not concerned with the legality of their actions but with the morality of the total situation. Theirs was an overt act of civil disobedience by which the rights of the owner were ignored, the law of the land was dismissed, and the courts were superceded by individually defined “supralegal” considerations. No one may take away our property nor can anyone else assume the responsibility of stewardship for us. Whoever owns is also responsible.

That there is a moral involvement in this matter can hardly be denied. Slum landlords who exploit for their own profit in utter disregard of their responsibility to society and to their tenants are doing wrong and the full power of the law and the courts ought to be used to restrain them in their sin and to force them to assume the full responsibility which is theirs.

Landlords have a rebuttal at this point, however. Do not tenants also have the responsibility to respect the property of the landlord and to use it as if it were their very own? Is it right for tenants to abuse the property of others and to destroy it at will? Must a landlord continually repair and repair while the tenants continue to destroy and destroy?

At the same time the question must be asked whether private groups or individuals have any right at all to take over another person’s private property in utter disregard of the law of the land. It is obvious that such illegal seizure is destructive to the whole society of law of which we are all a part and in which we must all live. If the law can be ignored at one point then there is nothing to be said if someone would take over Martin Luther King’s property upon the basis of some other “supralegal” consideration. If we want to ignore the law in respect of others then we can expect, and we ought not to he surprised, that it can also be ignored in respect of ourselves.

The courts have declared that King’s activity in this regard was illegal. The matter is, however, being appealed and will probably end in the Supreme Court. Other civil rights groups are following the same tactic in the meanwhile. In recent weeks another apartment house has been taken over upon the same “supralegal” basis.

Slum landlords who exploit for their own profit are doing wrong. Tenants who destroy property are doing wrong. Individuals or private groups who deny the property rights of others are doing wrong.

It is the responsibility of government to restrain sin, greed, destructiveness, anti-social activity and illegal action wherever these may be found. Where this is done without fear or favor we can expect a more well ordered society.