The article to which I linked you in the first two words of the previous sentence offers someone's 1971 definition, which I think is pretty good: "a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies."
Sometimes, such as the Tea Party, those intentionally breaking the law do so for civil, or secular, reasons. But quite often people's religious beliefs drive them to do that.
This RNS column argues that we need more religiously based civil disobedience today.
"We need a revival of religious civil disobedience," writes John Gehring. "Along with Mohandas Gandhi and (Martin Luther) King, Catholics can look back to the prophetic activism of Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, the farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez and the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who burned draft files in protest of the Vietnam War." Gehring is the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.
Why more faith-based civil disobedience? His answer: "Being a faithful Christian sometimes means breaking the rules. Moral disruption is a sacred act when the status quo is sinful.
"Christians follow a Messiah who had dark skin and who preached liberation to those on the margins of a powerful empire. Two millennia later, we face a stark choice between moral resistance and the cowardice of complicity. History will judge that decision."
I don't disagree with Gehring, but I hope people engaging in civil disobedience are prepared to pay the consequences, which may be more than a two-hour arrest, release and dismissal of charges. If it's more than that, they must be ready to comply. And, I think, they need to be sure before they jump into civil disobedience that all other legal avenues have been tried. Like actual war, civil disobedience should be a last resort as a tool for change and justice. But it must remain a tool.
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LISTING WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE BIBLE MUSEUM
The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., (which I wrote about here before it opened because of its Kansas City connections) has received a lot of criticism -- much of it justified -- from scholars. Now some of those scholars have collected their essays about what's wrong with the museum in a new book, and Religion News Service has done this interview with one of the editors. As Yonat Shimron of RNS writes in introducing the interview, the museum "has been accused of privileging the Protestant Bible over other versions, harboring questionable and misappropriated antiquities among its vast collection and partnering with a range of charismatic, Pentecostal and conservative Christian groups, including the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, in ways that suggest it wants to advance an evangelical agenda." That's a lot to overcome.
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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about what it means that a new Sikh temple is being built in suburban Kansas City -- now is online here.