By Rich Nichols
As followers of Christ, we are told that we are not citizens of this world, but members of God’s Kingdom. The apostle Paul makes the distinction clear. “[The world] lives as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction” (Phil. 3:20). “But you are a chosen people … who [God] called out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). There is no room for us to be fickle and try to appease two rulers. Christ commands us to give Caesar what is Caesar’s and respectfully submit to those in authority. However, when those in power come in direct conflict with the law of God, we are required to act and make a decision. God’s laws supercede the laws of man and without hesitation we must be obedient to God, even if this threatens the security and comfort in which we live.
It was just before Christmas this past year when our community was on the streets of Rio de Janeiro visiting our friends. The city was especially crowded as many people were buying gifts and running errands. Many of the youth of the streets were actively stealing in an attempt to have some money for the holiday. We were sitting in one of the city squares, playing Uno, coloring pictures and talking about our plans to celebrate Christmas. While we were talking, I noticed a couple of police had arrived and started to surround us. Their commander called me over and civilly informed me that we were not allowed to be here and needed to leave. Apparently our presence there was drawing the wrong type of people, and we were scaring others in the area. We were informed that our friends, marked by the police as ‘homeless,’ could not stay in the public square, though everywhere I looked thousands of people were around, walking, shopping, sitting on benches or eating. We were somewhat indignant but when the police scared off our friends, we decided to move on.
We walked around the city some more until we came to another square where some of our scattered friends and others had gathered. It wasn’t long before more police found us. This time, however, their civility was gone and one of the police began aggressively harassing people. There were about 30 people who live on the streets present in the square, and the police officer was running from one person to another. He searched through mothers’ bags looking for drugs and throwing baby clothes on the ground, he harassed an elderly man and woman threatening to hit them and, after searching our bags, he demanded that we and everyone else leave the area. We quietly ignored him and sat back down on a bench. This infuriated him even more and he went over to a young mother and her three children. Rifling through her things he found 6 or 7 sandwiches we had just given her and hurled them on the ground behind him. In an act of silent protest, one of our volunteers went over and began picking up the sandwiches while the tirade continued. At this the policeman stormed off, insulted that his authority was being defied.
When we as the people of God turn a blind eye and keep quiet about the abuses we witness, injustice prevails. Our world is plagued by human trafficking, the commodification of sexuality, exploitation of those who are poor and modern slavery. Ironically, in many countries where these abuses take place, laws are in place which make these activities or fronts for these activities legal. Many of us then support these industries by buying their products, eating their foods or even traveling to partake in their defilement.
Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”1 Evil can quickly spread if God’s people are reluctant to promote truth. Our voices must rise over the noise of exploitation and bring to light injustice faced by those we have silenced. We’ve been entrusted by Christ to carry on his proclamation of the Kingdom come. Where does our allegiance lie? If we have been liberated from the kingdom of man then do we declare that we are agents of the kingdom of God?
In order to be obedient to the authority of one kingdom, we might be required to be disobedient to the authority of another. Peter and John were thrown in jail for disobeying the commands of the high priest. When confronted with their infraction, Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). Obedience to God requires defiance against those who would choose to subjugate God’s creation to abuse and unjust treatment. When conflict arises between this earthly kingdom and our heavenly kingdom, we must decide whom we will follow. Picking up a sandwich may seem like an insignificant gesture, but ushering in the Kingdom of God starts by choosing a simple act against injustice.
1 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” 1963.
Rich and his wife serve as the Brazil field directors. One of his favorite desserts is root beer floats. On his last visit to the states he had 15 in two weeks! Good thing Brazil doesn’t have root beer.