As elections approach here in the US, I have seen a number of people quoting Romans 13. Usually it is in criticism of some preacher or preachers endorsing this or that candidate. Sometimes this is in context of 501c3 regulations, and other times the First Amendment is invoked. But is this proper? What is the historical precedent? Does the First Amendment even apply? Most of all, do we perhaps err in taking Romans 13 out of its political and historical context?
Let us look at the last question first. My feeling is that it is perhaps the most important, and the most difficult. Just what was the political context in which Paul wrote his letter to the Romans? After they lived in the capital, and Rome was a republic just like us right? Well, the operative word there is “was”; Rome had been a republic once, but began to move toward an autocracy with the ascension of Julius Caesar around 44BC. Most historians seem to recognize it as the Roman Empire after about 27BC. So then this is the context of Paul’s letter, the populace is living under the iron rule of an dictatorial government. No doubt there were more than a few who chafed under this rule, particularly since the days of the republic were close enough in the past that the stories were still fresh and strong. So then we see Paul writing to the Romans and telling them to be subject to the autocratic rule over them:
“Let every person be loyally subject to the governing (civil) authorities. For there is no authority except from God [by His permission, His sanction], and those that exist do so by God’s appointment.” (Romans 13:1 Amp)
But is that the case here in the US? Some may argue yes, that no person could get elected unless God chose them. That might be a valid argument, but does it fit with the intent of our founders in their designing of the government? Well to answer that fully would take more time and space than any of us have, so let us just take a look at the preamble to the Constitution:
“We the People of the United States….”
That’s right, we the people, from the start it was the intent that the people were to rule. The states were to be subservient to the people, and the federal government to all except in certain very specific instances as outlined in the constitution. The founder’s intent was that the federal government would be strong enough to carry out its obligations to the people, yet remain secondary. Government service was considered just that, service. Those who held office or worked in government considered themselves civil servants in the truest sense.
So then can we validly apply Romans 13 to ourselves today? I would suggest that we can not, for in a democratic republic such as we have, the ultimate authority rests with the people.
Well how about the rest? Well in the case of 501c3 rules, this was not the intent. Nor was it the norm prior to the passage of the Johnson Amendment in the mid 50’s, (an excellent example of unintended consequences by the way.) From the beginning of this nation political activism had its roots in the churches. Many a sermon was preached regarding “self evident truths” and “unalienable rights” and our obligation to defend them, as well as the evils of slavery, discrimination and any other issue you may think of. Politicians sought and received endorsement as well. Did some overstep the bounds? Was this abused? Certainly, but as with any other right, that in no way invalidates the practice.
But what about the First Amendment you ask? Let’s take a look at that:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”
Do you see anything there restricting churches from expressing their viewpoint or becoming politically involved? No I didn’t think so, nor do I. What about the wall of separation? Well that’s not in the Constitution, but was taken out of context from a letter written by Jefferson in reply to concerns by the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association that congress intended to set up a state religion such as was commonly found in Europe. Jefferson’s intent was to reassure them that the Constitution provided protection against that very specific thing.
I think you can guess my conclusion. For too long the church has bought into the lie that we had no place in politics. Perhaps Quite likely this is responsible for the mess we are in today. I could cite dozens of quotes from our Founding Fathers supporting this, but one from John Adams comes immediately to mind:
(statesmen) “may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”
So then let’s no longer be content to stand by. Rather let us step into the political venue proclaiming what is right and true in love, declaring the Word of God with boldness, and standing for righteousness in all we say and do. The Word does not say if the country, or the majority turns from its wicked ways, it says when My people who are called by My name, it’s time we do just that.
If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)