Thoughts from the Pastor

The Romans 13 Question

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

     As much as we might prefer our faith and politics to remain separate there are times in which the two become inextricably linked. The use of Romans 13:1 recently as justification for the practice of separating families crossing the United States border is the latest example of politicians appealing to faith to defend policy or governmental actions.

     Romans 13 has a long and difficult interpretative history; it was referenced during the Revolutionary War by those loyal to England and King George III as an argument against revolution. Ironically, it was also referenced by those seeking revolution claiming that God never intended humanity to obey tyrannical rulers and that the new government they were seeking to form was being ordained by God. Romans 13 was also used to justify slavery and the rights of the southern states to forcibly return slaves who had escaped to northern states.

     The question of Romans 13 is even more difficult when we consider that these words written by Paul come from someone who clearly was in constant legal trouble with the governing authorities. The Roman authorities feared revolution and uprising and viewed Paul and the Christian movement as potential trouble. This led Paul to be imprisoned several times and eventually he was executed by the Romans giving us a clue that Paul clearly did not intend for us to follow the governing authorities above all else.

    Paul’s message to the church in Rome, sitting in the very heart of governmental power, was to be good citizens as much as you are able. Pay taxes, obey the laws of the land as much as you are able, don’t be a disturbance for the sake of being a disturbance. And yet, Paul also advised against offering sacrifices to the emperor and called the churches to give their highest loyalty to God.

     The irony of Romans 13: 1-7 which has so often been quoted by those in power is that shortly after this passage, in verses 9 and 10, we are given the following reminder: all the commands “are summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Yes, we are to strive to be good citizens in the words of Paul and yet our higher calling is always to follow the ways of God. When our citizenship in the world and our citizenship in the heavenly kingdom are at odds we are called to advocate for our higher calling like Paul.

     Our highest calling is to obey the law of love, which supersedes both religious and civil laws. The separation of over two thousand young children from their families as they flee extreme violence and poverty does not obey the law of love and therefore those who use faith in an attempt to justify such actions must be challenged. We cannot let the world define our faith but instead our faith must define how we view our world.

     Navigating our responsibility to government and God will always be a messy and difficult process. Our desire for safety, order, justice, and fairness in our governmental structures are indeed reasonable and good desires. Still, our commitment to Christ requires us to value love, compassion, and grace above these. A high and difficult calling indeed; blessings to us all as we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ.               ~ Pastor Nathan