Can God be used as an excuse to violate the law? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Awhile back, I wrote a post about a snake handler named Andrew Hamblin. Many of you might not know about him although the Huffington Post did write an article on him. Last night while Allie and I were watching CBS here in TN where Hamblin has his church, we were surprised to see this news story about state officials telling Hamblin he will need to appear in court and confiscating the snakes. They’re to be held at the Knoxville Zoo. (And since this is free zoo weekend, we might get to see them.)
Now already several people on Hamblin’s Facebook page are saying that they’re praying for him. That’s fine and understandable. A number of others are saying that they bet this wouldn’t have happened if Hamblin had been a Muslim. Obviously, it’s just Christianity that’s being targeted.
Well, not really.
My wife has an interest in foxes and she would not mind owning a fox someday. Even to do something like that requires proper licensing since a fox is an exotic animal by most standards. If you take a dog or a cat into your home, no big deal. Foxes are a different animal and you need a permit to own a fox and the law stipulates what kinds of foxes you may own.
How much more so for holding a poisonous snake, a snake that if it gets out of control could result in the death of someone, no matter how well-meaning and strong in their “faith” that person might be. There is a reason our state has these laws.
Want to know what they are? Well I found a good look at them here.
Just look under Class I and go down to reptiles. What do you see?
“(ii) Order Serpentes: Snakes – All poisonous species; and”
Yes. Poisonous snakes are included right here in the very first class. If you go down to the end, you’ll see the requirements for having class I animals under your care. They’re quite severe, and for good reason! If you put dangerous animals in the hands of people who don’t know how to handle them, you’re practically asking for pain, and that could be not just your own pain but the pain of others.
Hamblin is set to appear in court next week. I do not know what he will say, but I can say that whatever it is, God is not a valid excuse for breaking the law.
A similar situation is found with the story of the man in Arizona who had a Bible study that was raided by police and took to jail. People immediately cited this as persecution, but you can see even from the Christian Post many details not often told in that story. Those are available here.
Were Arizona, which by the way is a very red state politically, wanting to target Bible studies, we would be hearing many more such stories. It would not be just one person. Yet strangely enough, no doubt hundreds or thousands of Bible studies go on just fine in Arizona without people having any fear whatsoever. What must be asked is “Why is this one case different?” If you can find circumstances that make it different, then you see what is going on. It is not the similarity that matters (All such groups are studying the Bible) but the differences. (Is the one with the leader arrested violation of any laws?)
It would not do for that pastor to say “I’m doing this for God, therefore it’s okay” and it won’t do for Hamblin. Now I personally think that we have no biblical basis to take up snakes the way Hamblin and his church does. If these people want to show their faith and devotion to God, they can start by going over to where real persecution is going on such as in Muslim nations or in China or North Korea and other such places and serve as missionaries. They can also do so with no guarantee whatsoever that God is obligated to protect them. Missionaries can still die in the service after all.
The proper way to show your faith is not to take up serpents. An unbelieving world is not convinced of Christianity by that. Instead, they are sadly convinced of the opposite. They are convinced that Christians are crazy and will believe anything just because they see it in the Bible. It would also be interesting to see if this church kept any poison on the grounds for the people to regularly drink since the same verse says those who took up serpents would also drink poison. We could also point out that Isaiah 43:2 says that when you walk through fire you will not be burned. If they want to be this literal with messages, then set up bonfires and let them start walking and see what happens.
The danger is here that if we say “We are doing this for God, therefore it’s okay” then we make God a justification to forthrightly violate the laws of the land, and where will it end? If I think I have to give the gospel to someone immediately, can I drive down the road at 100 MPH and go around school buses that are stopped all because I’m doing this for God? If I think someone is living a sinful life and if they keep going down that road they will hurt others, am I allowed to kill them because I am doing this for God?
I’ve used a mild example and a serious example both to show the point. Neither one of those work. The law has requirements set on poisonous animals and there’s no place for an ethic that says “Whatever you do, if you do it for God, it is good.” We can be sure Hamblin would not think that the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 was good, though the Jews doing it certainly thought they were doing it for God. Paul himself thought he was serving God when he was persecuting the church.
Now am I saying there is no place for civil disobedience of any sort? No. But there are conditions that must be met!
For instance, there is no explicit command to take up serpents in Scripture. (I do dispute Mark 16:9-20 being authentic and either way, it no more commands us to do this than it commands us to go out and drink poison.) Now there are explicit commands to preach the gospel, such as the Great Commission. Thus, part of being a faithful Christian is the preaching of the gospel. If the authorities try to silence the preaching of the gospel, then in this case we must be faithful because if we will either violate the law of the land or the commands of God, we must choose to honor the commands of God.
Christians today also hold that homosexual behavior is immoral. Therefore, by our own moral standards, we should not be forced to celebrate what we think is immoral. This is why a photographer who does not think she should photograph a lesbian ceremony should not be prosecuted. This is a conscience clause. A Christian photographer should not be forced to do what she considers inherently immoral.
Note with that last one that it could be the Christian is entirely wrong in their opinion for the sake of argument, but the question is should the law be forced to make someone do what they have moral and religious grounds against doing and in a way that is not harmful to others. There are plenty of other photographers that can do the job after all and this kind of activity makes it easy for the homosexual community to simply out those who disagree with them by looking up Christian photographers, know they will refuse, and then take them to court. (A friend and I have wondered what it would mean to go to a homosexual bakery and ask to have a cake with Romans 1:21-27 on it. Could we go to a Muslim deli and force them also to serve pork?)
The greatest tragedy of all is that when people like Hamblin do what they do, they get a spotlight that the media is all too happy to give them. Such a spotlight becomes an embarrassment to the Christian church. Like it or not, it will fit a stereotype that will fall right in line with the new atheist paradigm of Christians.
Insofar as possible, Christians should seek to live under the law of the land. Had Hamblin wanted to own snakes like this properly, there was a right way to do it and he chose not to do it that way. In doing so, he put himself and others at risk. Also, I contend that he violated a commandment of God by putting God to the test. In the end, God will not be mocked. He will not accept being used as an excuse to justify our wrongdoing.
The best thing for Hamblin to do in my opinion now would be to admit that he did violate the law and pay the price. If we make this out to be persecution, we draw attention to those violating the law and unfortunately, draw it away from real persecution that is going on. It is a horrible action to take such an event and call it persecution when we realize Christians are being put to death in other countries simply for owning a Bible. (And by the way, those Christians care a lot more about having a solid Christian foundation and education than most Christians over here do. Mike Licona, for instance, spoke in Indonesia which has the largest percentage of Muslims in the world and could speak for six hours on the resurrection to a crowd eager for it.) If Hamblin wants to have the snake church, then he must try to find a way to do so legally, though I suspect he won’t. If he cannot, then he must find another capacity with which to serve.
Until then, the media will unfortunately be having a heyday with this and statements from a “pastor” will be seen to have great authority, despite Hamblin not really being equipped as a pastor. When the church highlights people like Hamblin, we will get a certain result. Were someone like Licona instead highlighted more often, the church will get a quite different result. The question is which result do we want?
I know where I stand, and it is the stand I am convinced God has honored and will honor.