Over the next several days as Americans cast their votes for the next President of the United States, the majority of Christians will be voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
For many, the crucial issues are abortion and religious liberty. Others are driven by compassion for the poor and for minorities. They vote based on which candidate or party they believe will best implement Christian principles into government practice.
They do not stop to question the institution of government itself. They take the process and the status quo for granted, forgetting their history and their calling. Each selectively highlights those biblical teachings they feel are most significant and most supportive of the candidate they’ve already chosen. “Which government will best rule over us and use coercion to make manifest the Kingdom of Heaven?” they might ask themselves, if there was ever any chance that their minds hadn’t already been made up long ago.
These Christians are always quite familiar with Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” However, as Dr. Norman Horn of the Libertarian Christian Institute writes, “you absolutely cannot discern the whole of what the Bible says about the state by Romans 13. It sounds good, but it won’t work.”
To attempt to interpret Romans 13 divorced from its context within the entirety of biblical theology leads to gross misapplications. In order for us to be able to accurately decipher Paul’s meaning when he tells Christians to submit to the ruling authorities, Dr. Horn contends that we must first consider the bigger picture – we must take into account “what the Bible has to say about the State, its nature, its origin, its destiny, and its relation to God.”
We find the biblical texts discussing the origins and nature of the State at Genesis 11 (the Tower of Babel) and 1 Samuel 8. Before we start telling our fellow Christians that God appointed the government and its officials (and that it and they must therefore be good), we ought to remember how Israel wound up with a king in the first place:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that days you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.“
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.” (1 Sam 8:4-22, emphasis mine)
From this passage we see that God did appoint a king to rule over Israel, and the Israelites were expected to obey this king. But did that mean God wanted his people to reject him and choose an earthly king to take his place? Does God’s acquiescence mean that their choice and their subsequent rulers and fate were necessarily good?
As Dr. Horn explains of Romans 13,
Verse 1 says that state authorities are instituted by God. Paul’s primary message for Christians, however, is not that states are specially instituted in the same way as the family and church, but rather that the state is not operating outside of the plans of God. In this sense, the state is divinely instituted in the same way that Satan is divinely instituted. God is not surprised when states act the way they do. As noted specifically in the Gospels, the state is understood throughout Scripture as being intimately tied to Satan and his kingdom, and patently opposed to the Kingdom of God. The state’s status within God’s ultimate plan does not legitimize the evil the state commits.
If we consider, then, that we were never meant to be lorded over by earthly authorities and that these authorities, i.e. the State, are ultimately destined for destruction, and if we also consider that as Christians our true citizenship is now in the heavenly Kingdom, our understanding of Romans 13 must be qualified. It cannot mean that Christians must always do as the State tells them. It also certainly doesn’t mean that the State has been instituted to carry out God’s will in the sense that it is meant to directly further the advancement of the heavenly kingdom.
Because we are in the unique position of having a say in the type of government to which we are subject, instead of looking to our government to create laws that advance God’s kingdom, we should seek to cast our votes for the form of government that is least overbearing and allows us the greatest freedom to live as subjects of Jesus Christ. By voting against the State – by casting “a vote of no confidence,” if I may – we are voting for a society in which we may more freely carry out the work of making disciples. By casting our votes for a return to a form of government whose purpose is simply to safeguard our natural and inalienable rights, we are voting for a society in which we may more freely live as Christian anarchists, subject to no one but God alone.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Christian anarchy, Bonnie Kristian writes:
It’s a declaration that the real authority in our lives — and our real source of peace, security, and wholeness — is not any nation, including the nice, democratic ones. (The earliest Christians, beset by demands of allegiance to the Roman Empire, would have just called this “Christianity.”) It’s a commitment to remember that the “hope of the world doesn’t lie in someone finally coming up with the ‘right’ form of government,” explains theologian Greg Boyd, a leading Christian anarchist. Rather, the “hope of the world lies exclusively in Jesus Christ and the willingness of his people to partner with him in bringing about God’s will ‘on Earth as it is in heaven’ by imitating him.”
I know that many Christian anarchists and libertarians would disagree with me when I say that we should cast our votes not for a particular candidate but rather for a platform of less government. They’d argue that I’m still playing the game and that casting my vote for any form of human government is still making the mistake of Israel when she demanded for herself a king. To cast my vote for anyone but Jesus Christ, they’d say, is to continue to place my faith in human institutions and relinquish my citizenship in the heavenly kingdom.
I would argue, though, that while you will find no perfect candidate on the ballot, there are nevertheless some whose platform embodies a reduction in the scope of government such that it would allow Christian anarchy to flourish more freely (although we have never needed the State’s permission to live in this way, as we would no longer really be anarchists at that point). We don’t need a Christian or a theist, or a pretend Christian, or even someone who agrees with us on all moral issues to fill the role of the president. What we “need” is someone who understands the office of the president as defined by the Constitution according to the intent of the founders. I believe that we can in good conscience vote for the man or woman who understands the office in this way, as limited authority and not as a kingship.
We can then cast our vote of no confidence against the State by voting Libertarian (or even not voting at all) because we recognize, as Kristian writes, that “no politician can be our Satan or our savior. No political party can mend our society. No electoral outcome offers true hope or greatness — not in the way Christians understand them, anyway. No president can solve our problems or make us more moral or eliminate structural evils. No candidate can herald the eschaton.” No, not even Hillary.
Perhaps the best reason for voting Libertarian, however, is not so that we may more freely live as Christian anarchists, but so that we may demonstrate to our fellow Americans that our faith is not in human institutions, but in God alone. By voting Libertarian, rather than aligning with either the Democrats or Republicans, we reveal that our kingdom is characterized by love and free will, not by violence or coercion. We would demonstrate that we do not wish to control anyone’s behavior according to our own set of principles, but that we respect an individual’s natural rights over their own person. We would uphold the principle of freedom of association as we invite people to freely enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and enjoy fellowship with his church, but not take it personally when we (and our God and our moral standards) are rejected. By insisting that the State remove itself from issues it has no right to oversee, we proclaim that there is a different law to which even our own government must submit.
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