Obedience Revisited

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When disputes with political authority arise, the typical response among Christians is an appeal to Romans 13 and a claim that this requires total obedience to the government. This is, shall we say, theologically dubious. Shallow reading ignores Romans 12 and the rest of the Biblical narrative of history.

Consider the tale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3. King Nebuchadnezzer is said to have built a golden statue of himself, and demanded all his officials bow down in worshipful reverence to demonstrate their loyalty. The trio of faithful Israelites refused to worship the king or his gods, regardless of the consequences. In the story, they are cast into a roaring furnace to burn, but are spared from death by an angelic figure amidst the flames.

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From an early 15th century illuminated manuscript. Image credit

This incident is widely considered more of a legend or parable than what we now consider proper history, but after the time of Christ, the early Christians faced similar trials in a much better attested time. The Decian Persecution was a consequence of Christians refusing to render unto Caesar what Caesar thought he was owed, in this case a sacrifice of incense burned to the Roman gods and the emperor Decius. Many saw this as idolatry, and refused to obey. Some fled. Some were executed. Some died in prison. Many others went through the motions and sought absolution after, or refused to consider the meaning of such obedience at all.

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Tragan Decius. Image credit

We may no longer have rulers who claim to be living gods, but they demand worshipful obedience nonetheless. Those who do not properly revere the flags and anthems are condemned as unpatriotic, ungrateful, or even a threat to society. There is a constant refrain of, "even if you don't respect the officeholder, you have to respect the office!" We are expected to reflexively thank the troops and cops for their service, regardless of what their "service" actually involves, or how much harm they inflict upon innocents.

Clearly we cannot claim there is any moral or religious obligation to obey men. Remember, even in the case of the Pharisees seeking to entrap Jesus, they made the error of carrying the graven image of a gentile god, the deified emperor. And what is Caesar's? Caesar is just a man. Modern monarchs, prime ministers, and presidents are no different despite the trappings of constitutions, democracy, and republics. They demand worship and obedience merely because they claim fancy titles. Their actions do not serve justice. They commit crimes and protect the guilty, they prey upon those they claim to serve, and they defile the very honor they would claim. Obedience to such depraved people cannot be virtue. It may sometimes be necessary to avoid coming to harm, but what demands will they make before you need to take a stand and refuse tononey? When men and God are at odds, whose side do you take?

As I write this post, a man named Donald Trump claims the authority to murder strangers on the other side of the planet. He claims the right to bar people from peaceful travel into this region. He demands that we surrender property we own to his officials under penalty of prosecution for felonies. This is not the action of a "minister of God to thee for good." Evil men have little power without the obedience of others. When obedience to evil men necessarily means supporting evil in disobedience to God, who do you truly serve?

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Preach it, brother, Preach It!

Thank you for such clear, thoughtful discourse. Re-steemed!

😄😇😉

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The ethics of Christian doctrine is always a juggle. On positions such as these, at the end of the day people believe what they want to, and back up their position with whichever text falls in their favor. Supermarket Christianity.

The bible wouldn't exist if it didn't serve the purposes of the ruling class.
Same for the churches.

Sure it may live on in hiding, but as with The Conquest of Bread it would be treated very differently.

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The State always seeks to subvert that which it cannot control. It has crept into the church to place itself in place of God. Echoes of Babylon? Nothing has changed.

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Nothing new under the sun.