Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Question Of Civil Disobedience

Fr Ray Blake has a very interesting post on his blog today: on the issue of civil disobedience. I note with interest one person is horrified that a priest should be discussing such issues and left a comment to express their disgust.  However, it is a legitimate topic for discussion, and as the secular/pro-abortion/pro-gay lobbies begin to squeeze Christians out of the public square (and into prisons?), the question of civil disobedience is one we need to look at, not merely from a practical point of view, but from a Christian/theological  point of view.

Can we as Christians participate in non-violent civil disobedience?  We know we cannot get involved in violence, nor stir it up, nor condone it; but civil disobedience is bigger than raw violence.

Fr Blake offers us some interesting examples of what were, at various times, examples of such disobedience: St Edmund Campion printing and distributing copies of his "Brag"; St Laurence defying the emperor when he ordered the Church to hand over its valuables.   Some might say these examples are not really civil disobedience, so I have another, more contemporary example: Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white person when she broke the law and sat in the whites only section of a bus.  Surely if she was a Christian she would have turned the other cheek, relinquished the seat and worked for equality through less aggressive means?  In fact the whole civil rights movement in the US offers us interesting examples of Christians, black and white, engaged in civil disobedience as they fought American apartheid.

I am only asking questions and reflecting, and it is something we need to do, not to plan such actions, but to recognise the limits - where we as Christians must not go.  There are some who believe we should not march or attend rallies, but instead just pray and trust in God.  Yes, prayer and trusting in God is vital, but there is the danger of falling into quietism there: God also expects us to act, to witness. The question is: how shall we do that? 

This is a question for us now as we in Ireland face the stark reality of the introduction of abortion into our country.  And there is the forthcoming issue of gay marriage and the real possibility that Churches may well be forced to conduct them.   A new civil rights issue is now emerging: that of religious freedom and we are now challenged with a simple question: how shall we respond?  Let us not forget that one day adherence to Rome may well constitute an act of civil disobedience; and the preaching of the unedited Gospel may well be such an act too.  As it is priests are under severe pressure not to speak on certain issues for fear of offending people - we are advised to sanitise, dilute or excise some of Christ's teachings.  Given the challenges we now face I do think we need to look Stateside to see how pro-life groups work there, but we also need to look at our own political situation here. 

Thanks to Fr Blake for raising such interesting questions.


  1. Hi Father, not a comment about this post as such - I've included you on my list of Food for Thought recipients (part blog-award, part chain letter!) on my blog ... hope you don't mind!

  2. I have found that your average catholic laity in general and practically all catholic ordained have a terrible ignorance on how anti GOD legislation leads to a forced choice between GOD and state. Now I do know that the ignorance is not culpable as up until now it was not vital to realise this. But now the state particurlarly in America but everywhere else also - have been legislating against Natural Law on very serious issue like for example life, marriage and family. I have no doubt that peaceful disobedience will be essential for those who want a return to a functional society. Those of us who stand outside abortion refferal agencies already run the gauntlet to a certain extent and so we can much more easily visualise where all this will go eventually and I see a need for peaceful civil disobedience to legislation which is not lawful since it trangresses GOD'S natural law in very serious ways.

  3. a timely post for our situation here in the Philippines. Thanks Father!

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  5. This reminds me of the young girl Sophie Scholl who along with her brother and some friends formed a group called The White Rose during the Nazi occupation of Germany. They produced and distributed pamphlets shedding light on what was really happening in Germany and Europe at that time. Sophie, her brother and a friend were arrested and questioned and then taken out and executed for their peaceful activities. The interview between Sophie and the member of the Nazi authorities is well worth listening to, in the film Sophie Scholl - the Final Days. The courage of this young Christian woman was outstanding. The film is well worth a watch. (In German with English subtitles)