Fall 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 2 · pp. 165–66 

Book Review

The Christian and Civil Disobedience

John H. Redekop. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1990. 42 pages.

Reviewed by Gary L. Welton

Dr. Redekop, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, and a member of the Board of Faith and Life for the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, has prepared a booklet that will facilitate Christian discussion about civil disobedience. The author asserts that there is a crucial need for grappling with the issue of civil disobedience as society and the church continue to consider such issues as military involvement, home schooling, and abortion. Indeed, as governmental policies expand at a time when they reflect less and less of a Christian ethos, there will be a growing emphasis on the need for and practice of civil disobedience.

Redekop cites biblical accounts, such as those of Daniel and Peter, as examples of civil disobedience. He discusses biblical injunctions (e.g., Romans 13) calling for subordination to the state. Given these balancing principles, the author asks when civil disobedience is appropriate.

In response, he provides 22 requirements that must be met in order to justify civil disobedience. For instance, one must seek a changed situation benefiting the affected class of people rather than only a personal exemption, and one must willingly accept any resulting punishment. Civil disobedience is not to be taken lightly.

Redekop emphasizes the distinction between the conscience of the individual and that of the community. He concludes that, while it is generally impossible to obtain agreement of an entire church or even a majority of the church, civil disobedience should not generally be an individual matter. Rather, as a means of tempering individual radicalism, there should be a nucleus of persons in the church who are devoted to the cause.

From a psychological perspective, the book could be {166} strengthened by noting Kohlberg’s moral development theory and Milgram’s obedience research. Kohlberg argued that a law-and-order mentality is a middle-level approach to morality, and that those who develop more fully form decisions on the basis of (individually defined) universal ethics. While Kohlberg had no absolute reference point for these universal ethics, which is available for the Christian, his theory demonstrates the tension between law and morality.

Research by Milgram illustrates the potency of legitimate authority. Many of his subjects complied with instructions to administer potentially fatal shocks when requested to do so by authority. Given this inclination of people to obey, it would seem that society requires civil disobedience as a natural corrective. As the author notes, the primary function of civil disobedience is to provoke this change.

There are more complete and more scholarly works on this topic. What this booklet does, and does very well, however, is to serve as a facilitator of thought and discussion on civil disobedience. For example, it concludes with 25 insightful questions. I highly recommend it as a tool for adult and adolescent Bible study.

Gary L. Welton, Assistant Professor of Psychology
Tabor College
Hillsboro, Kansas