I am writing in a state of mind that Martin Luther would call beneficial: seething anger. Seething.
By the time you read this, the story of Cliven Bundy’s cattle being released will be old news, but as I type it is hot off the presses (proverbial as those presses are nowadays). What has me in this state of seething rage is the fact that many militia groups and some on the political right are hailing this as a victory for freedom. It is quite the opposite. To be fair, the entirety of the issue is not one-sided. But this much is clear: Cliven Bundy ceased paying the necessary permit fees to graze his cattle on BLM land over 20 years ago, and he now owes the government (read: taxpayers, i.e., you and me) in excess of 1 million dollars. When he refused to comply with orders to remove his cattle from the land they were illegally grazing on, BLM went to the courts, where Bundy lost (twice). BLM was authorized to remove the cattle, which were illegally on federal property, and Bundy was instructed not to interfere. Last week the BLM started rounding up those cows. This, for the uninitiated, is something known as law enforcement. Laws are enforced on those who refuse to comply with them. That’s the system.
What else is clear? The government, as always, mishandled the situation. Hitting Bundy’s son with a stun gun, creating “First Amendment Areas” (since when is the Constitution restricted to only certain areas?), and the overall excessive use of intimidating force has gone a long way toward escalating this situation. So while the government is in the right, the government isn’t right. Doing the right thing the wrong way leads to bad things, and this very easily could have escalated into Ruby Ridge or Waco. That said, while I have many bones to pick with the way our federal government handles…well, everything, my particular point this evening is not focused on them. I want to call out those who consider themselves to be proponents of liberty.
My point is three fold.
First: we need to come to grips with the fact the Cliven Bundy is, by definition, a criminal. This person you are jumping up and down, or crouching behind a bunker with an AR-15 to “protect” is not a law-abiding citizen. This blows my mind. The same groups who will laud an Arizona sheriff for rounding up illegal immigrants will turn around here and support a man who is also breaking the law. This is not an apples and oranges comparison. If your issue with people coming to this country illegally is that they break the law, then you logically ought to be upset when other people break other laws. But this man is held up as an example of someone fighting for his rights. What rights? You don’t have a right to run your cows, or sheep, or goats, or any other livestock on federal property without going through the proper permitting and paying the applicable fees. This is because the property doesn’t belong to you, by definition federal property belongs to all Americans, and we entrust particular agencies with regulating and managing that property for the benefit of all of us. Not for the good of one solitary rancher in Nevada. Do I have problems with how that works out sometimes? Of course I do. I’m not sold on sectioning off land because a particular kind of tortoise is endangered. But you know what doesn’t change government policy? Breaking the law. Yet this is what this man has done. His fight for “rights” which he does not have make him a criminal, not a hero.
Secondly, building off of that point: The use, or even show(!), of lethal force against agents of ones own government is not serving the cause of liberty. You may counter and say, “what about the American Revolution?” To which I would say this - the American Revolution was the separating of an organized government from and against a higher form of government. It was not a rebellion of individuals against government itself. That is to say, the revolution was not anarchy. Individuals did have to choose for themselves whether to stay loyal to the crown or to place their loyalties in the fledgling republic, but we must be clear that it was a war between governments.
In this case, how could you possibly make a similar argument? One man decides to ignore the governing force over a particular piece of land based on his own idea of what is right or wrong. While this is a beautiful example of postmodern individualism, it ought to be repugnant to the mind of anyone who appreciates things like peace, order, and the rule of law. What is right and legal is not determined by how I view things, but by outside authorities. In this case the governing authority was BLM. Not Clark County, not the state of Nevada, and not Cliven Bundy. Liberty must exist within the bounds of law, or it ceases to be liberty and becomes anarchy.
Laws change when we work through the due process of our republic. Not when we rebel. Is this hard, slow, tedious? Yes. Are the odds tipped against those who love liberty? In our day, very much so. Does that change what is right or wrong and justify the show of force against the government? Hardly. Do you want to successfully effect positive long-term change? Then take your cues from Ghandi, Wilberforce, and King; not Lenin and Mao.
Third, and finally: as a Christian, I am particularly concerned with how ignorant of the Bible Christians seem to be in regard to how we ought to view government. Let me give you a quick summation of this topic, from Romans 13 and 1 Peter.
Government is a gift from God (Romans 13:3)
Christians are responsible to pay their taxes, and to give due honor to authority (Romans 13:7, 1 Peter 2:17)
Government is one of God’s main methods of punishing wrong and rewarding right (Romans 13:3-4, 1 Peter 2:14)
Rebellion against government is rebellion against God (Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 2:13)
All of this to say, government is God’s idea. Not only is it his idea, but he sets up and tears down rulers. He governs how particular agencies will act. He controls land management policy. Disregarding the law in these things is disregarding the command of God. That should sober us. Brothers and sisters, there will come a time, very soon perhaps, when our faith will be a legal problem for us. The apostle Peter would urge us in 1 Peter chapters two and three to be sure that when we have legal trouble, it is for doing what is right. That is, for sharing the Gospel, for helping the helpless, for telling the truth about sin, heaven, hell, creation, salvation, and the human condition. For taking a stand for right, not rights. God promises you no earthly rights. Remember that.