Romans 13 is a very interesting chapter and none of it is more controversial than the first seven verses where many people look to point out that God expects obedience to the civil authorities. The reason this is an opinion piece is that I see many people use this to tell people to obey in the country when it comes to the police or government and thus be good Christian examples by being good obedient citizens. There are also some of us who don’t feel this interpretation sits right with us and I am included in this.
I want to make it fairly clear that for the most part I do not consider myself rebellious. I simply am looking at the passage and comparing it to our government works or at least how our government is supposed to work given what is said in the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
There are two questions for us in the United States that we need to ask in applying this passage as Christians. 1) Who is the governing authority of the United States? More specifically what is the chain of command of authority in the United States. We need to know this so we know who should be submitting to whom. 2) What is met by resisting authority and who is actually doing it? The idea simply is that if authority is top down it would mean the only ones who can resist authority are the ones on the bottom upward. Who is really resisting authority becomes and interesting proposition once you know the authority structure.
Who is the governing authority off the United States? – Both of our founding documents makes statements about this that are actually pretty clear. The Declaration of Independence makes the statement that the governing authorities only should have power at the consent of the governed. The Constitution starts with three very simple words “We the People”. The ultimate authority in this country is the people and those who are ultimately governed by those that they establish to govern them. If there is a King/Queen of this country it is The People of this country. The government we establish made up of the President, Congress, Supreme Court, State and Local governments are stewards of the power the people have, not the power itself. That belongs to all of us collectively. This is where democracy and establishing a list of rights that cannot be taken away is our power not the government we elect’s power. The elected government has delegated authority not authority in and of itself. Those elected establish and enforcement branch of government which is under both the authority of The People and the elected government. The King/Queen is The People, the Steward of the Realm is the Elected government and the Sword is the police and soldiers.
So how then is this authority resisted? – When we call someone a criminal, what we are saying is not that he has defied the police or even the elected government but The People. So who really is the rebel or criminal when the elected government or the police or soldiers decided to act on their own without the consent or in defiance of the People? Who is the real rebel? The citizen who stands on his established rights as established by The People in our constitution or the police officer who feels those rules get in the way of ‘his authority’? If I were to apply Romans 13 I would have to say it is the officer who is the rebel to his authority not the citizen who is standing on the authority of the people. It is the officer that is not rendering “custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” The People are the ultimate authority so it is their authority that should be honored, respected and feared.
Now I want everyone to understand that no single individual has this authority but The People which is not only plural but all-encompassing. No single individual is The People. It is an odd thing in democracy, particularly ours, that the people are at the same time both the authority and under that authority. When we decide something together it becomes the authority that we all agree to follow even if we disagree on it. This means I am not the authority unto myself either, but if I stand with what the Authority establishes then I am not being a rebel and I am respecting that which is right and standing against evil. The one who does not, be they congressman, president, senator, police officer or soldier are the true rebels against The People if they do not respect and honor what We the People have established.
When I hear Republican leaning Christians automatically take the side police officers automatically because ‘they are the authorities’ that not correct and we should always take the side of principle of what is right. If the officer acts within the authority of the People then fine, but if he acts outside our authority of the people he should be as resoundingly condemned of being both a rebel and a criminal to our authority as the People. I honor police officers when they act rightly to be sure, but they step out of line with their authority I have to respond as any person who authority has been rejected to respond.
There is much more to be said here and when I was going to write an opinion piece on the Police and their role in society, I realized that this is very complicated question. Much more complicated than I could get into in a single post. I want everyone to understand what the authority of this nation really is. It is not the Congress, President, Supreme Court, State, local representatives and officers of the law of all kinds but The People who put them in power. When any of the above disregard the authority of this nation (The People), then they are not authorities to simple be obeyed but rebels that should be confronted under Romans 13:1-7 not upheld because are the ones who forgot to fear, honor and respect their authority.
IMHO – more to come.