September 06, 2015

Disobeying the Supreme Court

Hello Dr. Craig.

I must say that I began my travels as an agnostic, and after watching a multitude of your debates, reading your book Reasonable Faith, and reviewing your website, I confess to be impressed by the breadth and depth of your research. I have come to accept Christianity. In fact, much of the apologetics I use now to help others understand what I had trouble understanding I learned from you! So thank you for that.

Now, as of recent, with the legalization of gay marriage across the United States, someone pointed out to me that the Bible says that to resist the authorities would be directly against God's wishes. To support this, he showed me Romans 13 verses 1-7. The verses seem to suggest that authority is placed by God, and we are to obey them because disobeying would be akin to disobeying God.

Here are my questions:

1. In general, if God appoints all authority (as it seems to suggest in verse 1 and 2), does this chapter intend to say that we should not resist authority even if the commands from authority seemingly conflict with God's desires?

2. What are the implications for this in the case of the Supreme Court decision?

3. What do these verses imply for the Germans that were commanded to kill Jews in concentration camps or other such scenarios?

In summary, this part of the chapter greatly confuses me, and perhaps you could shed light on where I am conflicting here.

Thank You!


United States

I’m so glad, Nathan, to hear that you are part of the growing family of God’s children! As you note, the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage is going to put some Christians into very awkward and agonizing positions.

Before I address your questions, let me issue a corrective. The Supreme Court did not legalize, nor is anyone advocating for, gay marriage. What it legalized was same-sex marriage, regardless of sexual orientation. Any decision or law that restricted same-sex marriage to gay or lesbian couples would be patently discriminatory against heterosexual persons. The marriage laws in this country must be and have always been blind with respect to the sexual orientation of the persons involved. Whether marriage is essentially between a man and a woman thus really has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. What the Supreme Court has done is re-define marriage in such a way that it no longer belongs to the essence of marriage to be a union between a man and a woman—now two men or two women can legally marry each other, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Now as right-thinking people and as Christians, we cannot acquiesce in the Supreme Court’s attempt to re-define what marriage is. Five lawyers (as the dissenting justices called them) can no more change the essence of marriage than they can change the essence of a horse or a chair. So we now find ourselves in a society where there are legal marriages which are in actuality pseudo-marriages. These people are not really married, but they are legally married.

Now since, as you note, we Christians are to be submissive to the governing authorities of the society in which we find ourselves, we have to obey the laws unless they require us to do things which would be immoral,[1] that is, contrary to God’s will or commands. For example, when the Jerusalem authorities commanded the early apostles to quit preaching the name of Jesus, Peter and John boldly responded: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4.19-20). Similarly, when pagan Roman Emperors commanded Christians to burn incense to the pagan gods, Christians resolutely refused, undergoing unspeakable tortures and execution rather than violate their conscience.

So in response to your questions:

1. Should we not resist authority even if the commands from authority seemingly conflict with God's desires? No; we should and must resist authority if it requires us to act contrary to God’s will. If it does not, then we must obey even if we disagree with the authority’s directives.

2. What are the implications for this in the case of the Supreme Court decision? This is the $64,000 question! Obviously, the law does not require us to marry someone of the same sex, so we are not being forced into illicit unions. But we do need to recognize, it seems to me, that other people we meet may be legally married and therefore have certain legal rights which we must respect, so long as doing so does not require us to act immorally. Their marriages are a sort of legal fiction which we must respect.

This is where things get tricky. Suppose you are a baker who is approached to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding or that you are a wedding photographer who is hired to photograph a same-sex ceremony. It’s hard to see how you can justifiably resist legal authority here and refuse to comply, regardless of how distasteful it may be to you, since your activity is not sin on your part. Cases like this show why, as I warned, the decision about same-sex marriage is not a private matter but has implications that extend far beyond the couples involved. Because marriage is a public, civic institution, the re-definition of marriage has wide-ranging implications that can affect all of us.

The case of Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who has been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, is a more difficult case. She says that she cannot in good conscience affix her signature to such licenses because that constitutes her approval of the union, of which she does not approve. People who just say, “It’s the law!” don’t appreciate her moral dilemma. When Jan and I visited New Zealand a few years ago, the legislature had just passed a law, over opposition from Christian legislators, legalizing prostitution. Worse, the law allowed brothels to be opened anywhere, even in your neighborhood or next to a school. I can imagine a Christian government official called upon to sign a zoning permit for such a brothel and finding himself unable in good conscience to do so. People who blithely assert, “It’s the law!” don’t seem to remember Jim Crow laws in the segregationist South or anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany.

In some cases, we may have to resist legal authority because it would require immoral action on our part. We are assured that ministers and priests will not be required by law to perform same-sex weddings. But suppose you are a military chaplain who is called upon to perform the marriage ceremony of two men or two women in the unit you serve. You might well regard such action on your part as immoral (regardless of its legality) and so find yourself unable to obey. You will probably be discharged from the service as a result. The tragic outcome will be a winnowing of Christian chaplains in our armed services.

Similarly, Christian educational institutions may face the loss of federal funding for student loans or scholarships or even the loss of their tax-exempt status for not complying with laws ratifying same-sex marriages. Lest you think such concerns alarmist, these worries were voiced by Justices Roberts and Scalia themselves during the Supreme Court hearings and were never adequately addressed by the counsel arguing the case.

There will be situations in which Christians are going to be forced by conscience to break the law, just as they were in the early Roman Empire. As our secular culture becomes more and more accommodating to same-sex marriage, the pressure upon Christians to compromise and conform will be heavy and unrelenting.

3. What do these verses imply for the Germans that were commanded to kill Jews in concentration camps or other such scenarios? Those so commanded were obligated to disobey the governmental authorities, since to obey would be to sin. Their refusal to comply and conform meant that many Christians in the so-called “confessing Church” (die bekennende Kirche) perished alongside the Jews in the camps. Will we have their courage in the face of an increasingly hostile culture?


[1] Or they treat others immorally, as in the case of laws mandating racial segregation.