Today honors the birth of our nation, the day that we declared our independence from Great Britain. (Coincidentally, its also the date that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died, both on the fiftieth anniversary. Weird, huh?) I hope that you have an excellent day remembering this and barbecuing with family and friends or whatever is your tradition. In the meantime, I turn my attention to the special, obscure, largely esoteric topic of whether we were justified in declaring our independence, from a Christian perspective. I must be careful here, this is largely my opinion. I will be looking largely at what is said by Paul in Romans, and what is said in the Declaration of Independence. Below is the whole chunk of Romans on submitting to the authorities, so I may not take it easily out of context. Although I use both Romans and the Constitution, I must make it clear they are not on the same level, Romans was divinely inspired, the Constitution is written by man and is not infallible. Nor is my reading of Romans divinely inspired, and so I may very well be wrong, in which case feel free to put your two cents in.
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is
owed." Romans 13: 1 - 7
To begin with, a Christian group is under obligation to submit to the government. To rebel in the name of Christ would be to rebel against God. My church, if under attack by the government, could not resist with armed force. If the government were to pass anti-Christian laws, against all outcries of Christians, we would be obligated to submit to the extent that the laws do not call for us to commit sins. We should not put up an armed resistance in such a case. During the reformation, there were Protestants who fought against Catholic governments. That was wrong. But we are not dealing with a group of Christians rebelling, although our founding fathers had Christians among them, there were also non-Christians. This is the first distinction I draw. But, I should be careful to point out here, lest you object, that a Christian is always under obligation to submit to the word of God, not only when in Church among other believers. Without further justification, Christians could not justifiably have participated in the Revolutionary War on the side of the colonies and later United States of America.
We were not simply a mob fighting the British government, an insurrection.. Our war for independence, although a civil war, was waged by authorities. We had colonial legislatures and the Continental Congress directing the war effort. I believe this is justifiable. At the end of the Declaration of Independence, our founding fathers' assumption of all the powers of a legitimate state is clearly carried out.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
So Paul says to submit to the authorities. But from the very beginning we were resisting Great Britain with the authorities of the colonial governments and Continental Congress. We had effectively set ourselves up as a separate, sovereign state. So what we really had was the authorities of colonial America fighting the authority of Great Britain, not the people fighting the authority of the government of Great Britain. If the authorities of the colonies can't go against the authorities of Great Britain, then perhaps you should apply the same logic to the United States not being able to resist the United Nations. After all, the colonists never chose to be part of Great Britain, but the United States did join the United Nations, so we gave them authority. Now I know a many a Christian who scoff at the United Nations, I'm included, and who would never want to see the United States give up its sovereignty to that body.
Paul says that "for rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad." Does this mean then that a government is always right, and everything that it does is not a terror, by definition? I need not go any further than to pull out the old trump card of the Nazi government. Clearly it was a great terror to those of good conduct. Its own people should have rebelled more, not submitted more. So perhaps when a government ceases to do good, and becomes a tyranny, it can lose its authority to another authority. I should stress it doesn't necessarily lose its authority unless there is another new government to assume that authority, lest we have anarchy.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Although I doubt Thomas Jefferson had Romans in mind, (I don't believe he was a Christian) the same kind of reasoning can be seen here. If a government is doing good, then it is protecting those rights more or less, and if it ceases to do good and becomes a terror, it is destructive to those ends. Therefore, no longer being a terror to the bad but to the good, it ceases to be a legitimate ruler. At this point, the people may alter or abolish it, and institute a new government. They may not simply abolish it without instituting a new government. But in America, we had governments in place when abolishing Great Britain's authority upon us.
Now I turn away from matters of absolute right and wrong, black and white, and turn to matters of prudence. For one cannot simply overthrow the government every time April 15 comes around and you feel it in your pocketbook, or when you get angry watching the news. Nor can you simply replace your government if you're living under a monarch, whom you never elected.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Why does prudence dictate all this. Because whenever great changes come about there a many problems that arise. Only when the situation reaches a certain point is it worth a great deal of disruption to throw out the old system with its problems only to replace it with a system of problems you never knew about. To put it another way, the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. I applaud the British here, of never having thrown a big revolution to get rid of their monarchy so they could worship at the idol of democracy. Most of their people over time weren't involved in giving the King power to begin with, and yet each generation did not demand they be able to choose a new form of government to their likely, that would be very impractical and imprudent. But back to the Revolutionary War, the Americans didn't just declare independence on a whim, a great many grievances stacked up (which they list in the Declaration of Independence) and there many efforts to reconcile with the King were rejected. Only then did they seek independence, a very wise move on their part.
I hope reading this was to your enjoyment and sparked some thought. I'm sure many people will disagree with many either for having gone too far in justifying our independence or for not going far enough. And if you do disagree please, give me your reasoning for why it was or wasn't a justifiable move upon the part of America's founding fathers. Although I imagine most people could care less whether we were in the right or wrong, that was some two hundred and thirty-one years ago, to date. But those who forget the past are doomed to repeat its mistakes. Also, I must recommend the book 1776 by David McCullough on the founding of the nation, it is quite interesting and enjoyable. That's all for this Fourth of July.