I got an email from a blog reader about his views on Romans 13. He argues very eloquently and clearly, so I thought I’d post it without commentary:
It is nice to know that there are others who have the same problem with the standard interpretation of Romans 13 that I do. It really just doesn’t make sense. Especially when you consider what empire it was written during. This was the empire that fed people to lions for sport, that crucified conquered peoples, that glorified every kind of wickedness… it just doesn’t make sense.
I really struggled with reconciling the commands to love your neighbor, love your enemy, etc with being a part of something that is objectively evil. Military involvement, or government involvement of any kind seems to strongly conflict with what the rest of the New Testament teaches about how a Christian is to live. That dissonance is what really prompted me to look into other means of understanding the issue, and through my older brother I discovered anarcho-capitalism. I think it is easy to argue logically the shortcomings of statism, but as a Christian, I’m not interested so much in that perspective because I want to convince fellow Christians to stop being so enamored with the state. Stop worshipping people like Sarah Palin, or thinking that somehow we can “redeem” our culture by just getting a righteous government. The problem is that for so many years Romans 13 has been used to “sanctify” state action, and for centuries the Church allied itself with and manipulated state activity to horrible ends. Look at the outcome: decades of religious wars, a completely spiritually dead Europe… not to mention that some of the biggest European philosophers… Marx, Nietzsche, Darwin, etc, that have tremendous impact on world events of the last 100 years… all blatantly were reacting to really crappy Christianity that had meshed with the State.
I want to pull away from that. I don’t want the name of Christ to be associate with Agent Orange, or Depleted Uranium, or the countless thousands of “collateral” deaths in Iraq, or anything else like that. Aligning myself/ourselves with America means identifying with that stuff.
My take on Romans 13 takes a different turn than yours does, though. I’ve coined the phrase that “ordination does not equal sanctification,” and what I mean by that is that God sets up human governments (we can look to the OT for clear support of that), but that there are varied purposes behind all of that. With Pharaoh, it clearly states that God raised him up to show how powerful He (God) is to all of the nations on the earth at that time. Or, he has used governments as pawns to punish other peoples. But, the fact that he ordains them to be does not mean that they are inherently good, or the “best” option from our perspective. Babylon was evil… but it is described in Habakuk as God’s servant. From a Sovereign perspective, God is the first cause of everything… does that mean that sin is okay? Of course not. Can the devil do anything but what the Lord allows him to do? Obviously not.
I don’t look to Romans 13 as being the model of a perfect government and only when it is perfect are we expected to submit. It is the focus of the submission that counts. Our submission isn’t really to Obama and his stooges… it is to God. This point is made hugely clear in 1 Peter. In 2:12 (I believe, or right around there) it says that we submit to government “for the Lord’s sake.” Almost every time submission to human authority, or to violence (as in turning the other cheek), it is couched in terms of bringing God the glory and especially making sure there is no hinderance to the Gospel. Peter outlines that in the verse just before by saying that we should keep our conduct “honorable” among the gentiles so that they’ll glorify God. This theme of proper ambassadorship is heavy through the NT… my brother and I are working on a study of Christian response to violence, and we kept coming across that theme. Our response to government isn’t because government makes economic sense, or anything like that, it is so that we have a pure witness to those around us. Which highlights the point that submission does not equal condoning, or supporting.
Someone commented on your blog about Lew Rockwell. I agree that we can intellectually and morally bemoan government, but we never actually call for revolution. Doing so would fault our witness.