The ideal approach to addressing situations of need is direct action. Simply put, direct action means that one himself acts to deal with a given need. He does not wait for the development of a state program, or count a given situation as falling under the purview of some distant agency. He does not look to indirect action through elected representatives. He does not seek the implementation of legislation under the authority of the state. He is there; he is capable; he himself acts to bring relief as he is able.
Are there biblical examples of direct action? Consider the good Samaritan:
But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise (Luke 10:29-37).
The samaritan did not wait for a state official to help the man. The Samaritan did not call to soldiers or any other law enforcement personnel. In Jesus’ example, even the clergymen did nothing. One lone, despised Samaritan, at risk to himself, stopped in the way and took the suffering victim under his own care.
He did not drop him on the doorstep of an aid agency or of the state. Nor did he promise to pay the victim’s needs for the rest of his life. What he did do was act directly, and guaranteed to the owner of the inn payment for the lodging and the care for the man in his return to health.
This example was presented by Jesus; He gave it just the way He intended to. He advocated direct action, and also taught to be careful whom you look down upon; your neighbors may be closer at hand than you ever imagined. Who is your neighbor? He is the man who acts directly in your behalf. Does Jesus want you to be that kind of neighbor? “Go, and do thou likewise.”
If Jesus says to go and do this, that is enough. But still, it is of interest to find similar thinking elsewhere echoed in the New Testament.
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone (James 2:14-17).
James says that telling someone to go and get warm is not the same as direct action taken by a believer so that the party in need can actually be warmed. Jesus asks us to consider how we would feel in an identical situation of need. “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
How would you prefer to be treated? To have someone who is able offer you immediate help, or to have them send you to some distant agency for possible help at a later time? Would you rather be voluntarily helped, or aided via resources coerced from other citizens paying the overhead to employ state workers to administer the whole scenario.
The Proverbs tell us something similar about how we should address the needs of our fellow men: “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it” (Proverbs 3:27). Returning to Jesus’ teaching about who is our neighbor, and considering His urgent appeal that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, it is difficult not to conclude that those to whom good is due are simply our fellow humans.
One example of direct action was the “underground railroad,” a grassroots, not officially-approved instrument for bringing slaves to freedom. Another was the “Boston Tea Party,” in connection with the American War of Secession from England. Direct action to hide Jews from murdering Nazis in Germany during WWII was also appropriate. The most important question is not whether an action is legal but whether it is ethical.
By direct action we do not mean public strikes, demonstrations, violence, or the destruction of property (a form of theft) to obtain one’s demands. Rather, we speak of direct action in terms of personally engaging in the alleviation of suffering or the immediate help of one legitimately in need.
To argue that we must always obey laws, even when we consider them to be unethical or to enforce unethical conditions, is to suggest that the arbitrary pronouncements of the legal establishment possess a higher moral authority than our own consciences, and that our complicity is demanded even in the face of injustice. When laws protect injustice, illegal activity is no vice, and law-abiding docility no virtue. God’s people should be willing to act. We should do what Jesus said, and avoid the curse of Meroz: “Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty” (Judges 5:23).