Are Christians Obligated to Support the Government?

Are Christians Obligated to Support the Government?

It’s a common desire for Christians to want the Gospel without any politics involved. I understand that desire if it means a separation from any specific political party. But the Gospel is always political… just not in the ways you might think.

Last week reminded us how the Gospel inherently finds itself in a political stance. Jeff Sessions, the United States Attorney General, cited Romans 13 to enforce why it was justifiable for the government to remove children from their parents. In case you haven’t followed this event, the Associated Press recently reported that nearly 2000 kids have been separated from their families in six weeks time. This has been referred to as a zero-tolerance policy of discouraging illegal immigration. Many of these families are refugees seeking asylum and the stories emerging from this practice have been horrific. One state employee recently quit after receiving this instruction for a sibling group of three kids separated from their parents: “Tell them they can’t hug” (source). Even worse than that, one mother tells of how her child was forcibly taken from her while she was breastfeeding (source). When she resisted this, she herself was handcuffed. And then there was the man who committed suicide after being separated from his family (source).

As we might hope to happen, there has been quite a lot of backlash against this, near universally across the spectrum of Christianity. In defense of the United States government’s actions, Sessions said: “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” Basically, this argument implies that Christians have a mandate to follow and obey all laws from a government. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it this way, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.” What’s easy to miss is that targeting children is the strategy currently being used to get the desired results. John F. Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, referred to this policy of separating families as a “tough deterrent.” Jeff Sessions explained it bluntly, “If people don’t want to be separated from their children, they should not bring them with them.”

At first glance, it’s easy to see where Sessions gets this logic from. Chapter 13 of Romans begins like this: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Consider for a moment whether you would apply this to every government. You might be willing to apply this to the United States, but what about Christians living in North Korea? Or Christians living in Nazi Germany? Hopefully, you begin to see the problem with this surface-level reading. If the government has a green light from God for all of its behavior then it can do no wrong, no matter how wrong it is. Sessions’ argument isn’t the first of its kind. Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.”

For any who will study it closer, this popular argument wasn’t the point Paul was making in Romans 13. A simple history lesson begins to show why. Paul would later be executed by the governing authorities he wrote about. Why did they kill him? Because he didn’t follow or play by their rules. And if you want to know how to read Romans 13, you need to start with Paul’s arguments in chapter 12.

The author Derek Flood explains Romans 13 in this way:

“Romans 13:1–7 must be understood in the context of the volatile relationship that the Jews—as well as the early church—had under the oppressive rule of Rome. Remember that Paul himself was charged with crimes by the state, beaten multiple times, jailed, and eventually executed by Rome. So to see Paul as a cheerleader for the goodness of the Roman imperial state under Nero is to miss the volatile and hostile historical reality of Paul’s situation at the time. We thus see in Romans 12–13 a snapshot of Paul’s attempt to navigate the church in Rome through a volatile and dangerous relationship within a violent regime—modeling the way of enemy love, rather than the way of retaliation. Taking Romans 12 and 13 together, Paul’s counsel to the church in Rome is: Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world (Ro 12:2), but do not commit an act of open insurrection that will result in bringing down the crushing arm of the Roman state either. In other words, Paul is telling the church in Rome to resist via the means of overcoming evil with good, not through the means of retaliation and insurrection—a way he knows will lead to mass bloodshed.”

Let me be as clear as I can. I denounce our government’s policy of separating families and I cringe at being a part of a nation that thinks this is normal behavior. I understand the problem they are trying to solve, but targeting children to solve a problem with adults is a deplorable political strategy. If you want Biblical precedents for a state policy of oppressing children to solve a problem, remember Pharoah’s economic problem in Egypt or King Herod’s political problem in Israel. Moses emerged from the first example and Jesus emerged from the second. God was on the side of the oppressed and transformed everything as a result.

I can promise you that this policy of hurting children to solve a problem breaks the heart of Christ (who is far less concerned with our American standard of life than we are). It should break all of our hearts as well. These are the moments that later make it into history books that future generations will read about and wonder: where was the Church?

Let us remember the harsh words of Jesus on this topic in Matthew 25:41-45:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

It wasn’t a one-time event when Jesus had words like this to say. In fact, He seemed pretty passionate about caring for children. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

May we rise up as the Church and give a voice to the voiceless in the name of Jesus. Following the example of the Hebrew midwives who ignored Pharoah’s instructions or the Magi who deceived Herod, what if Christians today lived out a Christlike response for our moment? May we do for the least of these what we would want to be done for us. The Gospel demands it of us.

I would encourage you to pray about how you can get involved in living out the Gospel for those affected by this policy. This is a chance for Christians to live out what it means to be pro-life instead of only being anti-abortion. To give you a few ideas, you can volunteer personally, donate money to the organizations looking to fight this, or contact your local representatives. Find out who represents you (click here) and if you need a suggestion for what to say, here’s an idea for a script (link). Or click here to join a protest near you.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan. Husband to Michelle and father to Gavin, Madsen, Adelyn, Aiden, and Abel. Author of Redeeming Pleasure and Lead Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Portland.

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