That is, is it the morally right thing to do? That question goes beyond current events in America in 2020. What is the government allowed to do, if it intends to restore peace and order? What does the Bible say?
This post assumes that a nation allows and protects God-given freedom, like the following: freedom of the press, freedom to form political parties without punishment, freedom of religion to follow one or not, freedom of speech to criticize a politician or religion, freedom to assemble peacefully, freedom to redress grievances without retribution.
That’s just a partial list. Governments must allow all of them at the same time and at a minimum.
Communist and Islamic countries do not allow such freedoms, so this post does not apply to them. They may not use the armed National Guard or any police force to quell protests when they seek justice and liberty, like forming opposition political parties or advocating for freedom to leave Islam. And protesters in those countries should be firm, but peaceful.
Further, one could expand the idea of “National Guard” to include local law enforcement or federal agencies.
Now let’s begin with a real-life case study.
In 2020 America, many protests were peaceful in the aftermath of a ghastly death of a subdued suspect in police custody, named George Floyd. However, the violent left turned the peaceful protests into chaos and mayhem. They looted and destroyed.
So how may a government respond to violence and mayhem?
Let’s first describe ignorance and confusion (as I see things) coming from religious people. The religious left is confused. All over the web these leftists posted concerns about the use of force to stop mayhem and looting, when Trump called out the police and other armed guards, to disperse the crowd that may have attempted to torch nearby St. John’s church the night before. Even Christian right leader Pat Robertson of CBN and other like him were confused, when he criticized Trump’s law and order crackdown on violent protesters outside the White House. “You just don’t do that!”
To see photos taken of defaced and damaged buildings in Washington, DC, at the time, click on this post:
So it seems the only way to settle the justice or injustice of stopping or giving free rein to violent protesters is to appeal first to Scripture, then the Constitution, and finally to George Washington.
First, Paul writes of civil authority and its use of force, if necessary:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom. 13:3-4, ESV)
That passage teaches us that the state is ordained by God to protect the citizens by law enforcement. The church as such is not called to do this, so Paul, inspired by the Spirit, hands the sword (the weapon of the military and police force) over to the state. When an officer wields the sword lawfully, he is implementing God’s wrath, which has always been judicial, and never out-of-control, divine emotions, even in the Old Testament. After the New Covenant, this is how God shows his judicial wrath–just laws and their punishments for anyone who violates them.
See my posts:
Peter writes the same idea, but in fewer words:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14, ESV)
No, those two verses are not a carte blanche endorsement of anything and everything a ruler says. Rather, they express a general principle of obedience to just laws, not groveling submission to an unjust emperor or governor. The general principle is that citizens are to be subject to the law for the Lord’s sake–to be a good witness–for his higher kingdom. If anyone, believer or unbeliever, breaks the law, he will be punished. Looting and mayhem breaks the law. Citizens who do this must be punished.
Second, the Constitution allows people to assemble peaceably, implying that they may not assemble violently. Amendment One: “Congress shall make no law … abridging … the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Some of the protests were perfectly constitutional because they were peaceful; unfortunately, the violent radicals polluted the waters and committed mayhem and property destruction and looting. So what is the government allowed to do to them? We already looked at what the Bible says. Now what about a real-life example in our own country?
Third, let’s answer that question further by looking at George Washington’s example, as he enforced the Constitution, first by peaceful means, which did not work, but then by force, during the Whiskey Tax Rebellion, in western Pennsylvania. Force did work.
President Washington sought to resolve this dispute peacefully. In 1792, he issued a national proclamation admonishing westerners for their resistance to the “operation of the laws of the United States for raising revenue upon spirits distilled within the same.”2 However, by 1794 the protests became violent. In July, nearly 400 whiskey rebels near Pittsburgh set fire to the home of John Neville, the regional tax collection supervisor. Left with little recourse and at the urgings of Secretary Hamilton, Washington organized a militia force of 12,950 men and led them towards Western Pennsylvania, warning locals “not to abet, aid, or comfort the Insurgents aforesaid, as they will answer the contrary at their peril.”3
The calling of the militia had the desired effect of essentially ending the Whiskey Rebellion. By the time the militia reached Pittsburgh, the rebels had dispersed and could not be found. The militia apprehended approximately 150 men and tried them for treason. A paucity of evidence and the inability to obtain witnesses hampered the trials. Two men, John Mitchell and Philip Weigel, were found guilty of treason, though both were pardoned by President Washington. By 1802, then President Thomas Jefferson repealed the excise tax on whiskey. Under the eye of President Washington, the nascent United States survived the first true challenge to federal authority. (Source)
The rebels had committed violence and threatened Pittsburgh. Washington tried to settle things peacefully, but his efforts failed. He then gathered a militia and crushed the revolt. The complainants may have believed their cause was just, but destructive violence and mayhem were not the best pathway to achieve their goals. And neither is it today.
In light of the foregoing data, the government may therefore justly deploy the armed and trained National Guard to impose order on people who engage in mayhem and violence. Therefore the religious left and certain members of the Christian right are wrong when they criticize any government leader who deploys force to stop the destruction and theft and rape and pillaging and looting. Rather, when officers who stop these crimes follow the law, they should be our moral heroes, and so should the politicians who have the tough job to order law enforcement to do the right thing.
ARTICLES IN A SERIES