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Political Authority from a Christian Perspective

Once upon a time in a far away land called Utopia lived King More. He was a rich king. His palace spanned an enormous area and was graced with plush carpets, polished marble, and glittering gold. Every night King More feasted on delicacies from all around the world brought to him by his ships. On the grounds of the palace were beautiful fountains in which the princes and princesses could swim in the summer and on which they could skate in the winter. From a tower in his palace King More could look across his estate and beyond the gates he could see the filthy, impoverished peasants of Dystopia. They were a miserable lot, he thought to himself, and he especially disliked them when they refused to pay their taxes. He had put more than one dissident’s head in its proper place: off!

It will be no surprise to learn that King More did not last very long. The peasants became disgruntled with the king’s policies, captured him, and sent him to the guillotine. If you visit Versailles today, you can easily imagine the chasm that existed between the opulent king and his impecunious subjects. I, too, probably would have been tempted to grab a pitchfork and storm the Bastille during the French Revolution. Yet what we want to do and what the Bible says we should do are rarely the same thing.

God has ordained order for our world, and it is not our prerogative to destroy it at will. The Bible does not condone insurrection, anarchy, or disrespect of the government. Jesus lived in a period of political upheaval, for the Jews wished to relieve themselves of the onerous burden of the Roman government; forty years later Jerusalem would be destroyed because of an unsuccessful Jewish revolution. Nevertheless, Jesus did not join the rebels but associated himself with the hated tax collectors (Matthew 9:10). When asked whether Jews should pay Roman taxes, Jesus answered, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Daniel, when he was taken as a captive to Babylon did not form a dissident group that tried to overthrow the king. Rather, he worked for the king and obeyed him in all manners except those that were contrary to the law of God.

Some have seen the Exodus of Israel from Egypt to be ground for justification of political upheaval. Although the Exodus was a significant event in the history of Israel, one that should not be ignored, a look at the event will show that Moses did not form a political party to resist the social injustices of the Israelite slavery. Instead, he came to Pharaoh with the request to worship God in the wilderness (Exodus 3:18).

Today few threats of revolution exist in developed countries, but still rebellion has managed to rear its ugly head in other forms. Yesterday I saw another deplorable bumper sticker of some citizen attempting to exonerate himself of political responsibility by proclaiming, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Bush!” Is a citizen no longer held to his civic responsibility simply because the candidate for whom he voted did not enter office anymore than a church member is no longer held to his religious responsibility because the elder candidate for whom he voted did not become an office bearer? Political cartoonists caricature leaders of the senate such as Newt Gingrich and denunciations of civic leaders, those whom God has put in authority, can be heard nearly every day. Phrases such as “Slick Willy” have permeated our vocabulary. Rush Limbaugh, the popular radio talk show host, has built his popularity largely on the criticism of President Clinton.

It is granted that the reputations of political figures are far from unsullied, and the saying that when we go to the polls we vote one crook out of office and another crook in often holds true.

Taxes seem to rise every year, and it appears as if the money settles into the pockets of the politicians who voted a raise for themselves; they seem to be no different from King More. Sex scandals and financial fiascoes, glaring from the front pages of the newspapers, have become a common occurrence and a shocking reality. Nevertheless, as Christians our response should not be one of rebellious criticism or unconcerned joking. The Bible commands that we respect the offices of authority and pray for those who hold them. Peter states in I Peter 2:17 that we must “honour the king.”

This does not mean, of course, that we should not view our leaders with a critical eye. We should take seriously our duty as citizens by contacting our representatives and letting them know what we believe. Nevertheless, to unleash only negative criticisms on them is not only detrimental to our country, but is contrary to the law of God. As Christian citizens, we need to respect those whom God has put in authority over us as well as actively participate in the political arena so that in the future our children may enjoy the religious freedoms that we now possess.