Civil Disorder and Civil Disobedience
“And all the city was moved, and the people ran together; and they laid hold on Paul, and dragged him out of the temple: and straightway the doors were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, tidings came up to the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in confusion (Acts 21:30-31).“
The 2019 Global Peace Index shows that civil unrest in the world doubled in frequency over the past decade as citizens protested issues ranging from economic hardship and police brutality (both real and imagined), to political instability. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic towards the end of the year, 2020 could accelerate this trend. “The economic downturn caused by the current pandemic is going to impact this even further and we expect to see an increase in demonstrations, especially in Europe,” said Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which annually publishes the index.
According to EUROACTIV, 1 riots around the world increased 282 percent over the last decade and general strikes rose 821 percent. Just in 2019, violent protests rose in over half of the world’s countries in what researchers say “reflects a longer-term trend.”
(1) Based on facts, data, and expertise, EUROACTIV is a network aimed at alleviating disinformation fed notably by social media platforms. It looks at four areas: parliaments, civil society, platforms, and media. Together with other strategic partners, the network aims for sustainable and responsible media sector for Europe.
EUROACTIV says that the negative impact of the coronavirus tensions worldwide has resulted in a decline in leadership confidence, conflict resolution and increased perceived threats to civil rights. Years of socio-economic development will deteriorate as nations become more polarized. “Rising political instability is expected in Europe, with riots and general
strikes set to increase,” researchers noted, identifying the economic impact of lockdowns as a significant threat. The United States, Germany and France are ‘social resilience’ (Detailed reasons presented in report), Norway, Australia and New Zealand are best positioned to recover quickly dealing with this unrest now.
“It’s likely that the economic impact of COVID-19 will magnify tensions by increasing unemployment, widening inequality, and worsening labor conditions — creating alienation from the political system and increasing civil unrest. We, therefore, find ourselves at a critical juncture,” Killelea concluded in an interview.
Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008, while Afghanistan remains the least peaceful country. The greatest improvement in peacefulness occurred in Russia,2 and the Eurasia region, with Armenia recording the largest improvement of any country, rising fifteen rankings in the index.
(2) Analysts say there has been a significant crackdown on protestors by a Russian elite that is increasingly concerned about political stability.
Global unrest spanned three continents in 2019, fueled by local grievances but also reflecting worldwide frustration at income and racial inequality, corrupt elites and broken promises. In 2020 before the global pandemic, protests surged in Hong Kong, Baghdad, Beirut, Barcelona and Santiago. It seemed that civil disobedience and government crackdowns on protests would dominate the international landscape. Despite quarantines, worldwide protests were sparked by social media broadcasts of police actions with the black community in Minnesota and a call from groups in the U.S. to severely reduce or eliminate civil authority.
The Christian and Unrest
Luke, in our theme text, recorded the unrest in Jerusalem when Paul entered there to preach Jesus. Protest, violence, confusion, and an increased military presence resulted in Paul’s imprisonment. Acts 16:22-38 records a similar occurrence in Philippi, where Paul and Silas were beaten and imprisoned.
Although Jesus told his disciples such things would happen (Matthew 10:17, 18), Paul experienced it first-hand despite being a Roman citizen entitled
to special treatment. In all this, Paul exhibited respect for and a submission to authority.
“Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities: for there is no power but of God; and the authorities that be are ordained of God’ (Romans 13:1). Peter said that there were limits, however when it meant denying his commitment to preach Christ: “But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In our day, some have followed in the apostles’ footsteps, choosing incarceration rather than follow orders to take up arms against their fellow man (Romans 12:18-21).
Paul expanded on this respect for authority: “For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the authority? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the
same: for he is a minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:3, 4). Civil authority is meant to protect its law-abiding citizens. In this time of trouble, however, governments do not always operate according to this standard, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man beareth rule, the people sigh” (Proverbs 29:2). However, scripture does not call on Christians to right the wrongs of the world at this time, or even those wrongs committed against us personally (Galatians 5:22, 23).
Paul tells us to pray “for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity” (1 Timothy 2:2). We are to respect the property of others.as well, which means never sanctioning looting or theft, “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him the power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). The Jews in Corinth came to Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, to complain about Paul. When Gallio refused to listen, the crowd beat Sosthenes, leader of the local synagogue (Acts 18:14-17). If we are accused of ignoring injustice by our refusal to oppose authority, we should express the basis for our non-involvement (Matthew 22:21, Ecclesiastes 3:16,17).
Jehovah looks upon all equally, “and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). He welcomes any that truly seeks Him. “And Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation, he that
feareth him, and worketh righteousness is acceptable to him.
He sent the word unto the sons of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)” (Acts 10:34-36). Those who join together in the fellowship of Christ are called to eliminate distinctions of race, ethnicity and social status from their thoughts and actions toward each other: “and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him whom created him where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ is all things, and in all” (Colossians 3:10,11).
The ongoing disruptions of society during the Gospel Age harvest are evidence that we are in the time when Jehovah is preparing the inhabitants of the world for a new order of things. Jehovah will use the dissident of earth to remove the current system of injustice so that He may establish a Kingdom of righteousness through His glorified Son. “Wait ye for me, saith Jehovah, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations … to pour upon them mine indignation … all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For then I will turn to the peoples a pure language that they may all call upon the name of Jehovah, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9,10).
We see the preparations on every side for this great battle. But let us not fear as do others, for afterward, the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled: “And he will judge between the nations, and will decide concerning many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither
shall they learn war any more “ (Isaiah 2:4). Let this be our message to the world.