Romans 13, part 1

Last time I mentioned my disgust about Christian support of torture, and I want to go into a little more detail about what their apparent Biblical justification is and why I think they’re completely off-base. A day or two after the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture was released, I was listening to “In the Market with Janet Parshall”, who of all evangelical Christians on God’s green Earth is perhaps the most unquestioningly loyal to the mainstream, warmongering, anti-freedom, pro-police-state, establishment wing of the Republican party. [Now, I don’t mind if people vote Republican (I have myself more often than not) or support the party, but I have always found it shocking that any Christian, least of all one supposedly so educated in God’s ways that she would have her own radio show on an evangelical network, would be an ardent supporter of that portion of the party which — as evidenced by its members’ actions, not their words — hate freedom and love war.] She and Craig (her husband, who might actually be even more unquestioningly loyal to the Republican war hawks) actually had the audacity to say that Romans 13:1-7 not only condones and authorizes the torture employed by the CIA but also requires it — that it is a direct command from God to the United States of America to use whatever means necessary, including the brutally inhuman treatment of our fellow men, to punish evildoers! What the what!? You can listen for yourself at (starting just before the 13-minute mark). For those who don’t happen to have that part of Romans memorized, it says (in the NKJV):

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 from 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. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Read it carefully — there are no commandments here to governments, no admonishment to them to punish evildoers. It does say that God has ordained governments in order that evil be punished, but it does not tell governments to punish evil (it is not directed at governments at all), nor does it say that every law or punishment dreamed up by every government is just or good or to be eagerly supported, nor does it say that everyone punished by governments is evil. Bear in mind that the government during the time this was written was the Roman Empire, which heinously punished Christians simply for being Christians — that the Roman Empire was ordained by God is clear from scripture, but that their treatment of Christians was just and right and good is most certainly not. By the same logic that uses Romans 13 to justify CIA torture, justification can also be made (and indeed has been made) for the the Spanish Inquisition, the Rwandan Genocide, and even the Holocaust! Many in the WWII-era German church claimed this passage supported Hitler and the Nazis and commanded the people to do the same! Justification can be made for both sides in any war, because each side is itself a governing authority appointed by God! Romans 13 has even historically been used to support the divine right of kings, a theory in direct opposition to the liberty movement upon which our nation was founded! Does that mean that George Washington and his cronies brought judgment on themselves for resisting the authority God appointed over them in the form of King George and that we should all still be loyal subjects of the British Empire?

I say no, Romans 13 is no scripture upon which to build an argument for or against any government policy, because Romans 13 is not a statement on government policy. It is a statement on obedience, at most a command to Christians to obey the laws of their government (I am going to explore this in my next few posts). We are in a unique position, however, in that as citizens of a democratic republic (a type of government never actually mentioned in the Bible), we are the government — we get to make the laws that are to be obeyed. As Christians, should we not then be careful to create laws in keeping with who we are in Christ? Should we not honestly ask, “What would Jesus do?” Would it not be more careful to create laws that “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, thereby ingratiating the lost souls around us rather than repelling them, being unto them a reflection of the love and mercy of Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to work and save them through us and our example, rather than despite us and our opposition to Him?

Or is our mindless allegiance to a flag or the agenda of a particular political party more important to us than following Christ?

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