Romans 13 and Obeying the Government
by Laurence M. Vance: Is
There a Libertarian Position on Same-Sex Marriage?
I said last
year in my article on "Romans
13 and National Defense" that I had been asked many times
over the years to write something on Romans 13, that it was something
I had thought about a great deal, and that it was something I knew
that I must eventually do. Unfortunately, this is still not that
article. However, because of questions about Romans 13 that I recently
received and answered, I thought I would expand upon my answer here.
soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power
but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever
therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God:
and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For
rulers 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. Wherefore
ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience
sake. (Romans 13:1-5)
for the stateís military "defending our freedoms" and
its wars "over there so we donít have to fight them over here"
incessantly quote their "obey the powers that be" mantra
derived from Romans 13 in an attempt to justify their blind nationalism,
American exceptionalism, flag waving, God and country rhetoric,
warmongering, prayers for the troops, illicit affection for the
military, and unholy desire to legitimize killing in war Ė as well
as justify the stateís imperialism, militarism, and unjust wars.
But even worse
than Christian warmongers reciting their "obey the powers that
be" mantra, is the chant of "Romans 13" after some
statement justifying war or the military:
The war in
Iraq was a just war. Romans 13. The troop surge was necessary.
Romans 13. Dropping the atomic bombs on Japan was necessary. Romans
13. President Bush did the right thing with the intelligence he
had. Romans 13. Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Romans 13.
Collateral damage happens. Romans 13. The Vietnam War was necessary
to fight communism. Romans 13. My country, right or wrong. Romans
13. Soldiers are just following orders. Romans 13. We must fight
them "over there" so we donít have to fight them "over
here." Romans 13. Osama bin Laden needed to be killed. Romans
13. Governments have a God-given right to defend themselves. Romans
13. Waterboarding is not torture. Romans 13. Drone strikes are
necessary to protect Americans. Romans 13. Support the troops.
The chant of
"Romans 13" is used to put a divine stamp of approval
on U.S. wars and militarism. It is never used to put a divine stamp
of approval on other countriesí wars and militarism, unless, of
course, they are allied with the United States at the time.
Romans 13, I just want to briefly mention five things to provide
a longer and more thought-out answer to that which I recently gave
a young man who is now, thank God, out of the military.
First of all,
it wonít do any good to explain it away, correct it, revise it,
limit it to godly governments, or limit it to the Constitution.
This is because there are two other passages that are even more
in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates,
to be ready to every good work, (Titus 3:1)
to every ordinance of man for the Lordís sake: whether it be to
the king; as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are
sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise
of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well
doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: (1 Peter
Second, I continue
to be puzzled that some Christians stumble over this. Only a madman
would say that obeying the government in Romans 13 is absolute.
Even the most diehard Christian apologist for the state, its military,
and its wars would never think of saying such a thing. Although
the way some Christians repeat the "obey the powers that be"
mantra may make one think they would slit their own mothersí throats
if the state told them to do so, they wouldnít do it no matter how
they were threatened by the state. If government agents came to
them and said, "Here, put on this uniform, take this gun, and
go shoot your neighbor," they would likewise refuse and suffer
the consequences. No Christian is going to make his wife get an
abortion because the government says he has too many children. No
Christian is going to accept every government pronouncement, support
every government program, or blindly follow whatever the president
or the government says Ė even when the Republicans are in control.
Any admonition in Scripture to obey the government is tempered by
command to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) and
the sixth commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13),
which is repeated in Romans 13:9.
about Christians in other countries? Shouldnít they also "obey
the powers that be"? Arenít their powers that be likewise ordained
of God? What if their government instructs them to conduct drone
attacks in the United States, bomb the United States, commit acts
of terrorism against the United States, or invade the United States?
Arenít they resisting the ordinance of God if they donít do it?
Should all Christian soldiers in the German army during World War
II have disobeyed orders and laid down their weapons when America
entered the war? Christian warmongers are such hypocrites. They
are very selective about which governments they think Christians
should obey. What they really mean by their mantra is that all people
everywhere in the world should only obey the powers that be in the
is not really the issue. Obeying the government is not absolute
when the government commands something that is contrary to the word
of God. The problem with the former-Marine pastor of the former
soldier who wrote to me and other Christian warmongers is in what
they believe to be contrary to the word of God. It is here that
we are at an impasse. When someone defends unjust foreign wars (are
there any other kind?), bloated military budgets, torture, drone
strikes, bombing campaigns, secret prison camps, indefinite detention,
CIA meddling and black ops, almost anything the military does, an
empire of troops and bases around the world, and an interventionist
U.S. foreign policy in general as not contrary to the word of God
as long as it is Americans are doing these things to foreigners
and not foreigners to Americans, I say that he is a Christian warmonger
who needs to rethink his position. So the issue is not actually
obedience, it is what constitutes something contrary to the word
of God. The real issue is what extent of disobedience is obedience
who recite their "obey the powers that be" mantra and
chant "Romans 13" when they want to put a divine stamp
of approval on U.S. wars and militarism are falsely leading people
to believe that defending US wars and military interventions has
something to do with obeying the government. Obeying the government
has nothing to do with believing everything the government says,
accepting everything the government does, supporting the governmentís
troops, or defending the governmentís wars. The US government hasnít
commanded any American to think or say that the war on terror is
a good thing, that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just wars,
that US foreign policy should be supported, that prayers should
be made for US troops, or that the US Navy is "a global force
for good." And the government certainly hasnít commanded any
individual to go kill and maim on its behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is no draft. No one was forced to join the military. And no
one who bothered to study US military history for five minutes would
joined before these wars began and not known that there was a chance
he would have to kill and maim for the state.
I will just say this.
When I see
a sign in a government-owned park that says "Donít Walk on
the Grass," I donít walk on the grass. When I see a sign at
a government-owned zoo that says "Donít Feed the Animals,"
I donít feed the animals. When a situation arises like when I see
a sign on the Interstate that says "Speed Limit 65" while
everyone is passing me doing 75, I speed up, but always mindful
that some connoisseur of coffee and doughnuts might be lurking around
the bend, just waiting to give me a ticket.
But when I
am told to sit at a desk and kill foreigners via drone, fly over
some foreign country and drop bombs, invade some foreign country
that was no threat to the United States, indefinitely detain some
foreigner in prison without trial, or occupy some foreign country
that I would have to look up on a map to know where it was, I dissent
and refuse to obey.
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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