Monday, November 02, 2009

Romans 13 in American Discourse

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 judgement.

Although I heard this passage quoted almost continually during the Bush era, I've not heard it lately.  In fact, I have noticed a certain pattern regarding Romans 13 and public discourse over the last 30 years:

Conclusion: Sometimes, Romans 13 is relevant to American politics and sometimes it isn't. Once we find the right correlation, we can predict when it will be relevant again.


Spicy Rack said...

Paul didn't know what he was saying...wasn't there a Whig or something in office then?

ConDigest said...


It's kinda like "protest is the highest form of patriotism" repeated often and loud by liberals during Bush but not so much under Obama.

lls said...

If read with Romans 12, does that remove its relevance entirely?

PG said...

I think it is time to retire the pigeonholes ConDigest invokes, i.e. liberals and conservatives. Instead, it might be well to divide positions as "SOCIAL JUSTICE TYPES" and "LOVERS OF MAMMON." Social justice people continue to protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to promote equality for gay people, for example. There is no diminishing of protest. On the other hand, the Lovers of Mammon, who remained silent during the war's beginnings, have become Tea Party protesters, ever diligent in protecting their property from the likes of greedy immigrants and welfare mothers. Protest is only validated when their money is involved (even though the wars weren't by any means cheap, but never mind).

My new favorite quote still uses the label "conservative," but I can't resist it.

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." --John Kenneth Galbraith, economist (1908-2006)

Robert Sievers said...


I agree that God often times puts evil and wicked leaders into place in order to punish nations.

Dan S said...

Interesting theory Bob (and not supported by Romans 13). I disagree with it, but I guess by that measure, Bill Clinton was a great president, and W was evil and wicked, since the 90s were so prosperous, and that 00s were such a disaster.

ConDigest, I think people stop saying "protest is the highest form of patriotism" when other people stop calling them traitors.

Mainly, I find it amusing how certain passages are God's Word only when the political landscape is convenient for it to be God's Word.

lls, my belief is that the irrelancy of Romans 13 stands all by itself. But I do like Romans 12 a lot.

Fingtree said...

See how discordant the Bible can be, or is that ole lucky 13 number?
I doubt that it could be the credulous nature of man that deduces in accordance to his or her desire of choice.

Robert Sievers said...

25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful; to those with integrity you show integrity.
26 To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the wicked you show yourself hostile.

Dan S said...

Excellent. My hostilility towards those blocking health care reform (i.e., the wicked), is now fully Biblically-based. Thanks, Bob.

Robert Sievers said...


You can twist the Bible around any way you want to justify your own actions. People have been doing that for thousands of years, and it is those people Jesus is most infuriated with.

Jesus didn't come to pass laws and reform the Roman government. He came to save that which was lost.

PG said...

I hate Bible cherry picking. Isn't Jesus sometimes referred to as a healer or the Great Physician? He healed people, I know. Anyway, I love the verse regardless. Thanks, Robert. Now my "bad cop" hostility seems Biblically justified.

If you want a good rundown of the history of Republican Christians in the last 20 years, including James Dobson, Tom Delay, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, and on and on, check out Republican Gomorrah. It is aptly titled. I can't put it down.

Dan S said...

Jesus also did not come to earth to stand in the way of the Roman government providing health care to its citizens. He most certainly would not have called Roman politicians who tried to do this "wicked." Although, I suspect he would have used that word for religious people who tried to prevent it from happening.

Robert Sievers said...


I have the greatest respect for doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and everyone in the health care field. The service they provide is indeed a mercy to all of us.

Dan, it's clear that you actually believe the democrats want to "help" people with economically distributed healthcare. So, I stand ready to be convinced. Show me from Scripture where Jesus speaks well of tax collectors.

PG said...

Wish I had access to some of those health care providers. It would be more economically advantageous for me to die -- because my loan insurance provides for my family if I croak -- than to get emergency health care, which would mean I'd lose everything and plunge my family into terminal debt. I'm prepared to die. It's my only option right now. Naturally, simple preventative measures for health are all up to me anyway. One practically has to become a doctor to stay healthy. If health care reform passes, it will still take too long for it to have any impact on me. I'm just holding on until I get Medicare a few years down the road. It's ridiculous. America has terrible health care for its citizens. Awful. I can't think of anything more unchristian. Even humanist and socialist countries provide better for their people. This so-called Christian nation is anything but. It's only about the bucks.

Gordon said...

Robert, I know it was semi-tongue in cheek, but I must respond as if it were not, because I could agree more! :)

I don't believe the Roman government was, to quote Abe Lincoln, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people..."

Furthermore, Google tells me that being a Roman tax collector was a far different thing then, and they were allowed to collect extra and keep a fraction, enabling some to become wealthy. I have to believe it was that which Jesus was commenting on, and not the part of that which is Caesars.

Lastly, where does scripture speak ill of tax?

Robert Sievers said...


Keeping our semi tounge and cheek discussion going. Do you mean to suggest that our current lawmakers are NOT taking a fraction in order to pad their own wealth?

PG said...

Well, clearly the politicians are padding their own nests, particularly the Republican Christian lobbyists. And didn't Bush himself say he was leaving office in order to "fill up the old coffers." Not exactly Peace Prize sentiments. And Palin, too, is cashing in on her fame.

But what about health care for the needy or for those who, like me, have been denied health insurance? Why keep turning the subject to taxes, Robert? Isn't the Bible clear on this, that riches are not to be the focus of our lives? What's your plan for helping those in need?

Dan S said...

For the record, I am against any plan where tax collectors will be doing surgery.

And, Bob, the evidence is already in: Canada and various European countries have health care administered by government agencies. It is cheaper and more accessible than our system, precisely because profit is not the overriding goal. The main thing preventing us from providing health to all is the irrational fear that government is always evil and the market is always good.

Anonymous said...

(re: Robert and Gordon thread)

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s..."

But then, the tax man (i.e. federal officials) taking too much off the top is egregious - as in politicians taking advantage of a healthcare public option while railing against and denying it for the rest of the public.

xan said...

"Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s..."

Last time I checked Caesar didn't have to get elected and didn't have town hall meetings. Our representative gov't doesn't equate with Caesar. Sometimes the religious ramblings of Hellenized Jews from 2000 years ago don't apply to modern democratic politics. In fact, they never do.

Gordon said...


True enough about the pocket-padding politicians. We had an interesting discussion in ss. We run into a catch-22 when we flip congressmen, yet still want them to think long term. Often the senators most willing to compromise and work toward a long-term goal are those there the longest, with the biggest war chests, since they are most confident in their re-election.

Just pondering, maybe we should limit terms but make them several years longer.

Yes, egregious taxation would be a problem. Egregious salaries and bonuses also are. In my opinion, there is a responsibility that comes with making a lot of money. Benefiting from society the most requires that we return the most. It's also in all of our best interest to stem revolution, and if wealth becomes much more disparate, there very well may be problems.

Just call me a non-revolutionary.

Btw, I really appreciate the civil-ness of this. Thanks for letting me express my opinion! Amen.

Gordon said...

Sorry to become a nuisance, but one more thing. When I read Romans 13, I can't help but think of Paul's militaristic background and the fact that he never met Jesus in the flesh. Of course, neither did I, so who am I to talk? Still, it remains a background to my interpretation.

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