13 and National Defense
by Laurence M. Vance: Five
Lies of the Religious Right About Ron†Paul
soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power
but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:
and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then
not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt
have praise of the same:
For he is
the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which
is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for
he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him
that doeth evil.
ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience
sake. (Romans 13:1-5)
for the state, its leaders (when they are Republicans), its military,
its spy agencies, and especially its wars (and especially when they
are started by Republicans) sometimes refer to the above passage
from the Book of Romans as if it somehow justifies their blind nationalism,
their cheerleading for the Republican Party, their childish devotion
to the military, their acceptance of national-security state, and
their support for perpetual war.
There is no
greater abuse of this passage than when it is applied to national
defense. I have come across two examples of this recently.
The first is
from an exchange between a readers of my columns and his theologian
friend. Earlier this year, when the United States had just begun
its military adventure in Libya, a reader informed me of a conversation
with a friend who happened to be a theologian and seminary professor.
Said professor posted something on Facebook about Libya and how
Obama the evil Democrat wouldnít hesitate to use force on Americans
if they tried to institute a new government like the Libyans. My
reader agreed, but then added: "So would Bush. Statism knows
no party." The response of the theologian was simply: "Governments
have a God-given right to defend themselves. Romans."
the similarities between Obama the Democrat and Bush the Republican
is a cardinal sin according to some Christian conservatives. Although
Bush expanded federal spending on and control over education, expanded
Medicare to greater heights than LBJ ever dreamed, started two unnecessary
wars, doubled the national debt, had bailout and stimulus programs,
increased farm subsidies and foreign aid, increased government spending
and regulations, gave us the first trillion-dollar budget deficit,
instituted torture, violated civil liberties, and expanded the police
state none of this matters because he was a Christian and a Republican.
As for Bushís
ecumenical, inclusive, warped, and unorthodox Christianity, I have
dealt with that in an article here.
As for the failings (to put it mildly) of the Republican Party,
I have written about them here
and in many other articles.
And to say
that Romans 13 has anything to do with a government defending itself
is absolutely ludicrous. Being a warmonger and military apologist
makes even some of the best Bible students lose their mind.
example of theological lunacy is from a column by Craig Parshall
about the killing of Osama bin Laden (which he favored) in the magazine
Israel My Glory. Parshall is senior vice president and general
counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters.
to the question he raised of "Can Christians ethically support
the U.S. governmentís deliberate targeting of individuals for death?",
who urge pacifism by citing Jesusí commandments about peace (i.e.,
Mt. 5:9) miss the point. They fail to recognize the theological
distinctions between individual responsibility to seek peace with
others (Rom. 12:18) and the corporate responsibility of government
to use lethal force (the "sword," Rom. 13:1-7) to protect
citizens from "evildoers" (1 Pet. 2:13-14).
extra-judicial assassination of Osama bin Laden has nothing to do
with pacifism. Moreover, even Christians who oppose the death penalty
might change their minds if bin Laden had been lawfully tried, found
guilty, and sentenced to death. And just because the "powers
that be" bear the sword doesnít mean that the state should
execute people without trial. More importantly, however, to say
that Romans 13 has anything to do with a government defending its
citizens is ludicrous.
I canít resist
commenting on something Parshall says in the next paragraph of his
article: "In all of the New Testament references to soldiers
and Roman centurions, there is no suggestion that their work, which
often involved using force and violence against others, was somehow
sinful or inappropriate." So, the soldiers who scourged, smote,
and crucified the Son of God didnít do anything sinful or inappropriate?
I thought so.
I have been
asked many times over the years to write something on Romans 13.
Although this is something I have thought a great deal about and
know that I must eventually do, this brief look at Romans 13 and
national defense is not that article. Actually, a large monograph
or small book is what is called for.
In the meantime,
here is a collection of comments of mine on Romans 13 in my LRC
Killers?" (December 2, 2004):
their consent or silence, and to keep their congregations in line,
Christian leaders repeat to their parishioners the mantra of "obey
the powers that be," a loose paraphrase of Romans 13:1, as
if that somehow means that they should blindly follow whatever
the president or the government says, and even worse, that it
overturns the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus
20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17), which is repeated in the New Testament
(Matthew 19:18; Romans 13:9). The way some Christians repeat the
"obey the powers that be" mantra, one would think that
they would slit their own mothersí throats if the state told them
to do so.
Warmongerís Psalm" (June 2, 2005):
affair that many conservative, evangelical, and fundamentalist
Christians have with the military is grounded in their blind obedience
to the government, based on an unrestricted, absolute interpretation
of Romans 13:1, from which they have derived the "obey the
powers that be" mantra. Of course, this obedience to the
state is very selective, which shows what hypocrites these people
are. None of these Christians would kill their mother if the government
told them to do so, but they would see nothing wrong with killing
someone elseís mother if the state gave them a uniform and a gun.
Hypocrisy of Christian Warmongers" (August 11, 2006):
warmongers donít really believe their own mantras. When they chant
"obey the powers that be," "obey magistrates,"
and "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man," it
doesnít actually mean anything. Since the war in Iraq began, Christian
warmongers have turned these portions of Scripture into their
mantras in order to justify the war. None of them actually believe
that a Christian should always accept the latest government pronouncement,
support the latest government program, or obey the government
in every respect. It was all a ruse to justify an unjust war.
If the government commands one of these Christians to shoot his
neighbor and destroy his property, he will choose to disobey and
suffer the consequences just like if the government commands
one of these Christians to shoot an Israeli and destroy his property.
So, if a
Christian warmonger doesnít really believe that Christians should
always obey the state, then why does he lie and say that they
should? Christian warmongers hide behind their mantras because
they are trying to defend a president, a party, and a movement
that are undefendable. Should a Christian have served in Hitlerís
army? What about Stalinís? Why not? Should a Christian have participated
in the Holocaust or in one of the Russian czarís pogroms? Why
not? Christian warmongers are very selective about which governments
they think Christians should obey. Despite their rhetoric, they
really donít think that everyone should blindly follow whatever
the president or the government says. The bottom line is that
the command for the New Testament Christian to "be subject
unto the higher powers" (Romans 13:1) is not absolute.
vs. the State" (August 4, 2008):
seeking to justify their support for, or the participation of
their friends and relatives in, the U.S. governmentís latest military
adventure often recite the mantra, "Obey the powers that
be," a loose paraphrase of Romans 13:1, as if that somehow
means that Christians should blindly follow whatever the government
says. But because the state is, as Murray Rothbard described it,
a "bandit gang writ large," Christians should always
remember the reply of the apostles when they were told to stop
speaking in the name of Jesus: "We ought to obey God rather
then men" (Acts 5:29).
Henchmen" (December 25, 2008):
are you one of Herodís henchmen? Would you commit infanticide
if the government told you to do so? Then why did you vote for
a man whose motto was "Country First"? Why do you incessantly
recite your "obey the powers that be" (Romans 13:1)
Libertarianism Compatible With Religion?" (March 15, 2011):
get hung up on Romans 13 and end up making apologies for the state
and its wars. Itís too bad they skipped over Romans 12:
which persecute you: bless, and curse not. (Romans 12:14)
to no man evil for evil. (Romans 12:17)
avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it
is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans
evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
I have also
quoted and/or discussed what three authors have written about Romans
Christian Against the State" is a review of Christian
Theology of Public Policy: Highlighting the American Experience,
by John Cobin. "The
Doctrine of a Christian Warmonger" is a critique of a presentation
by Pastor Tod Kennedy called "The Doctrine of God and War."
a Christian Kill for His Government?" is a review of a
book of the same name by Bennie Lee Fudge.
There are a
lot of things that could be said about Romans 13, but that it has
reference to national defense is not one of them.
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, and Rethinking
the Good War. His latest book is The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his
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