Friday, April 28, 2006

My Politics: Faith's Place Therein (Part III)

I closed yesterday's post by noting that while we are to submit to authorities, we do have some freedom to engage in the political realm (including critiques of the government) that early Christians did not have. This is because of a non-scriptural document: The U.S. Constitution.

Now, why, you may ask, after relying on scripture to make the point that we are to submit to authority am I turning to The Constitution to make the point that we can, scripturally, speak out against our government? Great question. I'm glad I asked.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees Americans "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." In other words, the government of the United States is granting citizens the freedom to be politically active, even to the point of criticizing leaders, or demanding that wrongs be righted.

This is a freedom those in "Bible times" never had granted to them by their government. But it is because of this right, enshrined in our nation's guiding document, that submission to authorities in America today allows for behavior not allowed under other forms of government (say, colonial Britain or ancient Rome.) Things that are illegal in other nations, present and past, are not illegal here, hence do not fall under the purview of the "submit to authorities" rule.

Does this Constitutional right outweigh the Biblical injunction to submit to authorities though? Another good question. It doesn't outweigh scripture. But because our government allows for certain forms of protest and political involvement as guaranteed by the Constitution, scripture does not prohibit behavior here that would qualify as "not submitting to authority" in other places.

This may seem rather technical, and I'd say that's true. But scriptural support for this position is found in the examples of Paul and Daniel. Both these men submitted to authorities considered unjust by our standards. Yet each also worked within the system they had to request better treatment and their rights. Neither bucked authority, and both submitted to it. But while submitting, they pursued the avenues of debate and behavior that was legally allowed. Daniel worked through the guard to find a way to obey both man and God. He also worked within the system to get his friends into positions of influence. He didn't complain about his situation, he worked within it, thereby honoring both his earthly authority and God (the one who established that earthly authority.) The only time Daniel disobeyed man's law was when it directly contradicted God's law - but Daniel accepted authority's right to punish him for disobeying the law of the land. Submission to God came first, but he didn't rebel against unfair punishment.

Paul likewise advised submission, but also leveraged his legal rights in regards to being tried by Caesar for crimes he allegedly committed. He did submit to Roman authority, but insisted that authority be used in the proper, legal manner as proscribed in Roman law.

In each case, these men stayed true to the idea of submitting to government. They also, though, took advantage of legal means to better their situations where possible. That is the key. We as Christians do not have the right to break laws. Paul and Daniel worked within the system, and accepted the risks of being treated unjustly, rather than stand against authority.

So, we can engage in lawful protest, lawful criticism (though as with all things, we need to remember to speak in love even when critiquing our leaders; they were put in their position for God's purposes) and lawful debate about things political. We can't break the law, though, unless that law directly contradicts one of God's laws, and even then we should be ready to face the earthly consequences of those actions. We're blessed here to be able to offer up defenses and hope on the mercy of the court in such cases, but where said mercy doesn't materialize, we need to accept authority's rule.

Next time I'll start to get a bit more practical. Since we know that scripture allows us to engage in politics (as that's legal in this country), how does that work itself out?

Have a good weekend, and God bless!

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