The case for Christian civil disobedience

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The sixth annual Australian Church & State Summit took place in Brisbane last weekend, where over 500 Christian gathered in person and thousands more via livestream to hear from 20-plus speakers how they can engage with current cultural and political issues.

The conference featured a number of prominent speakers including former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, Liberal-National Party (LNP) Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, academics, church leaders and activists.

Topics included the changing role of government, the clash of values in education, the implications of Western civilization's decline, and the parallels of modern technocratic-globalism to history.

A common theme of the event was the moral and legal case for civil disobedience and resisting bad laws.

Political commentator Topher Field gave a talk titled 'Government or God: who will you serve?', in which he framed the mentality of relying on government to solve all of society's problems as a kind of idolatry or "looking to government to do God's job".

He argued that the recent authoritarian tendencies of government were a sign that it has been allowed to usurp God as the source of truth and moral authority, resulting in a 'God complex' seen in the abuse of power and interference in everyday life.

"Rejecting God's design for government is idolatry, and lots of what we accept from government today was regarded by God and warned about in 1 Samuel as a consequence of our idolatry," he said.

The theme continued in a presentation by Gabriël A Moens, Emeritus Professor at the University of Queensland, on the right to civil disobedience and the legal requirements for resisting bad laws.

Moens argued that as all law derives authority from moral principles given by God, when a government creates laws contrary to those moral principles, these laws should be resisted.

Highlighting the historical precedent for civil disobedience, he quoted Augustine who argued that unjust laws were not laws at all, and Thomas Aquinas, who similarly said that people were not bound to obey unjust laws.

Defining the grounds for civil obedience, Moens argued that laws can be justifiably resisted when they are "incompatible with higher principles" like "moral or religious dictates", and when they aim to bring about "desirable social change".

Civil disobedience should also be non-violent "because the law breaker does not aim at destroying society, but to right a societal wrong", he argued, adding, "The public nature of the act demonstrates that the law is not breached for reasons of self-interest."

As an example, he pointed to widespread protests against Australia's strict Covid regulations. 

"Protesters deliberately violated the often draconian emergency regulations, which were cruelly inflicted on Australians," he said.

"The protesters regarded emergency laws as incompatible with paramount rights."

During a Q&A panel in the afternoon, Senator Price suggested Christians become "part of the machinery" of the major political parties in order to reinstate traditional conservative values "from the inside".

Summit organizer, Dave Pellowe, said the annual event was about "arming Christians to influence culture".

"By observing politics instead of excellently stewarding the God-given gifts of self-government, Christians have foolishly left the most important decisions about public policy to people of lesser moral values who are hell-bent on destroying the peace, liberty and justice of our neighbours," he said.