Views on politics and current events

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Romans Chapter 13, In Times Of War

Why Romans thirteen? In this time of war this Chapter of the New Testament, especially verses 1-5 are being used more and more to justify the right of our leaders to wage war in Iraq. Furthermore, anyone who does not support current foreign policy has had their patriotism questioned, and these verses have been used as divine law to try and prove disloyalty. I do not agree, and my arguments are contained in this essay. To begin, here are the first five verses, Chapter 13 of the epistle of Paul to the Romans:

Romans 13 : 1-6
(From the NIV)

1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

4 For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

Verse #1- Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Whoever is in power has gained their authority solely because of the will of God? No doubt this passage was used as a justification for the ‘divine right of kings’. But history is full of cruel leaders that gained power to rule through bloodshed. If you believe in a heavenly father that pulls our strings like we were his puppets, then perhaps this verse is justified. Nothing happens without the direct intervention of the heavenly father; hence whatever happens is what should happen. No matter how much harm is created, no matter the consequences. It is God’s will. Even an Idi Amin, an Adolf Hitler, a Genghis Khan, or a Saddam Hussein is God’s will. Even if murder, deceit and other evil acts may have been used to gain authority, that authority must be obeyed.

It must be remembered the times in which Paul wrote this epistle. Around the middle of the first century, Christianity was a fledgling religion, and Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism. Most of the first Christians were born Jewish. It was a time of the Roman Empire, when going against any kind of Roman authority, even in trivial matters could cause you great harm, even to be crucified. And consider that the authority that Paul told the Romans to obey was a pagan roman emperor. Paul says that the authorities that exist have been established by God. So whatever the Emperor said had to be obeyed, for God had established him as ruler, even if the ruler did not believe in ‘God’ as the Christians did.

So to my mind, Paul was warning his Christian brethren to love one another and not openly refute the Roman authorities. Paul was much concerned with not only his brethren’s behavior but their survival as well. I believe he took his calling to ‘spread the good news’ very seriously. There would be no one to spread it to if the early Christians would have refuted Rome’s authority at every step.

As for the divine right of kings, when our country was founded the divine rule of kings no longer applied. In our democracy, there is but one group that ‘gives’ the authority to rule to anyone, and that is the people of the United States. In our democracy, God has given the populace the say via the election process to determine our leaders.

So to look upon this first verse as a law from God is a mistake. It was written two thousand years ago in a very different world and circumstance.

Verse #2- Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

With any country or state, and especially a democracy, comes responsibility to follow the laws of the country. Without civil authority there is chaos. But civil authority does not mean the authority to crush peaceful dissent. Indeed, if a citizen doesn’t agree with a specific law or policy, they can have a hand in changing things. Look at how much has been changed over the years by people who have disagreed with current law. Whether you agree with the changes or not, such examples as the banning of prayer in school, passing of child labor laws, and many other changes prove that a person can make a difference. Whether a person agrees with the changes or not is of course a personal matter. But a person has just as much right to protest the banning of prayer in school as in protesting a foreign policy, and just as much right to try and change it.

If a person that is in favor of prayer in school tries to lead a classroom in prayer, naturally they must be prepared for the consequences. And if a person that is against foreign policy chooses to break into a military installation without authorization, then they too must be prepared for the consequences. I’m speaking about the right of U.S. citizens to peacefully dissent and to peacefully congregate if so desired to express their opinion. These actions do not denote rebellion, no matter what the issue is. These actions do not denote anti-patriotism, no matter what the issue is. Furthermore, these actions do not denote a breaking of religious law with God. Again, we the people of the United States have given our leaders the right to rule. Hopefully, with reflection and prayer we can elect the right leaders. What would have happened over two hundred years ago if the colonists put their faith in the literal interpretation of this verse? Rebellion against King George would be tantamount to rebellion against God, and there would be no United States of America.

Verse #3-For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

What is Paul speaking of when he says ‘do right’? Does he imply by that a blind obedience to anyone that is in authority? Does ‘do wrong’ mean anything that is against the authorities wishes? If the above questions are answered with a ‘yes’, then of what use is our Constitution? If the above questions are answered with a ‘yes’, how can we have a democracy?

Verse #4- For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

I do not believe that our leaders are God’s servants to do us good. I do not believe that God has servants that cater to people and groups that have the biggest wallets that contribute the most to campaign funds. I do not believe that God has servants that continually give more to those that have, and continually give less to those that have not. I do not believe that God has servants that cut aid for education, and ask an already downtrodden lower and middle class to absorb an increasing tax burden for ‘defense’. I do not believe that God has servants that allow forty one million people to be without any kind of health insurance as medical costs keep escalating out of control. I do not believe that God has servants that allow big business to pay indecent wages to workers while the fat cats get fatter. Our leaders are merely people. Not necessarily divinely guided, but with all the ulterior motives, faults, blind spots and selfishness that all humans have.

Verse #5- Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

In this era, blind obedience to authority while ignoring conscience is wrong. To truly participate in a democracy means to acknowledge our conscience. The conscience is the dwelling inside of us where the Spirit truly resides. God is not in heaven pulling strings. He is within us all, urging us to do what is right. The founding fathers were very wise men, but they really didn’t invent democracy. The person that told us (the followers of Jesus) we were all equal, no matter if a prostitute, tax collector, Samaritan, or leper, was Jesus. We are all equal in the eyes of God.

So while I fully understand that if I break laws in this country, I could be punished. But peaceful dissent, differing opinion, and trying to change things are not breaking this country’s laws or disobeying God-given authority. These verses of the bible are being used out of context, and being used by some as a permission slip from God that allows our leaders to wage war where ever they see fit, and as a warning from God that we the citizens must support our leaders or face the consequences. Dangerous happenings, when words written so long ago are used as a defense of modern aggression!

2 comments:

blue said...

If a person, as I do, rejects the authority of the Bible, and of Paul, then all of this is rendered moot. Perhaps Paul did write this almost two thousand years ago, or perhaps not, but it matters not to me: I require no apologetics nor biblical justification to think my own thoughts and make my own decisions. That is what being free, in a democracy, is about, and it is what having inalienable rights, as stated in the Declaration of Independence means. That's free will.

Alan said...

I also tend to disregard the authority of the bible. How can we, as people in the 21st century, be guided by texts written so long ago?

Perhaps on a metaphoric, spiritual level we can, but all this using of scripture to control people is not to my liking. There is truth in the bible, as in many ancient texts, but it is more of a personal truth, an individual truth that speaks to each of us in a different way as human beings. There is no grand plan, no super authority that speaks in the texts. Perhaps some of it was 'God-inspired', but that is not the ssame as God directly speaking.

Al religions are but mankind's way to try and explain the unexplainable. To each his own. I agree. If you refute the bible's authority, it is a moot point.

 
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