WARNING: Uneven Chocolate Break detected. Please dispose of chocolate as quickly as possible in the nearest approved Chocolate Disposal Receptacle.
Today’s Passage: Romans 13
Here’s another of Paul’s passages that is a hard pill to swallow, especially for us Americans. The ideas of submission to authority expressed in this passage form an important part of the Medieval world-view, and as proponents of democracy, many of us would rather leave it behind. Shouldn’t the authorities answer to the people, instead of the other way around?
I’m not here to try and convince you of Paul’s ideas. But I don’t think he’s arguing for the infallibility of government or saying, “God instituted our leaders so they must be good!” Nor do I believe he’s setting up submission as a rule with no exceptions. He predicates his argument on rulers being “not a cause of fear good behavior, but for evil” (v.3). We shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think that we know right from wrong perfectly, and the government is wrong wherever it disagrees with us, but when the authorities are punishing good behavior and rewarding bad, we shouldn’t be deterred from doing what is right.
Paul, a Jew, is certainly familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, and he wouldn’t for a second advocate that we worship anything or anyone other than God, even if some king or general or president tells us to. But in the case of civil disobedience, like Martin Luther King, Jr., we should still follow the principle of submission: rather than rising up violently, French-Revolution-style, against those in power, we should be willing to suffer the consequences for breaking an unjust law. I think the idea is that our example of confidence tempered by respect and humility will provoke the consciences of our oppressors, where violence would betray the very principles on which our civil disobedience was founded. It’s also worth noting that Paul appears to be on the same page as Peter in this matter.
Like I said, this ain’t easy, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with it. But if you’re going to disagree with Paul, it’s important to actually disagree with him, and not a strawman caricature of his views in which we’re expected to bow down to every oppressive ordinance and injustice. There’s a time and a place for standing up and saying “no.” There’s room for considered civil disobedience here. And let’s recall that Paul practiced what he preached.
Today’s chocolate, as usual, is Panama extra dark chocolate from Equal Exchange. We had an uneven break on the bar, but fortunately we were able to contain it before any further damage was done.