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Ignoring the Law

In Romans 13, Paul commands “every person” to “be subject to the governing authorities.” But what happens when the authorities themselves refuse to obey the law? It may sound farfetched at first blush, but that’s exactly what has been happening in America. Consider the following:

Rogue County Clerks. In New Mexico and Pennsylvania, county clerks issued marriage licenses to gay couples even though gay marriage is not legal in either state. Pennsylvania, in fact, has a state law banning the practice. Nevertheless, a county register of wills handed out licenses to gay and lesbian couples before a judge ordered him to stop. New Mexico, which has no state law permitting or banning gay marriage, had eight counties issuing gay marriage licenses, and the state’s Republican governor didn’t go to court to try to block the rogue county clerks.1

Illegal Laws. The federal government said it would not challenge laws legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington, even though the drug is illegal under federal law. Going beyond the 20 states that allow marijuana for medicinal use—which is also against federal law and not to be confused with the legitimate use of regulated, cannabis-based drugs—Colorado and Washington approved laws in 2012 that legalize possession of less than an ounce of the drug. President Obama said the federal government has “bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting small-scale recreational drug users, but the fact remains that federal officials, state officials, and voters have simply disregarded a federal law banning a drug that contributes traffic accidents, school dropouts, and family instability.2

Unregulated Abortionist. Perhaps most notably, the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell brought to light a state government’s failure for years to enforce abortion regulations that might have saved the lives of women and unborn children. The grand jury report on Gosnell said that “the medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels—and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths.” Still, the Pennsylvania Department of Health inspected his clinic infrequently at first, then decided in 1993 to stop inspecting abortion clinics altogether, concluding that doing so would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions.3

Of course, some laws should not be enforced. In Pennsylvania, for example, motorists driving down rural roads at night are required to stop every mile and shoot off a flare. And in Salem, West Virginia, it’s illegal to eat candy less than an hour and a half before a church service.4 Such laws are outdated, worthy of repeal, and just plain silly—a far cry from serious laws regarding marriage, illegal drugs, and abortion that ought to be enforced. There may be a gray area where it’s unclear whether certain laws ought to be enforced, but these recent examples are clear cases of governmental negligence. When officials refuse to enforce duly enacted, just laws, a nation risks deteriorating into either anarchy (where there is no standard of justice and morality) or tyranny (where the laws are arbitrary and reflect the whims of leaders rather than God’s absolute moral standards).

Fortunately for America, there is another institution that can step up and speak to matters of justice and morality: the Church. When the government enacts ungoldly laws, when officials defy just laws and look the other way, and when citizens break the law, the church must proclaim that offenders are accountable to a higher authority and endanger the wellbeing of society. Indeed, this tragedy is an opportunity for the Church to shine. God has placed His people in America for such a time as this.


Alex Dobuzinskis, “County Clerks On Front Lines of U.S. Gay Marriage Battle,” Reuters Website, September 21, 2013, (accessed September 30, 2013).


Brady Dennis, “Obama Administration Will Not Block State Marijuana Laws, If Distribution Is Regulated,” Washington Post Website, August 29, 2013, (accessed September 30, 2013).


See Kairos Journal article, “What Ever Happened to ‘Safe, Legal, and Rare’?”


Stephanie Paul, “Top Craziest Laws Still On the Books,” Legal Zoom, October 2007, (accessed September 30, 2013).