What battles are worth fighting? Should you wear the mask? Take the shot? Bake the cake?
In many ways, the questions are often very personal. And from the Christian perspective, the issue of conscience also plays a key factor.
For example, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop considers creating a pink cake with blue frosting (for a gender “transition” celebration) to be a battle worth fighting. Could he have baked that cake without violating God’s Law? Perhaps – but certainly not without violating his conscience. And because refusing to bake a cake does no violence to God’s Law, Phillips is on solid biblical ground when he refuses to make the cake and opts to fight that battle, whether he wins or loses.
Or consider Gabe Rench, of Moscow, Id., who was arrested for refusing to wear a mask during his church’s outdoor Psalm-singing event downtown. Rench could have worn a mask – or he could have chosen to stay home that day – but the freedom to gather publicly (without a mask) was a battle he thought was worth fighting.
I don’t envy them (though perhaps I should, cf. James 1:2), but I’m glad that both Phillips and Rench were willing to risk their personal livelihoods for such matters. Despite the personal pain their ordeals no doubt brought, their examples can positively impact countless people.
It’s true that pragmatism and strategy might come into play for some people when making these sorts of decisions. For others, the principle of the matter and the strength of conscience are stronger factors. But what all Christians need to think about is the justice of such causes, and how we respond to those honest Christian men and women who do choose to “fight” a righteous battle, even if we would not personally “pick that fight.”
Rench could have stayed home, Phillips could have acquiesced – but since they didn’t, should the larger Christian community support them – not on the grounds that we would have made the exact same decision as they did – but on the grounds that they are on the receiving end of injustice?
I hope all Christians would agree that supporting Phillips and Rench, for example, is the correct thing to do if we are to “learn to do good, seek justice, [and] correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17).
And so, we come to the case of Lancaster County man Barry Durmaz. Like Phillips and Rench, Durmaz has violated no divine law, broken no personal contract, harmed no one, and damaged no property. And yet, the state of Pennsylvania is forcing him to pay what can only be deemed as extortion money to make amends for his great “crime” of driving peacefully on the common roadways of the state. And since he has not paid the bullies, the county apparatus of tyranny has begun to shift into gear with the issuance of a warrant for Durmaz’s arrest.
Why didn’t he just pay the fines? Well, why didn’t Phillips just bake the cake, or Rench just put on the mask?
And, to give a biblical example, why didn’t the Apostle Paul just leave the prison quietly when the civil government instructed him to? In Acts 16:36 we read that the magistrates sent orders for Paul to leave the prison, but Paul thought this was a battle worth fighting, and so he responded: “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out” (Acts 16:37).
Paul could have walked out of that prison cell. To do so would not have been wrong. But he didn’t.
Would we mock a Christian today who acts in a similar manner? Would we call him a “crackpot” for making such a big deal about the details of his prison release?
Or what about a man who recognizes that the tyrannical behemoth of the department of transportation is an institution that the law of God provides no justification for, and it now exists primarily to force Pennsylvanians to pay money for the “freedom” of being allowed to travel.
Crackpot? Or perhaps this is a man willing to fight a righteous battle.
Let’s get a few things straight. First, the biblical vision of society provides absolutely no basis for a civil government running around fining and arresting people for driving on roads without pieces of metal on their bumpers or plastic in their wallets. The civil rulers are only authorized by God to punish evil (cf. Romans 13:3-4). Driving on a roadway, harming neither person nor property, is not evil.
Second, as is almost always the case, the state and county government care nothing about justice, but only about money. Just as Amos Miller was fined, not because the USDA cared about safety, but because they could use the legal loopholes to extract money from the natural farmer, so too do Durmaz’s fines have nothing to do with justice.
And, third, if everyone followed Durmaz’s example and peacefully resisted the unbiblical, arbitrary, and onerous vehicle code of Pennsylvania, the county government would likely be forced to relent without executing a single arrest warrant.
Because true justice and righteous law would never lead to a man going to prison for committing non-evil acts, we should not sit in judgment on his conscience, but rather join him in calling on the civil magistrates to rule justly, even if we are unwilling to personally go to jail over the matter.
It’s true that I haven’t personally chosen to fight this battle. I have submitted to the bullies. I let them take my lunch money for the “privilege” to travel. Maybe that’s the most pragmatic decision. Or, maybe I simply need more faith. At this point, I don’t know. But one thing I do know: Barry Durmaz is willing to go to jail as a matter of principle and conscience, and I have no solid basis to condemn that.
And, when all is said and done, there might just be some providential strategy at play that none of us, perhaps not even Durmaz, fully understand. And so, lest I find myself opposing both true justice and the Lord of true law, I can only support this cause in whatever way I can.