DISCLAIMER: We do not do ‘politics’ at this site. Hopefully, you’ll see why by the end of this post.
1 Peter 2:13–17 (ESV)
Submission to Authority
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, . 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
As the November elections approach here in America, we once again are going through multiple campaigns – Presidential, Congressional and on down to our local governments. In this post, we hope to examine these issues biblically and make comment on how the Christian is to look at and participate in the process. In doing so, we will most likely raise the ire of some. Oh, well.
The Scriptures give us direction on how the Christian is to live his or her life – many explicit instructions, some implicit, some by, to quote the Westminster Confession of Faith, “good and necessary inference.” These not only apply to life within the context of the church, but also to life outside the church. The Bible is clear that the Christian is not to separate his life as a ‘Christian’ from his life as a ‘citizen.’
It can be easy to forget that Jesus and the Apostles were citizens in a society. Yes, that society was much different from American society but it was a society nonetheless. What kind of society was theirs? A democracy? A democratic republic? Not quite. Remembering what type of society in which Jesus and the Apostles lived is vital to understanding the above Scripture passage and others such as:
Matthew 22:15–22 (ESV)
Paying Taxes to Caesar
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Romans 13:1–7 (ESV)
Submission to the Authorities
13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Titus 3:1–2 (ESV)
Be Ready for Every Good Work
3 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
Let us address an objection that some will bring forth right now – someone will cite quotes such as Peter in Acts chapter five where he says, “We must obey God rather than men.” What is the context there? It is the Jewish religious establishment’s desire to close the mouths of the Apostles as the proclaim the message of the gospel, which is quite different, on another level, than what we will be discussing here.
Our focus here is primarily this – what are the responsibilities of the Christian as a citizen in this country as he or she exercises his civic responsibilities? Within this realm, my focus will be rather narrow – how do we do this with regard to those candidates with whom we may disagree?
One need not look very far, especially in this time of explosive growth in social media, where everyone with a phone or some device with access to a cellular network or an Internet connection can voice one’s opinions to a worldwide audience – and do so, if one wishes, anonymously. Many Christians do not agree with the politics of President Obama. Many have shown their displeasure through the creation of cartoons and other graphics that get posted on Facebook and spread like wildfire. Many of these are, to be kind, rather harsh. To be more blunt, they are in many cases insulting, mocking, sarcastic, racist (yes, I said it – racist), demeaning, slanderous, mean, cruel, degrading and so on. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I will be not be voting for Mr. Obama. Repeat: I will not be voting for Mr. Obama. I have yet to make up my mind for whom my vote will be cast, but there is a very good chance it will not be for Mr. Romney, either.)
Let’s back up a minute and look at the context in which the Scripture passages cited above were written. Jesus, Paul, Peter and the Apostles were citizens in a society which was definitely not a democratic one. They did not have political campaigns in their time in which one cast their vote for the next Emperor. They lived under Roman rule and it is not exactly rocket science to know that the people of the New Testament times were not thrilled with being subject to Rome. What was one of their expectations of the Messiah? That he would deal with Rome in a political and military manner, freeing the Jewish people to govern themselves.
This is what makes Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22 so astonishing. What is one of the points Jesus makes there? Be a good citizen. The currency has Caesar’s image on it, the currency was created in Rome and therefore it requires, according to Jesus, Roman citizens to pay their taxes and “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Here, does Jesus make any statements about the injustice of Roman taxation? Does He make snide comments about the character of Caesar? No. He makes a very straightforward statement about the duty of the Christian to be a good citizen – even whilst living under the auspices of a dictatorship. To ‘render’ here means to “give back” – “give back” to Caesar what was already Caesar’s. But God owns everything – the money wasn’t Caesar’s, was it?
Well, yes it was, because who placed Caesar in authority at that time in that place? God did. Romans 13, above: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” What “authority” is excluded here? Evil, cruel ones? No – every authority is instituted by God. Let us not pretend for a moment that the Roman Empire was not wicked – it was. Where is the “wiggle room” here, however, for the Christian to defy the civic authorities on matters such as what Jesus addressed in Matthew 22? It does not exist. Plus, we do not see Jesus denigrating Caesar in His words – and He never gives His Apostles or any of His people license to do that, either.
Paul wrote what he wrote to the church at Rome in the late 50′s, having lived through the reign of Emperors such as Caligula. Peter wrote 1 Peter during the reign of Nero and it is likely Paul wrote Titus during that same period. We in our Western society cannot imagine the wickedness of men such as Caligula and Nero. The indiscretions of men such as Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton pale in comparison to the actions of the Caligulas and Neros. Yet, it is in this light that Peter and Paul wrote what they wrote. In addition, where in their writings do they say nasty things about the Emperor? Where do they defame him? Mock him? Question his character? If anyone had reason to question the character of leadership, it would have been men such as Paul and Peter, given the brazen wickedness of a Caligula and a Nero. Did they write biting satire and sarcastic comments concerning these Emperors? No. Nor do they ever give the Christian license to do so either. Peter says, “Honor the emperor.” Right after saying what? ”Fear God.” Right after saying what? ”love the brotherhood.” Right after saying what? ”Honor everyone.” Even Caligula? Yes, even Caligula. Even Nero. Even Mr. Obama.
Jesus had an account concerning the civil authorities that bears mention. In Luke 13, a civic injustice has occurred. Pilate has had some Jewish worshipers killed – mixing their blood with the sacrifices (13:1). People who are in Jesus’ audience bring this issue to the forefront. What better time would this have been than for Jesus to denounce Pilate? To attack the inhumane treatment of the people by Rome? To call out Pilate personally for his character flaws? To issue some biting indictment of the people who did this deed? Jesus did….what, though? Jesus does not even mention Pilate or the Roman government. He says not a word to or about the civil authorities, but instead directs His comments toward the ones bringing the charge against Rome.
What are we to learn from Luke 13 with regard to citizenship? One lesson is that even in the midst of injustice – be it real or perceived – we must be careful with out mouths toward the civil authority. Why? because we are to honor everyone – even the emperor.
All of this has been a rather verbose introduction to our main point: how are we to handle ourselves in the midst of exercising proper citizenship, in the middle of a very emotional Presidential campaign, with a sitting President who holds opinions that many Christians passionately oppose? Are we permitted to be sarcastic toward Mr. Obama? Are we permitted to disseminate deceptive statements concerning him? Are we permitted to mock him, his character, his motives – even his professing of Christianity? (If you have never read Cathleen Falsani’s 2008 interview with Mr. Obama, it is a fascinating read. It doesn’t give a definitive picture of Mr. Obama’s beliefs, but it is quite compelling and if his beliefs haven’t changed, one thing does come out of the interview: he’s not a Muslim, by Islamic standards. Given what he says taken at face value, one will have to make up one’s own mind about his belief.)
Do I disagree with many of Mr. Obama’s policies? Yes, sir, I do. I disagree greatly with him on some. My disagreement does not give me permission – as a Christian – to dishonor our sitting President. Not for a moment. Not for a moment. We must also admit there are some Christians who would side with Mr. Obama who have said some rather nasty things about Mr. Romney as well. We should be as charitable to Mr Romney as we should be to Mr. Obama, should we not – regardless of which side of the political fence upon which one sits?
It’s funny what happens when one attempts to bring up this issue in online forums – be they Facebook or anywhere else. I understand many are passionately against Mr. Obama and his policies – but merely defending his honor as our President can result in vile comments, even to the point of questioning one’s Christianity. is that the biblical response? Telling people to honor the emperor (our President)? Requesting honor for our President – as the Bible commands us to – is not an option. Who else are we to honor per the Bible? Our father and mother, to give one example. Where are we granted permission to say things about our parents in the same vein as get unleashed upon Mr. Obama? Nowhere – NOWHERE.
We have a wonderful privilege and blessing living in the United States of America (which if one thinks about it, takes on an oxymoronic status for too often). Peter and Paul never had the opportunity to vote for their civil authority. We do. Their charge to their readers – breathed-out by God, remember – still applies today to us even though we don’t live under the rule of the Roman Empire. Honor the emperor. Speak evil of no one. Give respect to whom respect is owed and honor to whom honor is owed. By dint of his office, our President is the object of those four prior statements. We are to do the will of God and in doing so “that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
What do we hear over and over – especially by those within the body of Christ? They are tired of the negative campaigning and all the slanderous, defamatory statements made in the course of such. How can we, then – as Christians submitting to the Word of God – be a party to such campaigning by endorsing (explicitly or implicitly) such statements made about Mr. Obama? Some will object by saying that Mr. Obama’s campaign says those things about Mr. Romney. It doesn’t matter – that’s not the point. We are not to repay evil for evil (Rom. 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9), are we? How does Peter follow up that statement? ”But on the contrary, bless” – bless being an active verb. Let’s be a blessing to people – to our fellow Christians and to non-Christians – in these tense political times.
P.S. Let’s not turn this post into a referendum on one’s orthodoxy based upon which candidate one supports. This post is about Christian citizenship, not partisanship.