In Genesis 3, the serpent turns up and asks if God had really said what he said in Genesis 2.His aim isn’t to encourage a Bible study or a philosophical discussion. Nor is it really to ensure that Adam and Eve are happier, healthier and freer. His aim is to amass power for himself. Brothers and sisters, that is always the aim of those who seek to get us questioning what God has said.
Romans 13:1 -2 says
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. “
Now, those words seem fairly explicit don’t they. We re to obey the government, the civil authorities. It may not always feel like something we want to do. It may at times jar with our own political preferences. They are human and so sometimes what they will demand will appear to be heavy handed and unfair but Romans 13 doesn’t provide is with any exceptions, get out clauses or loop-holes.
If we are still uncertain, then 1 Peter 2:13-18 confirms things by making a pretty much identical statement. There are no ifs, no buts. Submission is to the emperor, to guys like Nero and Caligula. At a more local level, in the household, God’s people are to submit to their masters whether are kind or unjust. The one exception is that Peter in Acts insists that a conflict between God’s word and law means that we prioritise and do what God says. This is of course one reason why we might also suffer unjust persecution.
That all seems pretty obvious to me and over the past year, Christians have been making the also obvious application to our circumstances during COVID-19. Some of us may feel that our Governments have got things spot on and found the Goldilocks Zone response to the virus treading that fine line between effective response and heavy handed authoritarianism with care and aplomb. Some of us may feel the opposite, that our leaders nave managed to both do authoritarian things whilst remaining flat footed and ineffective in their response. We may think that enforced handwashing and 2 metre distances are sensible measures, we may see the need for schools and pubs to close when and where the virus is spiking and for stringent border controls to be in place. However, we may be unconvinced by the evidence presented for mask wearing and we may see the complete lockdowns that we have experienced in response to the first and the third waves as heavy, controlling and unfair.
The point is this (and I speak as one who is less convinced by the claimed benefits of lockdown than others) Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 don’t ask us whether we feel that about our laws. They don’t even ask us whether or not we think our rulers overreach their power or are acting within the constitution and democratically (these instructions were given to people living in the Roman Empire). They simply instruct us to obey because God uses the authorities for his good, purpose and glory and because it enables us to be faithful. witnesses.
Yet, some Christians have been insisiting that we can opt in or out as we choose. Remember that they are speaking and writing within the context of Western Democracy where there are checks and balances in place through voting, letter writing, petitions and the courts. However what I have seen has been calls not for us to argue our case, to press for changes, to petition or to challenge in court. Rather, there has been a growing argument that Romans 13 somehow does not mean what it seems to say it does and that we can just sit on our own and overturn the rules and decisions of our lawmakers. I’ve not even seen any suggestions for how the Church could come together to consider these matters, it seems that the authority lies with individual pastors or even individual church members which would seem to go against the spirit of Paul’s approach in 1 Corinthians 14.
Now, if that was all there was to it, then it would be challenging enough. However, events in the US over the past couple of weeks cause further cause for concern. In November, Donald Trump lost the US Presidential election. His defeat was by a substantial margin and in line with what the polls and most people with a finger on the pulse had been saying for some time. The only person who thought he would win was Donald Trump. To be clear, we are not talking about a narrow margin or a surprising upset. At no time since Donald Trump first ran has he managed to seriously command a majority. His 2016 election win was based on the peculiarities of the electoral college, not the popular vote.
Furthermore, in Donald Trump we have been dealing with a man of questionable character. This is a serial adulterer, a man with misogynist attitudes to women and a man willing to stir up racial hatred in the cities of other countries. For years, Christian leaders in the States have intervened in elections to say that character matters. However, this time, they have fallen over themselves to back Donald Trump with an impressive range of logical and exegetical gymnastics employed. The effect of their support for him and his positions has been to bring the Gospel into disrepute both in the States and around the World.
Then since the election, Donald Trump has refused to concede defeat. Instead, he has made unsubstantiated claims of election fraud. The point is that if an election was stolen from him by the voters then it wasn’t really stolen at all. Last week, following his incitement a mob invaded the Congress building with the aim through violence, disruption and intimidation was to prevent the certification of the election result. We are in a position where there are threats emerging of further, potentially armed acts of violence.
Yet what is preoccupying the mind of Evangelicals around the world? That’s right, not those horrific events but rather that Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account and another social media platform that seems to have been used to organise violent protest have been suspended. The big concern is that already powerful men with platforms and voices feel like they’ve been quietened down a bit. That’s right, in the face of an attempt to overturn democracy and the rule of law, their concern is to speak up for the already powerful.
And this is where we come back to what we do with Romans 13. I would submit that what has happened in a certain constituency that the thrust of this important Bible passage has been weakened and weakened so when it comes to the point that God’s command to respect the rule of law is under real challenge, all the defences are down. That’s how the enemy works.
In this case, the rule of law is not about blind loyalty to one man. It is to the whole functioning of the constitution. It is to ensuring that the legal processes and structures in place are allowed to function as they should. It is about Americans knowing that they can live in a country where the peaceful transfer of power is something so obvious that they don’t need to state it, it is just assumed.
Why does this matter for me, a mere blogger here in the UK and you my readers (with the exception of those Americans who read it?) And what right have I to comment. It matters because so often where American culture, politics and economics, go, the rest of the world follows. It matters because where American church culture and practice go, the rest follows. It matters because those men who have spoken out so strongly for President Trump and have been so quiet in the face of a violent attack on the rule of law are heard here as well. They aren’t just local pastors, nor are they just men with a national platform, they have an international platform too.
So, as a brother in Christ and part of the church, I would again urge Christian leaders to reflect again both on what they have supported or encouraged and what they have failed to defend, commission and omission. I would also encourage Christians here in the UK not to be dragged along and caught up in an unbiblical ideology but rather to stand firm.