Click on the arrow below to listen to this story
We hear a lot today about systemic problems in America – those issues that seem to explain all other troubles impacting our society.
But, there is one problem that is at the root of all the others, and that’s selective obedience.
The dictionary defines obedience as “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.”
The idea of obedience to someone else’s authority rankles Americans. We want the freedom to come and go, and to do pretty much whatever we set our minds on doing. It’s not a uniquely American problem, but an issue plaguing all humankind.
In fact, this kind of disobedience has been a problem on earth since there was just one law. God told Adam the entire world was his and he could do whatever he wanted, except eat fruit from the tree of life.
Still, in his heart, Adam could not comply with just one rule and we have been plagued by a spirit of disobedience ever since.
It’s getting worse in America every day.
A nation of laws
America was once a nation that respected the rule of law. These well-established legal traditions guide our individual behavior and are supposed to serve as the foundation for our entire nation. Because they are foundational to society, it is supposed to be difficult to implement new laws or change them.
It also used to be that we were grounded in a common moral code, which formed the basis for all our actions individually and collectively.
It’s really only in the past 40 years or so that people decided they should be free to do whatever they wanted to do whenever they wanted to do it, regardless of any laws restricting or preventing that behavior.
People started to believe the collective laws governing society didn’t apply to them. They could simply opt to disobey, if they convinced themselves they had enough justification. In reality, the only justification for disobeying a law should be that it runs counter to God’s law.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes societal rules need to change. America embraced slavery for a while, and that was clearly the wrong interpretation of Biblical truth that we are all created in God’s image. Nobody is superior to another because of the color of their skin.
So, we eventually changed the law to comply with God’s word. We have a deliberate process for doing that, and it often works when given enough time.
But, in the era of instant gratification, why wait a few years to bring people together to enact a new law everyone can agree is the right thing to do when we can just declare the law no longer applies to us? We make a decision and – BAM – it’s our new customized law that we think should apply to the entire land.
Because people had a problem obeying just a handful of laws – the 10 Commandments – we now have thousands of laws and rules on the books which we are expected to obey.
However, the new habit of picking and choosing laws with which we will comply is a systematic problem that affects individual behavior and government at every level.
- The federal government passes laws restricting entry into the United States, but some states flout those laws to form “sanctuary states” and claim the laws don’t apply within their borders.
- States pass laws restricting gun ownership, but counties announce they are “sanctuaries” and won’t enforce those rules.
- Counties pass laws requiring people to wear masks outside their homes, but towns and villages insist the laws won’t be enforced within their jurisdictions.
- Communities pass laws that say restrooms should be segregated by sex, but schools announce they won’t enforce that and instead open restrooms for use by anyone at any time.
- Schools make rules to prevent parents from being notified if their daughter is seeking an abortion or their son is transitioning into a girl, even when federal law requires notification.
The only way to describe this situation is a slippery slope.
It’s still disobedience
The problem with selective obedience is that it is still disobedience, especially for a country, state, county, community, family and individuals founded on respect for the rule of law.
After all, if governments don’t have to respect the laws imposed on them by higher authorities, why should people respect the rules imposed on them by government?
“This 40-year-old, minority-owned, family business is located six blocks away from where a grievous act of injustice took place, so we should make a point by burning it to the ground in our ‘peaceful’ protest.”
Because people are allowed to justify their actions to skirt compliance with laws – and thus shirk their responsibility to obey them – we have created a nation where laws no longer matter.
Even judges feel justified in ignoring well-established legal principles to impose their own rules on society void of any legislative action to create laws according to the will of the people.
Not only is it a slippery slope, but we are making vicious circles as we tumble down that slope.
It’s a heart issue
Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Two Sons found in Matthew 21:28-31:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”
It’s not really a tough parable to comprehend because the first son was the one who truly complied with his father’s instructions, even though he initially did not want to do so and may have resented it every step of the way.
(Incidentally, Jesus’ stern response was directed at the Pharisees who claimed to be obeying God’s commands, but, in reality, were simply ignoring God and imposing their own rules on others.)
Every parent has encountered children like the two above. They direct their kids to do something and parents get one of these responses:
- A child who cheerfully agrees to comply while thinking in his or her mind that the parent can just pound sand.
- A child who tells the parent outright to pound sand, but later decides it’s better in the long run to comply with the instruction.
Compliance with the laws and rules is a heart issue. To make society work, the rules and laws must be followed from the lowliest person to the highest officials in the land.
When our leaders decide they are not going to follow the laws as they are written, it sends a very strong message to the people they represent that obedience is optional for them, too.
In one of my favorite movies, The Patriot, the main character, portrayed by Mel Gibson, asks, “Why should I trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away for 3,000 tyrants one mile away?”
That’s where selective obedience will take us.