Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Christians and civil disobedience

Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

Background Paper

Revised August, 2001

John H. Redekop*

Note:  An EFC position paper has been officially endorsed by the Organization.  An EFC Background Paper is a serious document, created by a Task Force or Commission to encourage dialogue within our community.


A basic requirement for the functioning of civil society, especially in a democracy, is that citizens, generally speaking, should obey the laws of the land.  Christians and most, if not all, other religious groups accept that principle as an over-arching reality.  The logic is compelling. If citizens, in substantial numbers, would take the law into their own hands and individually decide which laws to obey and which to disobey, then anarchy might result rather quickly.  The theory is clear and essentially true but the practical situation is sometimes more complicated.

What is to be done by responsible and highly moral citizens if certain laws are inherently evil?  What should citizens do if the government of the day pressures them to violate their conscience on a fundamental principle?  What should they do if their government suddenly denies them the most basic of freedoms?  We know from history as well as from the present global situation that Christians often encounter laws which are unjust and simply wrong.  The Christian response is clear.  If individuals and groups find that they cannot agree with certain laws, if they decide that compliance with the law would require them to do something which is inherently evil or which violates their conscience, then their first obligation is to work diligently and peacefully to try to get the unacceptable law changed.  In some situations it has been possible to negotiate some sort of exemption for conscientious objectors.  For example, some hospitals will transfer nurses who do not want to participate in abortions.  In some countries exemptions have been granted to people who object to forced military service or to compuslory inoculation against diseases.

Sometimes, however, it is not possible to get the offending legislation or government order changed or even to obtain an acceptable exemption. . .

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