“If they read what I read in the Bible, the Bible says you always obey the law,” said Alabama Governor Bentley in response to Alabama’s Conscience act of civil disobedience against HB 56 on May 3, 2012, National Day of Prayer.
Governor Bentley is in need of some Bible lessons. If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have stopped the stoning of the woman caught in adultery because the law must always be obeyed. If his statement is true, then Jesus would not have healed on the Sabbath because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true then the Boston Tea Party in 1773 by the colonists would not have happened because the law must always be obeyed. If his statements are true, then the Declaration of Independence would never have been written or signed because the law must always be obeyed.
If his statements are true then Alabama’s Governor George Wallace’s statement of “Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation forever” would still be the law of Alabama because the law must always be followed. Thank God for people of conscience who recognize an unjust law and deliberately disobey to overturn that law.
If his statement is true then Paul, who authored the text that Governor Bentley is referring, would never have confronted the emperor regarding Christianity because the Christian faith was considered illegal, an act of treason. So even Paul did not believe one must always obey the law.
This statement of Bentley’s reveals that he has no understanding of his own faith tradition of Christianity. His own faith as a Baptist came about because people of conscience disobeyed the law. It was illegal to be of any other faith than Anglican when John Smyth declared his Baptist faith. But if Governor Bentley is correct that the Bible says you always obey the law, then his own faith is illegal, twice over because John Smyth broke the English law decreeing the Church of England as the one faith and the Church of England broke the law when it severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church over the doctrine of divorce–another law that according to Bentley’s argument must be obeyed. Remember that church law and civil law were one and the same in the time of the reformation. There was no separation of church and state.
The context of Romans 13 which Bentley refers also includes Romans 13: 6 and following: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Love does no harm to a neighbor. No harm. That is the criteria in which to obey the laws of government, the Bible states. Yet, HB 56 does do harm to our neighbors. Our Immigrant neighbors are working hard, paying taxes, building up the community, creating businesses which strengthen the economy. Immigrant neighbors with the same expressed dreams for a better life for their children. This law seeks to rid our communities of people who are doing no harm, who are loving and caring for their community. Governor Bentley noted this in his commemoration speech regarding the anniversary of Tornado recovery efforts in Tuscaloosa when he referred to the status of citizenship of those who were first responders. Governor Bentley loves undocumented people when they are of usefulness to him but otherwise he has disdain for his neighbors who seek to make Tuscaloosa a better place for all to live.
This law has encouraged people to express their bigotry and prejudice against their neighbor. Therefore any law that causes harm to their neighbor, using Bentley’s argument of always following what the Bible says, is not a law that is to be obeyed. Such a law must be disobeyed. It must be broken time and time again because it goes against a higher law, which is the law of Love. I choose to stand on the side of Love.