It takes a very special kind of person, a very brave person, to witness for peace. One of the US’s most impressive young Christian radicals today is Shane Claiborne. Here he is listening to his former teacher Tony Campolo.
“Shane, I saw this revolutionary subordination during the Vietnam War, when I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. There were some student protesters who were pretty obscene and destructive in what they did. However there were others who wanted to oppose the war and resist being drafted in ways that were decent and respectful. I remember 3 young men coming to me in distress and saying “Professor, we have a problem. We think this war in Vietnam is immoral. In good conscience we cannot be a part of it, but all 3 of us have been given our selective service notices and are supposed to report for induction into the army. We are opposed to this war and don’t want to support it by becoming soldiers, so we are considering leaving the country and going to Canada.”
In response, I said, “If you are really going to be Christian about this, you won’t go to Canada. You will present yourselves at the selective service office and say, “Arrest us! We find this war to be immoral, but we are submitting ourselves to the jurisdiction of a government that says that it will punish anybody who violates the legal ruling that we must report for military service.” I then explained why this was the only recourse for a Christian who believed as they did.
Those students did it! They went to jail because they believed that, according to Romans 13, they were required to submit to “the higher powers” (v.1, KJV). They only stayed in jail for 2 days because what the government didn’t want was good, upstanding Christian men behind bars, and the word getting out that these fine young people, out of conscience, were opposing the war. The government wanted all the protesters against the war to be seen as hippies throwing rocks through windows, blocking traffic and creating an uproar. They wanted only negative images of protesters, and certainly not any image of a protester standing behind bars and saying, “I am here in the name of Jesus Christ.”
There is a place for righteous defiance, especially when the government calls for action that violates Christian values. Those young war resistors were making the point that you don’t have to go along with the system. There may come a time when going along with the system is immoral, and the only thing you can do is to stand up and say. “No!” That was what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did in that Bible story in which they were told to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s golden statue or be thrown into a fiery furnace. They said to the king,”We’re going to do what God tells us to do, and when we are told to bow down and worship the king, we’re going to say no! And if you throw us into the fire, maybe God will deliver us – or maybe God won’t deliver us. But regardless of what God does, we still have to say no!” (Daniel 3:16-18, paraphrased)