Is There A Moral Obligation To Break Immoral Laws?
But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” Acts 16:37
You can probably call to mind a law of your government that you think is unjust. In the United States, interracial marriage was prohibited by law for centuries. In China, giving birth to more than one child was punishable under the law for decades. Disobeying these laws was illegal, but not immoral.
How are followers of Jesus to discern whether a law of the land should be obeyed or disobeyed? We have God’s Word as a guide. Scripture tells us what God says is good and bad and it also provides examples of people doing the right thing by breaking unjust laws. In Exodus 1:18-22, Hebrew midwives broke Egyptian law by refusing to kill children they delivered and then lying about it. God blessed the midwives for their obedience to His law rather than man’s.
In the Bible book of Daniel, three Jewish young men refused to obey the Babylonian decree to worship the king’s idol. For their illegal refusal, the men were punished with death by fire. Yet God honored their choice and miraculously saved their lives (Daniel 3).
Not only are some laws unjust and immoral, but we sin if we obey those immoral laws or sit idly while others are punished under them. Let’s look to Scripture for instruction and to the Holy Spirit, in prayer. Scripture promises: “Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). Are we listening?
Resource reading: Acts 16:16-40