Learning to say “no”

Learning to say “No” to our government

Ben Freeth, Harare, Zimbabwe

26 May 2016

A week after the prayer march organised by the Prayer Network in response to the controversy surrounding the newly proposed National Pledge, a feedback meeting was called at the Harare club. It was well organised and well attended with perhaps 150 Christians and Pastors present. It was a very level-headed meeting. The Christians present were serious about stopping the attack on our faith that is currently taking place through the “Dokora decrees” [our Minister of Education].

The discussion was sensible, mature, open and very refreshing. There is huge concern that millions of children around the country are having to say the pledge each day. Some people present attested to the stopping of the Lord’s Prayer in their children’s schools. Others told how Scripture Union had been stopped. Many churches have already been evicted from schools. A strong attack on God in our schools is clearly under way.

The Association of Trust Schools recently sent out a circular about learning to say “no” to our children. Inspired by that, I spoke on learning to say “no” to our government.

The meeting agreed that if the Minister did nothing to stop the pledge by the end of the month of May [when he was asked in the petition to stop the pledge and allow God back into the schools], more Christian prayer marches would be organised.

“Christians learning to say NO!”

I have two questions I want to try to answer:

1. As Christians is our Romans 13 “submission to the authorities” something that we do in an unlimited way?

2. Are we called as Christians to total non-resistance to government and higher powers, even when they go against God’s law, throw the churches out of the schools, and have millions of children practice idolatry every morning?

Tyrants and oppressors are not entitled to absolute obedience by anything that is laid down in the Bible. The argument in Romans 13 is to obey the ruler because he rules for the welfare of the people; but when the ruler turns tyrant and makes his people his prey - to devour and to destroy instead of to defend and cherish – then we as Christians have a duty to resist that tyrant and say “NO!”

By not resisting the tyrant’s decrees, we would be promoting the misery and demise of our people and our country.

As Christians we cannot in good conscience marry our faith in God – whose throne is founded on justice and righteousness – with the tyranny and oppression that stems from an earthly throne that is founded so demonstrably on greed and lawlessness.

John Stott the great British theologian said: “If the State commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God…whenever laws are enacted which contradict Gods law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.”

John Calvin, on a similar lines, said: “We are subject to the men who rule over us, but subject only in the Lord. If they command anything against Him let us not pay the least regard to it…”

The theologian, Francis Scaeffer said: “the state is to be an agent of justice to restrain evil by punishing the wrong doer, and to protect the good in society. When it does the reverse it has no proper authority. It is then a usurped authority and as such it becomes lawless and a tyranny.”

The Dokora decree is that children should say “Almighty God we salute the flag.” Church leaders must come up with a position on whether this is something appropriate for Christians to pray? If the flag has symbols in it that are idolatrous or wrong is it something we can in all honesty and truth be saluting before Almighty God? In NAZI Germany was it alright that Christian children were forced to salute the NAZI flag before Almighty God? In church or in our private prayers - before our Almighty God - do we feel it is appropriate to salute the flag - which has flown over the tyranny of genocide and oppression? The church cannot hang back, dithering, un-convicted, without a position on this. Is it yes or is it no?

When we “respect” the ancestors in the pledge is this not a form of idolatry and ancestral worship before Almighty God? Are we not bringing Gods judgment on our nation for so doing? The church must speak. Is it yes or is it no?

When churches are thrown out of the schools is the wider body of the church going to refuse to take a position regarding that? Is it yes or is it no?

We all know the story of Shadrack, Mishack and Abednego. When they were asked to bow down to the image by all the authorities in the land, they did not do so. They refused. They defied the king. They said “NO!”

They were given a second chance and they still did not do so - even though the king had personally threatened them with death if they did not.

Why did they not do so? They did not do so because they knew that it was idolatry.

We read: “they trusted in him [God] and defied the kings command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” Daniel 3:28. They said “NO!”

The pledge is a form of idolatry. But it is only the outward face of something far more disturbing – a regime that has murdered so many and left the lives of so many people in complete disarray and ruins.

I was at a meeting a month ago where I shared a podium with the President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe – amongst others. I was very interested in the questions after we had all spoken. Most of them were directed at the EFZ President - Shingi. The questions were angry: Why was the church in Zimbabwe standing back? Why was the church in Zimbabwe not speaking out for God and His justice in the nation? Why was the church not saying “NO!”

In Berlin in 1935 Marga Meusel protested the timidity of the church in Germany. “Why does the church do nothing? Why does it allow unspeakable injustice to occur?...what shall we one day say in answer to the question, ‘Where is thy brother, Abel.’ The only answer left to us, as well as to the confessing church is the answer of Cain.”

Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was martyred in 1945 declared: “We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses or cynics or misanthropes or clever tacticians, but plain, honest and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness.”

We are here, called by Christians in the Zimbabwe Prayer Network, to speak into the situation facing us in Zimbabwe. We need to deal with facts and not emotion. But where God and the church is being trampled in the dust and thrown out of our schools by our government to the detriment of the most important thing we can educate our children about, we need to find the courage to speak up boldly and say: “NO!”

Ben Freeth



E-mail:  freeth@bsatt.com