Screaming “Romans 13!” to someone who is pointing out the immoral deeds of the State is like shouting “turn the other cheek!” to someone who was just knocked hard in the jaw by some thug. It is an inappropriate response. It is true that we as Christians are to generally subject ourselves to those in power and turn the other cheek when smacked. That is not the debate. The debate is whether certain Statist activities and punching someone in the face (outside of the context of self-defense) are moral.
I bring this up because I recently saw a conversation online in which one individual asked: “what do you think of the US invading Iraq?” And, I kid you not, the response was “Romans 13 says the State has the right to use the sword.” As if this phrase justifies every war waged against humanity. One wonders in that case why these same Bush-supporters become angry at the thought of various foreign governments fighting back against the United States. Do these governments have the right to use the sword– especially in a defensive, reactionary manner? I honestly fear the answers.
Another conversation I read recently went something like this (this one is not verbatim): “I think all the politicians in both parties are corrupt.” Absurd response: “the Bible says not to speak bad things against our leadership.”
It is primarily in America, I think, that people really struggle with this. In many other countries, where statist persecution against Christians is rampant, there is no confusion about the freedom Christians should have to make observations about rightful and wrongful acts undertaken by government. I mean can you even picture some self-righteous, pampered Pharisee grinning to a victim of Mao Zedong while loudly shouting “Romans 13, Romans 13… obey obey!!” It is quite sick. Romans 13 no where nullifies, and in fact does uphold, the reality that every single individual, yes, including those who are employed by the State apparatus, are to obey the moral law of God. If it is immoral for the citizen to lie, steal, and murder, so these things are immoral for the group of individuals who call themselves the government.
When one considers that the United States was once unique in the world precisely because the citizens were allowed, indeed encouraged, to speak up at every instance of immoral behavior coming from the State, it is obvious how far we have fallen as a country. As a strict libertarian, I consider mostly all that the State does as self-motivated, actually harmful, and inherently criminal. But even if one doesn’t reach the same conclusions as I do, surely few Americans would even think twice about criticizing some foreign ruler for doing the exact same things that at least a handful of American Presidents have done. This is hypocrisy and disturbing American-centrism in nearly every regard. This is a revolting example of “America-can-do-no-wrongism,” which is tantamount to opining that “America is the exception to God’s objective moral standards.”
Unfortunately, American Christians seems to have been captured in awe by the magnificence of the State’s power, and this is usually expressed in a twisted form of “patriotism.” A decent argument to make is that patriotism is love for one’s country. While I do completely support this idea, it seems to me that the prevailing attitude these days, especially in neoconservative (<— you should watch that!) circles, is that the “country” is equivalent to the “government” that rules over it; thus distorting patriotism to make it a religion which worships the Federal Government. The greatest danger in an analysis of the State is to take the following eerie collectivist phrase to heart: “we are the government.” This confuses the entire paradigm of the relationship between man and State.
I am (admittedly) one of the minority Christian libertarians who actually does take the writers of the New Testament at their word when they wish for Christians to subject themselves to the rulers of the earth (unless of course the commands of the rulers require one to disobey God– which happens often). Generally, I do think we should live peaceably under the strong arm of the State and not have a constant desire to initiate aggressive and physical revolution against the Capitol. I do not think that we should behave in this way because the State is great; but rather in spite of the fact that it is evil. The position that we should live peaceably under the State does not in any sense infer that the State is a good entity. Even the philosopher Gordon H. Clark noted:
The State is an evil not only because of the abuse of power by the magistrates, but also because it interferes with freedom and introduces and unnatural superiority among men.
But whether or not we should be subjected to the rulers is a different topic than the question of whether or not the State’s actions are morally sound. Yes, dear Christian, you have every God-granted right to oppose the evil and despicable fascistic wars, to speak out against the most massive form of fraud known to man (the Federal Reserve), to vocalize with passion the immoral nature of the income tax, to thunder against the inherently covetous essence of the welfare state. Nearly every aspect of this once-free nation has been overrun by tyrants, men of low stature who consider themselves equal to God Himself. You have been given the very words, the very thoughts, of the most supreme being in the universe. And they inform us, without confusion, of the moral and objective standard of God. We have been given propositional truth from the mind of God. Who are you to refuse to repeat these truths?
Who are you to stay silent when your brothers in Christ urge you that Romans 13 somehow indicates that the State can do no wrong?
And if you are among those who use Romans 13 to quiet the outcry of a people being slowly driven into slavery, I would pray that your eyes are opened; for the ethical commands of God do not contradict themselves. What is ethically mandated for the peasant is mandated for the wealthiest of kings.