Sunday, April 06, 2008

Response to Babka on Romans 13:

First I'd like thank Jim Babka for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response on my post about Romans 13 and for the nice things he says about me in there.

Though, I don't really find much to disagree with. I've tried to make it clear that I concede one could be an orthodox Christian or believe the Bible infallible and have a variety of views on the proper way to interpret Romans 13; just as such Christians differ on the proper way to interpret the millennium (pre, post, or a) the last supper (whether Christ's actual presence is in the Eucharist) or all 5-points of Calvinist theology. I do think however, that many of the pro-revolutionary preachers who justified revolt used an unorthodox hermeneutic to explain away Romans 13.

I do want such Christians to understand however, that there was a strong tradition in Christian orthodoxy that held you do submit to your rulers no matter who they are because God put them in place. And therefore, the Tories had just as strong a biblical position for their loyalism, and the American/Whig understanding of Romans 13 was the more historically novel one. One point of disagreement with Babka's post is where he writes: "Jon’s article has, whether he intended it to or not, assumed that Calvinism = Orthodoxy." I did point out how Calvin's writings on civil government clearly support the Tory position of submission to Great Britain. However, the theology of virtual unlimited submission to civil rulers was not just a Calvinist idea but had a very strong current in almost all of the orthodox Christian traditions.

Dr. Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis for example quotes Steven M. Dworetz's summary of Romans 13 and Christian tradition. The context to which Dworetz refers is that these ministers turned Romans 13 on its head and said that it explicitly permits or commands revolt. I might agree that Romans 13 doesn't necessarily stand in the way of revolt, but saying it commands revolt is cafeteria Christianity, like saying Leviticus commands same-sex marriage:

Basing a revolutionary teaching on the scriptural authority of chapter 13 of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans must rank as one of the greatest ironies in the history of political thought. This passage...served as the touchstone for passive obedience and unconditional submission from Augustine and Gregory to Luther and Calvin....The medieval church fathers as well as the reformers and counter-reformers of the sixteenth century all invoked this doctrine in denouncing disobedience and resistance to civil authorities.

-- Dworetz, The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution, p. 155, quoted in Frazer, The Political Theology of the American Founding, p. 358.

Yet, as Babka would rightly note, there was a tradition first in orthodox Protestantism and then in enlightened Protestantism of resisting such authority. The point I want to stress is this tradition was more novel and dissident. Yet, given that it dates back to the 16th Century, it is not exactly novel.

For a classic example of an orthodox Christian sermon on this very issue see Tory loyalist Jonathan Boucher's On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Non-resistance. He rightly, in my opinion, points out that the concept of political liberty, is not biblical. As he puts it: "The word liberty, as meaning civil liberty, does not, I believe, occur in all the Scriptures." Not that the Bible is incompatible with the notion of political liberty. It just doesn't really speak to it. That's why a nation comprised of many traditional Christians had to turn chiefly to non-biblical sources when founding America on the concept of political liberty. And to the extent that the Bible was used to justify political liberty and republicanism, often creative interpretations and rewritings had to be done in order to make them all seem to "fit" together.

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