Suffering arising from corruption, injustice, inequity, and oppression is endemic even in prosperous and well-governed nations. We who yearn for the kingdom of God to be established are grieved by inequality, exploitation, and bigotry, all of which are common in the world today.

We are dismayed but not surprised by the sorry state of the world. Our Lord said, “ye have the poor with you always” (Mark 14:7) and went on to say, “whensoever ye will ye may do them good”. Paul wrote, “as we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). Paul encourages us to be particularly concerned about the welfare of our brothers and sisters but does not excuse us from our obligation to seize opportunities to help men and women, generally, who are in need.

Rights of citizens

In democratic societies, citizens have the right to express dissent and agitate for what they believe to be right. They do this through voting in elections and by engaging in more direct forms of political action. These privileges, which vary from state to state, attach to people as citizens of the nation in which they live.

In most western nations, there are laws which enshrine the rights of citizens to protest. These privileges were hard-won over many centuries by men and women who challenged the tyranny of despotic regimes which allowed a privileged elite to exploit the masses. As a community, we have benefited from the struggle of these freedom-loving agitators, but that does not mean we can endorse their practices or join with them in their campaigns.

Active involvement in protests can make people feel like they are doing something for the down-trodden, even if they achieve nothing of substance. Sociologists speak of the “placard strategy” in which people march, displaying signs and chanting trite or witty slogans, but never engage in the hard and tedious work of addressing the problems of those on whose behalf they protest. Three-word slogans may be the stock in trade of populist politicians and social activists, whose consciences it may salve, but it is no substitute for practical action.

God rules!

God rules in the kingdom of men: “he removeth kings, and setteth up kings” (Dan 2:21); “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:1). This is true whether the government is just or whether it is corrupt and oppressive. Even if the regime under which we live is corrupt, we have no right to challenge the rulers God has ordained: “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (v2).

Paul goes on to exhort the Romans to “render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (v7). Peter expands on this principle: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well…Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Pet 2:13-14,17).

When Peter and Paul wrote these instructions, Nero reigned as emperor. He was a vile, evil man. Yet both these apostles command their fellow disciples to honour the king and submit to Nero’s authority.

What is true of government officials also applies to those who exercise authority in the workplace. Peter went on to write, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust” (v18 ESV). Compliance with this instruction will prohibit a disciple from engaging in militant industrial action such as strikes even if the cause is just.

Should we ignore oppression?

When our Lord Jesus Christ ministered to the Jews in Galilee and Judea, the Romans occupied the land and oppressed the people. Our Lord often challenged the corruption of the Jewish leaders, but he never once advised his followers to defy the Roman overlords. His advice was to, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). When he was arrested, he did not resist. At his trial, although the innocent victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, he remained calm and respectful towards the Roman governor, so much so that Pilate concluded, “I find in him no fault at all” (John 18:38).

Our desire to emulate our Lord by helping those who suffer may incline us to intervene on behalf of people experiencing oppression or injustice. If we can alleviate suffering through some practical act of compassion, well and good. But such assistance should not take the form of agitation for political change or social reform.

In the modern world, it can be tempting to support campaigns for what seem to be good causes. There is much that is oppressive and degrading in the world, and many sincere and honest people aspire to address these wrongs. Some promote action to ameliorate environmental problems, while others campaign for issues relating to social justice. We might admire their commitment, but we cannot join their struggle.

There is widespread concern about injustice endured by certain racial groups and discrimination experienced by women at the hands of unscrupulous men. These and other groups often are marginalised and suffer through no fault of their own. There also have been calls in recent times to address prohibitions affecting homosexuals, including changes to the Marriage Act to provide for same-sex marriage.

Protest movements often have multiple agenda. For example, Black Lives Matter is a movement that attracts much attention both in the USA, where it was founded, and in Australia. In this country, the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Aborigines and the legitimate distress about the rate of Aboriginal deaths in custody has generated support for Black Lives Matter. Many who champion the movement, however, may not appreciate that it promotes views contrary to basic Bible teachings.

Until 17 September 2020, Black Lives Matter published on its website a detailed outline of its guiding principles. This included the statement, “we disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure”. It also proclaimed its aspiration to “foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking”.

Those statements have since been removed but not repudiated. Its website still declares: “We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum”.1

When we choose to align ourselves with a secular movement, we implicitly offer our support to its platform—a platform which will be determined by people who do not share our beliefs. If we join in active support for Black Lives Matter, we are implicitly endorsing the movement’s objectives.

Citizenship in heaven

The attitude of disciples of Christ towards political activity and public protests is not reflective of a lack of compassion towards those who suffer wrong. We are grieved by suffering, but our citizenship prevents us from engaging in politics and protests in the kingdom of men. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20 RV), and it is not appropriate for us to agitate for political and social change in the countries in which we dwell as pilgrims and strangers.

Abraham came out of Ur, just as we have been called out of the nations. Of Abraham, we read in Hebrews that “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God…For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb 11:10,14-16).

The question each of us must ask is this: to which country do we belong? Just as it is inappropriate for Christadelphians to vote in elections, so it would be inappropriate for them to participate in protest marches or sign petitions calling for political or social change. It also would be wrong for them to make public comments, including via social media, on the pros and cons of political causes or government actions.

Australians living in the USA cannot participate in elections in the USA, nor join its armies. As aliens, they have no right to do so. Ambassadors from other nations never engage in domestic political activity in their host nation. Any attempt to do so would not be tolerated.

Paul says, “we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). We represent the kingdom of God to those amongst whom we dwell as strangers. As such, we have no right to act as citizens of our host nation by involving ourselves in domestic political issues. Jesus Christ instructed us to “resist not evil” (Matt 5:39). How could we comply with that command while actively campaigning for the abolition of evil practices or policies in the kingdom of men?

When conscription was in force in Australia, magistrates assessing the claims of Christadelphians as conscientious objectors recognised the inherent nexus between a refusal to serve in the armed services and abstention from voting. Were conscription to be reintroduced, the claims of Christadelphians to be accepted as conscientious objectors would be compromised if there is evidence they have engaged in political comment or activity.

It is true that Australian Christadelphians have made representations asking the federal and state governments to make allowance for our conscientious objection to voting, military service and jury duty. We have been blessed that governments have graciously made provision for our conscience in these areas. As residents of Australia, we may also take advantage of an Australian passport when travelling overseas and appreciate the support available to us from Australian diplomats overseas, just as Paul took advantage of his Roman citizenship when appropriate. When seeking such gracious consideration, we never make demands, nor do we prosecute our cause aggressively. At all times, we recognise our obligation to submit to the authority of the government in whose land we live, except only where that would require us to disobey the commandments of God.

Conclusion

A time is coming—and soon—when the injustice, oppression, and inequality rampant in the world will be stamped out. When our Lord Jesus Christ reigns as king from the throne of David: “He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor” (Psa 72:2-4).

We yearn for that day with all our heart. It will be the privilege of the immortalised saints to serve with their Lord in implementing this righteous and just society. Let us not jeopardise our place in that glorious kingdom by becoming enmeshed in the political affairs of a society to which we do not belong and becoming entangled in a world which is soon to pass away.

Further reading

The following books and booklets (all of which are available from the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service (http://www.csss.org.au/) are recommended:

The Disciples and Human Rights

The Disciple of Christ and Trade Unions

The Captive Conscience

Conscience in Action

Christ and Caesar

Obeying God Rather Than Man

References:

  1. https://blacklivesmatter.com/about/ (accessed 21 July 2021).