Operation Rescue

A Biblical Look*

In the minds of many, the greatest battle confronting the church today is overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that has legalized the murder of millions of unborn babies. As the church confronts this situation, Christians must make sure that not only what they want is Biblical, but that the way they go about it is also Biblical. In the process of achieving a goal that glorifies God, we must not dishonor God by the tactics we use.

In January 1986, Randall Terry and a group of six followers began a new movement in the abortion battle, Operation Rescue. At first, Christians viewed the group as radical, but the group quickly gained a following. Their tactic was to blockade a targeted abortion clinic, in effect shutting it down, through the use of non-violent resistance. Rescuers, as the participants are called, would park their cars around an abortion clinic, preventing access. Then they would sit or lie down in front of the clinic, preventing anyone from entering. Whenever a woman would come to the clinic as a client, someone would take her aside and explain to her what she was doing and give her some literature, with the hope that she would decide against an abortion. The problem is that to shut down a clinic in this way involves breaking the law. Rescuers are arrested and taken to jail. In most cases, rescuers have been found guilty of criminal trespass.

Since that time, there have been hundreds of "rescues." The tactic has gained the support of influential "Christian" leaders: James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and D. James Kennedy, to name a few. The latter two wrote forewords to Terry's book Operation Rescue. In his foreword Kennedy writes:

"The shocking reality is that Christians could stop abortions today if they wanted to. If four million Christians went tomorrow and stood as a visible presence in front of every abortion clinic in the land, no babies would be killed. ... I feel this approach is Biblically correct. ... I consider Operation Rescue a legitimate front-line force in the pro-life movement."

Not all pro-life evangelical leaders (so-called) are so glowing in their praise. Some believe that rescuers are misusing Scripture, breaking the law, and are thus criminal. Many others may not be as outspoken, but are just as opposed.

After 21 years of legalized abortion, many in the pro-life camp are frustrated and discouraged with the progress made in the movement and are open to any new tactic that promises results. A Supreme Court decision some years ago (7/3/89), which allowed portions of the Missouri abortion law to stand (Webster v. Reproductive Health Services), was clearly a shift in the Supreme Court's position and has encouraged pro-lifers. The rescues continue.

In light of the claims made, the endorsements by "Christian" leaders, and the obvious results which the rescues have had, many more [professing] Christians are finding the courage to join a rescue. Unfortunately, many do this without carefully evaluating the Biblical arguments used to see if they are right. Even though Dr. Kennedy feels that this approach is Biblically correct, we must not take his word for it [especially when he's so wrong in so many other doctrinal areas]. We must be like the Bereans the apostle Paul praised, and search the Scriptures to see if this is so. In this paper we will evaluate the arguments used by the Rescuers to see if we can find a Biblical basis for this tactic.

To simplify this, the argument used by the rescuers can be set fort in the following syllogism:

Major Premise: The Christian is obligated to obey God's law when it comes in conflict with man's law.

Minor Premise: God's law demands that we protect the life of the unborn (taken to be those "unjustly sentenced to death," Prv. 24:11).

Conclusion: The Christian is obligated to protect the life of the unborn even if that involves breaking man's law.

These premises will be examined against the testimony of Scripture to see if they are Biblical. If the premises can be broken, then the conclusion is invalid.


The basis for the rescue argument is that the Scriptures teach that God's law is higher than man's law, and it is perfectly legitimate for God's people to violate the law of human government if in the obeying of human law they will violate God's law. This is called "civil disobedience."

There is no question that there is a Biblical precedent and basis for civil disobedience. God's law is always to be obeyed. Nevertheless, too often Christians have been known to make something an issue of civil disobedience which is not clearly taught in Scripture. For example, some strongly believe that the income tax law is inequitable and unjust. They vigorously claim that Scripture teaches that each person is responsible for his or her own wealth under the doctrine of stewardship. They believe that the taxation of personal income hinders them from being faithful stewards of their money. Firmly convicted of this, they then quit reporting and paying income tax.

Likewise, there are many Christians who hold strong convictions about what the Scriptures teach which may conflict with government law. Often this is used as a reason to violate the law. Too often, the whole teaching of Scripture is ignored. In the case of those refusing to pay income taxes, they ignore the passages where Jesus taught that the State has a right to tax and that the citizens of the State are to "render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matt. 22:21, Rom. 13:7). Taxes always hinder the accumulation of wealth and cut into money that could be used for missions, evangelism, helping the poor, or any number of righteous causes that are mandated by the Scriptures. Nevertheless, the Christian is required to dutifully and joyfully pay his taxes and use the remainder in service to God.

Therefore, before engaging in an act of civil disobedience, breaking man's law in order to obey the Scripture, we must make sure that there is clearly a Biblical mandate and/or a Biblical precedent for the action. If there is no clear command in the Scriptures, no parallel, and no example, then the act of civil disobedience is not Biblical. In the following section we will examine passages which teach obedience to government and passages which show the saints of God disobeying human government, to see if there is a parallel to Operation Rescue.

Submission to Government

The Scriptural basis for the institution of human government is found in two central New Testament passages: Rom. 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-17. Here the believer is clearly told that part of his responsibility is to obey government officials because they are established by God for the purpose of establishing righteousness. Often these passages are cited by some who insist that believers should always obey government set over them. In order to accurately evaluate these passages, we need to look at them.

"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise of the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake." (Romans 13:1-5).

The Apostle Paul makes several important points here:

1. Christians are to subject themselves to the government authorities.
2. Government authorities, whether saved or unsaved, are appointed by God. Remember, Paul was writing under the ungodly administration of Nero.
3. Resisting government authority is the same as resistance against God and will bring Divine judgment.
4. The governing authority is God's servant, even though he may be an atheist or pagan. God demonstrated this to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4.

The apostle Peter makes a similar point:

"Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. -- as free, yet not using your liberty as a cloak for vice, but as servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (1 Peter 2:13-17).

Like Paul, Peter sounds as if there is no room for any kind of civil disobedience. However, we know from Acts 4 that Peter and John disobeyed the civil magistrates in Jerusalem who attempted to keep them from preaching the gospel. By comparing the above Scripture with other Scripture, we discover that there are apparently situations which put the believers obedience to God in conflict with his obedience to human government. At those times, the believer is responsible to obey God rather than man. By examining those situations, we can arrive at a clear picture of the kinds of situations which the Scriptures authorize for civil disobedience, and then we can determine if Operation Rescue fits with Biblical precedents.

Examples of Civil Disobedience

The Case of the Jewish Midwives (Exodus 1:15-21): At the beginning of Exodus, the Israelites had been in Egypt for about 200 years. A new Pharaoh arose who "did not know Joseph" and made slaves out of Israel. Motivated perhaps by a fear of the growing size of Israel (the census taken at Sinai indicates a population of about 2,000,000), the Pharaoh charged two Hebrew midwives with the task of population control -- a government sponsored planned parenthood. They were instructed to kill any male child when he was born. Pharaoh's authority gave this the force of law. Because the Hebrew midwives "feared God" they disobeyed the law and did not kill any of the male children.

An analysis of this situation shows that individuals were personally commanded by the magistrate to commit an act in violation of God's command. The midwives had to make their own decision and chose to obey God rather than man. This put their lives in danger and they apparently lied to avoid the consequences. God's blessing on them was not because they lied, but because they saved the children.

The Case of Rahab (Joshua 2:1-6,15): This is the well known incident of Rahab the harlot protecting the two Hebrew spies in Jericho. When the king of Jericho was informed that the spies were in Jericho staying at the house of Rahab, he sent word to Rahab to give up the men. Rahab refused to do so, hid the men, and lied to protect them. The brief narrative of Joshua leaves many questions unanswered. Why did they go to the house of Rahab the harlot? Did they know beforehand that she was a follower of Yahweh? Was this a prearranged rendezvous or did they go to her place simply by chance (which raises some other questions)? A little more insight can perhaps be gleaned from Hebrews 11:31: "By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace."

From this notice we can justifiably conclude that Rahab had some knowledge of Yahweh and His purposes for Israel. Since faith is not some feeling, but belief about something, she apparently had some knowledge that she was trusting in. She would also have known that to give up the spies would have probably cost them their lives. Once again, we have a situation where an individual is asked by the magistrate to do something which would entail violating the command of God. Rahab chose to obey God rather than man.

The Case of Esther (Esther 5): Some suggest that Esther's appeal to Ahasuerus in Esther 5 is a case of civil disobedience. It may be, but it has some unusual features. First, no one is commanding Esther to do anything contrary to God's law. She is faced with Haman's conspiracy against the Jews and realizes that in order to stop it she must gain the aid of the king. Since she had not been granted an audience with the king, she decided to make a bold move. Under Persian law, no one was allowed to enter the King's presence without an invitation. However, provision was made that if someone wanted to appeal to the king, they could enter his presence unannounced, but if the king refused to recognize them, they would forfeit their life. Esther chose to take this bold move, although the decision was entirely hers. Esther's situation is not comparable to others, and thus, does not constitute a case of civil disobedience.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3): In this chapter, we are told that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonian Empire, erected an enormous statue -- an idol -- and commanded all in his kingdom "to fall down and worship the gold image." The penalty for failure was to be thrown into a fiery furnace. When the time came for all to worship the image, three young Jews who were being trained for service in the Babylonian bureaucracy refused to worship the image. They were arrested, given a second chance, again refused, were cast into the fiery furnace, and miraculously delivered by God.

This is clearly a case of civil disobedience. The pattern is like those already examined. Individuals were asked to perform an act that was in violation of God's stated command. They chose to obey God rather than man.

Daniel and the Lion's Den (Daniel 6:10-13): This story is well known to most Christians. Jealous of Daniel's position and favor with the king, a large group of governors and other government officials conspired to have King Darius pass a law which would make it illegal for anyone to petition any god or king other than Darius. Darius signed the law into effect and the jealous bureaucrats set a trap for Daniel. Daniel refused to obey the law and continued to pray according to his daily practice. His jealous enemies caught him and took him before King Darius, who was forced by the law to cast Daniel into a den of lions. God was gracious to Daniel, though, and miraculously shut the mouths of the lions and preserved Daniel.

This again is a clear case of civil disobedience. Daniel refused to obey a human law that put him in conflict with God's law. He obeyed God rather than man.

The Magi (Matt. 2:7-8): When the Magi were searching for the baby Jesus, they inquired of Herod. Herod told them to tell him where the child was when they had found him. After finding the Child, they apparently intended to obey Herod, but were "divinely warned in a dream" not to return to favor.

As in the previous situations, they chose to obey God rather than man. Another clear case of civil disobedience.

John the Baptizer (Mark 6:14-29): This case is sometimes brought forward by those favoring rescue, but the case is somewhat unique. John was arrested because he had condemned the marriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias, who had been married to his brother Philip. This constituted incest under Mosaic Law (Lev. 18:16). We are also told in Mark 6:20 that apparently Herod knew that John was right.

This case involves freedom of speech. Apparently it was a violation of Herod's desire, and thus the law, to condemn the marriage. John chose to speak the truth and to face the consequences. It seems that this would relate to the Operation Rescue situation only if Christians were forbidden to express their opinion, which they are not.

Peter and John (Acts 4:19,20) : Here Peter and John were taken before the Sanhedrin, who attempted to forbid them from preaching the Gospel and teaching about Jesus. Since Christ had commissioned them to do just that, Peter and John chose to obey God rather than man.

Paul and Phillipi (Acts 16): After being beaten by the magistrates for preaching the gospel in Phillipi, and then being miraculously released from prison, Paul and Silas refused to leave town when asked. They staged a "sit-in."

But the issue was the preaching of the Gospel. Paul's legal rights as a Roman citizen had been violated and he wanted to press the point home to the magistrates of the city.

Conclusion: As we wrap up this survey of incidents in the Scriptures which involved acts of civil disobedience, we must strongly affirm that the Scriptures do show that there is a proper time and situation when the believer is obligated to disobey the civil government. In each of these cases, two parties were involved, the government which mandated that an individual take a particular action, and the individual who chose to obey God rather than man.

However, there is an important difference between these situations and those confronting the believer in the abortion crisis. In the rescue scenario, we have a third party interfering and attempting to keep another individual from disobeying God's command. The Biblical case would be established only if an example of third party interference could be produced.

In the Old Testament, a situation similar to infanticide took place in Molech worship. There a child was sacrificed to the god. While the Old Testament prophets clearly condemned this practice, there is no evidence that they sought to block the action physically. They proclaimed and condemned the practice. But they never sought to stop it through a "sit-in" or physical restraint.

While these passages cited in the rescuers argument do support civil disobedience, they are not parallel to the current abortion situation and thus do not apply. Thus the major premise, that believers are responsible to God to obey Him rather than man is true, but the Scriptures give clear examples of the types of situations in which this applies. These situations are not parallel to the abortion dilemma, and thus cannot be used to support the kind of actions which rescuers carry out. These situations would apply only if the government were mandating abortion as is done in China. Then believers would have the obligation to personally refrain from obeying the law.

A consistent principle emerges by observing the passages above: All the acts of legitimate civil disobedience involved two parties (the adversary and the subject). There are no examples, as in the current Rescue argument, which involves a third party (someone who acts on behalf of another). No law is compelling the rescuers to be party to an abortion.

Another facet of these examples is that the unjust law was the law that was broken. The unjust law the rescuers are concerned about is the abortion law. But the law the rescuers are breaking, the trespass law, is a perfectly valid and just law. Thus, Operation Rescue fails to fit the Biblical pattern in their practice of civil disobedience.


Proverbs 24:11

Perhaps the central passage used by rescuers is found in Proverbs 24:11. Terry quotes the Living Bible version of this on the cover of his book:

"Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death; don't stand back and let them die."

At first glance, it appears that this verse may provide a basis for the type of activity that Operation Rescue involves. However, a close examination of this text is necessary. Rather than relying upon a paraphrase, we must look at a translation of the text as well as the original Hebrew to see what this proverb is teaching and its application for today. The NASB renders Proverbs 24:11,12:

"Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back. If you say, "See, we did not know this," Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?"

It is clear from this translation that the paraphrase of the Living Bible puts a slant on the verse that is more sympathetic to the aims of the rescuers.

To correctly interpret and apply this passage, we must first understand something about the nature of the Book of Proverbs. A large portion of Proverbs was written by Solomon for his son. Over and over again he addresses these to his son (1:8,10,15; 2:1; 3:1,11,21; 6:20; 7:1; 23:15,19,24,26; 24:13, 21). Since his son would follow him as king, the immediate purpose of these Proverbs was to instruct his son to be a wise king. Obviously, the Proverbs cover many areas of life and responsibilities that apply to everyone as well as a king. But certain of these Proverbs clearly have a more direct application to the governing authorities or magistrate.

In Proverbs 24, the passage in question is bracketed by other proverbs that clearly apply to one who, like Solomon and his son, had governing responsibilities. Verse 6 talks about the need for the guidance to wage war and obtain victory over the enemy. Verse 17 talks about the attitude toward defeated enemies -- he was not to rejoice. This is parallel to the New Testament instruction not to hate ones enemies, which is related to the command to love your enemies. Jesus gave this instruction in the context of explaining what it meant to "love you neighbor" (Matt. 5:44). In between these verses, we have the proverb relating to delivering those being taken away to death.

The key to the understanding of this passage is found in verse 12. It might be easy for the king to ignore the plight of some of his subjects and to plead ignorance to a miscarriage of justice. Solomon points out that this may get him off the hook with men, but not with God who weighs the motive. Solomon is emphasizing the fact that his son is in a position of authority and responsibility for others who depend upon him, and he must, therefore, not grow "slack in the day of distress."

From this it appears that the direct application of the passage is to one in authority, not just anyone. Secondly, if the passage has a judicial thrust, then the more direct application of the passage would indicate that Christians would be investigating possible miscarriages of justice, and would be doing everything possible to rescue those on death row who may have been wrongly accused. But we don't see Christians boycotting or trying to break unjustly sentenced convicts out of jail.

To apply this verse to the plight of the unborn is at best a long stretch, at worst a misapplication. However, even if we do admit this as a legitimate application of the verse, all we get from it is an injunction to do whatever is in our power to help those being led away to death. There is no indication from this verse that violation of civil law is in view. The point of the passage is that those who are in a position to do something about a calamity are obligated to get involved. The extent of that involvement is not under consideration.

Luke 10:25-37

Another passage the rescuers appeal to is the parable of the Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This parable was told in response to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" It was designed to show that all men are neighbors and that we are to help them without discrimination. At no point is there any indication that this would involve breaking civil law, although it could involve violation of social trends. Rescuers suggest the point of this passage is that we are to do good to our neighbor. If and when the government defines what the good is, then we are justified in breaking the law to go beyond this.

This is even weaker support for the kind of application Terry desires. Jesus is not addressing a civil disobedience issue. He is simply pointing out that we need to do whatever we can when we are in a position to help those in need. To read into this account an application to break the law to help the one in need is neither justified nor warranted. It is an issue totally outside the scope of Luke 10.

After looking at these two passages, the most that can be said is that they indicate that Christians should be involved with those in need. Involvement in civil disobedience is outside the scope of either passage. The most that these passages can be used for in the abortion issue is that Christians should be involved in educating and counseling those considering an abortion.

The type of Biblical evidence rescuers need is a case where believers interfere in a situation where someone was going to take a life in a legally or culturally accepted way, such as sacrificing a child to Molech. Yet, at no point is this type of evidence found in the Scriptures.


One of the crucial issues in this entire discussion is the role of the Church in the world today? Is the primary mandate of the church today to proclaim the gospel or is it to impose God's righteous standard on the world? Christians today are beginning to act as if it is the latter. This means more than simply that Christians should take a stand for righteousness and speak out against immorality and evil (exposing evil). This is clearly taught in Scripture (Eph. 5:13). But does Scripture go one step further and teach that the Church should impose God's standard on an ungodly and God- hating world (conquering evil). The central passage used for this is found in Matthew 5:13, where Jesus said to his disciples, "You are the salt of the earth." Here Jesus was comparing the role of the believer in the world to salt. What did He mean?

Over the years, preachers have waxed eloquently on this metaphor. They usually talk about all the many uses salt has. Salt is used for seasoning bland food, salt is used for creating thirst, and salt is used for preservation. Usually, the third idea is the one selected in interpreting this passage. However, the context would indicate that this is simply not the case.

Whenever Scripture uses a figure of speech, the best way to understand the significance of the figure is through some clue given in the context. While speaking to His disciples here, Jesus gave just such a clue. After stating that they were the salt of the earth, Jesus then said, "but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?" (NKJV) The original Greek word is moraino, which means "make tasteless or become tasteless or insipid" (Arndt and Gingrich: 533). This indicates that the point Jesus is making has nothing to do with preservation, but with seasoning. The believer is to live a life that shows the world that without Christ life is dull, drab, and tasteless. No other verses seem to be used to indicate that the Church is to have a preservative effect on society. If the role of the Church isn't to preserve society, what is it?

The primary function of the Church is to be "the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). Next in importance, the Church is to proclaim the Gospel. In the process of the proclamation of the Gospel, our Sovereign God will call out people for Himself and regenerate them. Only regenerate men have a hope of living in obedience to God's standard. God's plan for the current age involves the Christian presence as a restraint of evil until His return, but never a conquering of evil. To try to impose God's righteousness upon society apart from regeneration is a task doomed to failure. Yet, that seems to be exactly what so many professing Christians want to do. In their frustration over apparent lack of success and the moral decline of American society, they have given up on the Biblically mandated practices of evangelism, prayer, and holding forth the standard of righteousness, and have followed the humanistic tactics of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. in order to achieve their goal.

That professing Christians have adopted an ends-justifies-the-means approach seems all too obvious. The first thing that strikes one as he reads Randall Terry's book is that he begins by describing the results of Operation Rescue (an emotional argument) before he ever attempts to demonstrate its Biblical base. While Terry himself may not believe that the end justifies the means, and may even believe that his practice is grounded first on Scripture, the way he presents his case clearly puts results before Scripture. For him, Operation Rescue is the answer because it is producing results. It seems that this is another example of Christians who get fired up for a particular cause and then go to the Bible to try to find some support for their actions. Faithfully trusting God and praying and relying on a Sovereign God isn't enough and doesn't seem to work, so humanistic tactics are adopted. The answer to the world's social problems is not Christian activism and revolution, but the preaching of the Gospel and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.

*This material has been excerpted/adapted from a Biblical Perspectives report by the same name: Robert L. Dean, Jr., Biblical Awareness Ministries, Vol. II, No. 4, Jul/Aug 1989. (Biblical Awareness Ministries no longer exists.) The use of this material should in no way imply an endorsement by BDM or its editor of Tommy Ice or of his current ministry affiliations; in fact, because of Ice's affiliation with the ministries of Tim LaHaye, the guru of Four Temperaments/Personality Testing in the professing church, we do not recommend any of Ice's books or articles written after the demise of Biblical Awareness Ministries at year-end 1992.

Biblical Discernment Ministries -3/95