“The People Did What Was Right in Their Own Eyes”

In the Old Testament book of Judges, we see a phrase oft repeated, and “the people did what was right in their own eyes.” This phrase is a sign of a society or nation sliding into moral decay. They no longer acknowledge God or His law, but instead simply make their own determination of what is right and what is wrong.

Christians find themselves facing increasingly difficult decisions as they weigh the choices between staying obedient to God’s Word and their own conscience and being obedient to the government and the civil laws of the land. This conflict is the focus of the world right now as everyone watches a county clerk in Rowen, KY live out her Christian convictions verses her civil responsibility as a representative of the state.

Albert Mohler provides an excellent commentary on the difficult decisions Christians face in our culture today as he examines what is happening in Kentucky. Here are some bullet points from his article:

  • In court today, Judge Bunning told Davis: “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order.” He continued by arguing that “if you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”
  • This story, now far larger than would have been imagined just a few weeks ago, points to some of the hardest questions faced by Christians who are determined to be faithful to Christ and to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens. Many of these questions defy a simplistic answer. How are Christians who hold elective office to fulfill that office when the nation’s highest court or those holding higher office rule and legislate contrary to Christian conviction? The same question is quickly extended to those serving in the military, holding appointive office, or even merely working for the government.
  • The Bible is clear — a Christian cannot act in violation of conscience without committing sin. Kim Davis has been clear, even as her own marital background has been discussed, that her conversion and Christian beliefs do not allow her to sanction what the Bible declares to be sin.
  • The Bible clearly commands that Christians respect the rightful authority of civil governments, understanding that the institution of human government is itself a part of God’s design. At the same time, the rightful power of government is not absolute. The Apostle Paul tells us to obey the government but Daniel and his friends were right to refuse to bow the knee to King Nebuchadnezzar. When is the Christian to obey and when must the Christian not obey government?
  • It is very revealing that many of those who are celebrating Judge Bunning’s decision to send Kim Davis to jail and who are now asserting their absolute commitment to the rule of law are the very same people who made the opposite argument when it served their purposes. That argument, taken at face value, would have meant no civil rights movement — and no gay rights movement.
  • What this story reveals beyond the headlines is that the moral revolution on marriage and human sexuality will leave nothing as it was before. No area of life will be untouched, and no address will be far removed from the front lines of the revolution. This story comes from Rowan County, Kentucky. A County Clerk is headed for jail. A legion of Christians struggles to be faithful in their own situations, responsibilities, and callings.

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I believe the most revealing quote from Mohler’s article is the statement by Federal Judge David L. Bunning who states, “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order…. If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”

This is the problem with “American Justice” today. Each one can do what is right in his or her own eyes. We jail a county clerk for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, yet two years ago President Obama was praised for ordering the Justice Department to no longer enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) because the president believed it to be an unconstitutional law. The New York Times noted the constitutional conflict created by the president’s action:

When President Obama decided that his administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, he was presented with an obvious question with a less obvious answer: Would he keep enforcing a law he now deemed unconstitutional?

A debate in the White House broke out. Some of his political advisers thought it made no sense to apply an invalid law. But his lawyers told Mr. Obama he had a constitutional duty to comply until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. Providing federal benefits to same-sex couples in defiance of the law, they argued, would provoke a furor in the Republican House and theoretically even risk articles of impeachment.

Two years later, that decision has taken on new prominence after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. accused Mr. Obama from the bench on Wednesday of not having “the courage of his convictions” for continuing to enforce the marriage law even after concluding that it violated constitutional equal protection guarantees. The chief justice’s needling touched a raw nerve at the White House. “Continuing to enforce was a difficult political decision,” said an aide who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations, “but the president felt like it was the right legal choice.”

When President Obama came across a law he didn’t believe he could enforce because of personal convictions, he simply made the decision to no longer enforce the law, yet when the same decision confronts Kim Davis, she is jailed for failure to carry out the stated law of the land.

I wonder what Judge Bunning would say to President Obama? If he has integrity, he would have to say, “Mr. Obama, the court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order…. If you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”