“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.” Romans 13:1-2 NIV
I would guess this particular passage is probably invoked a lot, and misinterpreted a lot. I find it somewhat remarkable that it appears in the writings of the apostle Paul, and in a book addressed to the Christians who lived closest to the feared and despised Caesar Nero. There is no doubt this is definitely one of those tough sayings which require much thought and careful analysis. Those Paul was addressing undoubtably thought immediately of Nero, and the succession of Roman Caesars who, around this particular time, had taken to making the lives of Christians sheer misery. Seeing this passage once caused me to mention the name of Hitler, who was probably not a whole lot worse than the Caesars in terms of his contempt for humanity and of the evil in which he seemed to delight.
An explanation, one which didn’t satisfy me at the time, but which I now can certainly give some due consideration, is that this is an example of the sovereign will of God, something that he does for his own reasons. He does not have to be accountable for his reasoning to humans (For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? I Corinthians 2:16a). Paul does, however, offer some reasoning for this particular position. One is to be free from the fear of the one in authority. Rulers, he says, hold no terror for those who do right. Another reason, and perhaps the one that helps most with the understanding of this principle when it seems the authority has gone awry, as it had in the days of Nero, or of Hitler, is the need for this to be a matter of conscience. Respecting the authority of the civil government is not equated to agreeing with it in principle. It is a matter of a testimony of faith. It is the principle on which the martyrdom of literally thousands of Christians throughout history rests. There may have been no more powerful voice in all of history down through the ages with regard to preaching the gospel than the one shouted out by the saints who gave up their lives for what they believed without resisting the authority of the civil government, in fact, in being executed by it unjustly. What a powerful confirmation of the truth!
Though a municipal government is far from being compared to the powerful Roman Empire, or even the federal government, the fact of the matter is that the scripture’s teachings still apply to its authority. Again, the idea is that respecting the authority of the civil government is not the same thing as agreeing with it in principle or by conviction. For that reason, I question the effectiveness of the boycott of Houston advocated by the Amarillo pastor as a result of the recent election of Annise Parker as Mayor, and the anticipated opening of the new Planned Parenthood center. This will simply result in something which makes all Christians look bad without having any effect on either the business community in Houston, or the results of future elections. And I wonder who, among the field of candidates running for mayor this time around, would have been the “chosen one” for Christians to support. Sinless perfection wasn’t a characteristic exhibited by or claimed by anyone running for mayor of Houston this time around. I guess I should be grateful that I live in the suburbs… ;-)
The presence of the new Planned Parenthood center on Houston’s southeast side is not something for which the citizens of Houston alone should bear political or social responsibility. For years, Texas has been governed by conservative politicians who have given lip service, and not much else, to the pro-life advocates who, time and time again have elected them without demanding any accountability from them with regard to living up to their campaign promises. Many of those same conservative politicians sit on the boards of directors, hold stock, and earn profits from businesses which were major contributors to the renovation of the old Sterling Bank building, enabling Planned Parenthood to turn it into a headquarters facility and abortion clinic. As long as protecting the ability to turn a buck is the highest priority of Texas politicians, social issues important to Christians, such as this one, will take a back seat. Planned Parenthood’s renovation of the old bank put money in the pockets of contractors, material distributors, transportation companies, banks, and health insurance companies. Houston isn’t the only city in the state where Planned Parenthood operates, and questions about its apparently free hand to operate in Texas should be addressed to the Republican dominated, conservative state legislature, the present governor and his predecessor. Planned Parenthood would have found existing in Texas to be difficult, much less constructing a multi-million dollar facility on the Gulf Freeway, if the politicians had been held accountable.
I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the mayoral race in Houston last year, mainly because I wasn’t voting in it because I don’t live in the city limits. I can’t really speak to the issues that were involved or the voting patterns, or even the political affiliation of the candidates. Technically, a city election is non-partisan, though most people seem to know which candidates are Republicans and which are Democrats. Most of the conservative Christians support those known to be Republicans, out of habit or out of the belief that there is a connection between the two, though I could point to a number of examples where that is simply not the case. The only identified Republican in the mayor’s race was beaten to the ground in the primary election, which may explain why the Christians, which the Amarillo pastor seems to think exist in relatively large numbers in the city of Houston, didn’t turn out to vote. Then again I am not sure that’s the case.
But I am sure there is no Biblical teaching regarding God’s judgement being held over the Christians who live in a particular city because of who was elected mayor. The Bible teaches that every human being is subject to God’s judgement for their own sin, and the penalty for it is death, from which there is no escape. That is neither enhanced or diminished by the righteousness, or lack thereof, of the elected politicians in government. The power of forgiveness, and the mercy and grace which brings restoration and freedom from the judgement and penalty of sin comes from the cross, not the ballot box, and it isn’t distributed collectively as a reward for voting the right way, but individually when someone repents and accepts it through the atonement.
The scripture clearly instructs Christians to treat those who hold office with the respect and dignity that the authority which comes with the office they hold demands. That’s what God expects of us, and in so doing, we set the kind of example that he desires us to show. That does not mean we approve of the politician’s lifestyle, or that we must agree with any position they hold. It simply means that our behavior toward them must reflect the inward transformation that we have experienced through our faith in Christ, and from the saving grace that we were given when we were a sinner lost and on the road to eternal death.
Look closely at the Boycott Houston website. See the logo you can click to “donate”? Wanna bet that’s at least one of the major driving forces behind the website?