26 May 2010

This is not Rome

In a recent column, Cal Thomas was rightly critical of National Day of Prayer activities. However, in the course of his column, he offers the following critcism:

Judge Barbara Crabb, a U.S. district judge in Wisconsin, recently ruled it is unconstitutional for the government to endorse the National Day of Prayer. She did not rule prayer unconstitutional, which would be an entirely different matter. The decision will likely be appealed, but... [the Bible] says Christians are to obey the government because God instituted it. How do they justify disobeying a government God has put in place, including one led by President Obama, who many "Christian leaders" spend more time bashing then they do praying for? And if they believe, as Paul wrote, that all authority is from God, why are they spending so much time criticizing the authorities and focusing on the "kingdom of this world," instead of focusing on that other "kingdom" they say they believe is eternal?


I believe I can offer a very short answer to Thomas's question about why Christians spend time criticizing the authorities (some of which Thomas dismisses as "bashing" the president). While we agree with Paul that we should obey the governing authorities, we recognize, as Thomas seems at times not to do, that our "governing authorities" are not Rome's governing authorities. The governing authorities the Romans were exhorted to obey were authorities in an imperial system. Our authorities are authorities in a constitutional republican system. Inasmuch as Paul, on at least one occasion, insisted on his rights as a Roman citizen, we believe it perfectly acceptable for us to insist on our rights as citizens of the United States. Roman law gauranteed that no citizen could be scourged before being condemned; and he insisted on receiving that right (see Acts 22.25-29). Our constitution guarantees to us the right to criticize (dare I say bash?) policies with which we disagree, as well as the politicians who propose those policies. We criticize because it is our right. We are not in Rome.

But, says Thomas, all authority is from God. And that is true. But what, exactly, is the nature of the authority granted? Is it the power to do with that authority all that one wishes to do, without criticism? Is it, more importantly, the power to exceed that authority without criticism? If, as Thomas would say (and with which I agree), Barak Obama holds the office of President of the United States by the grace of God, then let us reflect that the office held by the grace of God, is not dictator of the United States, but President of the United States. The office comes with limitations. He doesn't get what he wants on the simple grounds that he has the office by the grace of God. He gets only what the Constitution grants him. And the Constitution does not grant him immunity from criticism. The authority God has granted to Barak Obama is the authority -- and only that authority -- which belongs to him by virtue of his being the President of the United States. Like wise with Congress and with the courts.

While we may enjoy them, it should not be for our own freedoms alone, but even more importantly for the freedoms of our non-Christian neighbors (rich and poor, corporate and non-corporate), we should continue bashing while we're free to do, especially while it is so clear that one of the present goals is to use the present malaise as an excuse for the consolidation of every more power in the executive branch of the government. Doing so is not ipso facto to focus on the kingdom of this world to the exclusion of that other, eternal kingdom. As C.S. Lewis said, in The Joyful Christian, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.”


I do not see the attempt to do good here on earth and being heavenly minded as mutually exclusive. Lewis would have us consider the probability that we can do earthly good precisely by being heavenly minded.

Thomas was better on the National Day of Prayer here .

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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