"Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always be gentle toward everyone."
This quote was posted by a friend of mine on social media the other day. The next day, it was followed up with, “Jesus understood authority. As His followers, we should too.” The friend did not mention Pres. Trump, but with the current political climate, I infer these comments to be in response to the deluge of protests and challenges to the administration which are flooding social media.
I took some time to consider these words, and ask myself whether this is a rebuke I should take to heart regarding my active resistance to the policies of Pres. Trump. I am well aware of human fallibility, my own included, and make a genuine effort to bury my pride in service to truth when it is shown to me.
I concluded in this case, however, that the rebuke is ill-fitted to the times. Much of the instruction is timeless: always do good, do not slander, be peaceable, gentle, and considerate. However, Paul was speaking to a specific group about a specific issue of their times, and the principle of being “subject to rulers and authorities” should not be applied unilaterally without regard for context. God does not require blind obedience to authority from His followers, but rather that we exercise wisdom and judgement in our actions.
1. There are numerous times when a rejection of authority is the only acceptable Christian response to a situation. Missionaries preach in countries where it is illegal. The Jews of the Old Testament did not submit to the superior military authority of the numerous secular nations which sought to dominate them. Soldiers are not exempt from the moral implications of carrying out unjust or immoral orders. Battered women should not stay with their abusers. Hitler needed to be overthrown, and people were right to hide the Jews from the authorities who came to arrest them. Every civil rights advance in this country was built on the efforts of people rejecting the laws and policies of the authorities of their time, from the illegal underground railroads freeing slaves, to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his nonviolent but nonetheless illegal actions, to the women who fought for universal suffrage. Jesus Himself did not submit to the religious authorities of His day, “working” on the Sabbath and mingling with the outcast, impure, and unclean; He was ultimately sentenced and executed for His refusal to obey.
2. This country was founded by the rebellion of our founding fathers against the primary authority over them. They felt a need to rebuff that authority in order to create “a more perfect union” in which people would be able to live their lives freely and with a representative government, because their current government did not provide those freedoms.
3. We do not live in a dictatorship or a monarchy, where the president has unilateral authority over the people. We do not owe our loyalty or even our obedience to any one man; the laws and principles of the nation itself are the true authorities in our system.
4. The president, in fact, works for the people, and does so at our sufferance. He is a civil servant, not a king. Pres. Trump's own constant slandering, along with a complete lack of humility, gentleness, or consideration, are ripe for the application of this verse.
5. In a similar vein, the people are an integral part of our democratic republic. It is not only our right, but also our civic and moral duty to participate in government by making our voices heard when the government does things we find morally unconscionable. This is how the original government was set up to function, and to abdicate that role is to ignore a founding principle of our nation.
6. All three branches of our government are co-equal in authority. The president is not above the courts, who are not above congress. This means that if the people owe any loyalty to the president, we owe it equally to the courts, who are currently challenging the legality of his policies -- not to mention congress, a body divided in ideology and action almost directly down the middle.
7. Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s. I will give Caesar what is his: my body, should I choose to break the law; my taxes, for the betterment of the country as a whole; and my diligent and watchful participation in government. My moral compass I reserve for God alone, grounded in my relationship with Him, guided by His Word as understood in its historical context, and informed by careful study of the issues at hand.
For Christians to imply that the godly response to these or any difficult times is to passively defer to authority is dangerous, and I thoroughly reject it. We must submit our consciences to the Spirit, not to our current governmental leaders. As Christian citizens of the United States, we have both a spiritual and a civic obligation to speak out when we feel the weight of our consciences against governmental actions.
This article is entirely the reasoned, considered opinion of a white middle class Christian woman without any special religious training, and should be taken as such.