Saturday, May 22, 2010

John Fea on Romans 13, American Creation and Steven M. Dworetz:

See here.

He quotes Steven M. Dworetz's The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution. While I haven't read the book, I have read parts that Gregg Frazer quoted in his PhD thesis. Fea quotes the following passage:

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, proclaimed by George Sabine as "the most influential political pronouncement in the New Testament," served as the touchstone for passive obedience and unconditional submission from Augustine and Gregory to Luther and Calvin. "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God: The powers that be are ordained of God. Whoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil...For he is the minister of God to thee for good...."

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. To them it seemed absolutely unequivocal. If civil rulers, as such, "are ordained of God," then resistance is in all cases a sin and, indeed, as Luther put it, "a greater sin than murder, unchastity, theft, and dishonesty, and all that these may include." In sum, Romans 13 easily earned its reputation in the history of political thought as the "locus classicus of passive-obedience theory."

I've learned a lot from among others Fea himself, Frazer, and a whole host of scholars of virtually every ideological bent. One thing I struggle with is this notion, now in vogue in Texas, that "Christian principles" played a key role in America's Founding. No doubt they were influential. But few "Christian Nationalists" seem willing to admit that "Christian principles" are often complicated, disputed and go both ways -- or, because they are so disputed are vociferously argued both ways -- on some of the most important issues during the American Founding as well as today.

It is a "Christian principle" that what the American Founders did in revolting against Great Britain was "a greater sin than murder, unchastity, theft, and dishonesty, and all that these may include." It's also a "Christian principle" that their revolt was okay.

I think a more honest way of putting it is, "the Bible was consulted as authority." Not the Koran or other holy books. Though other sources like Ancient Greeks and Romans were consulted as well. But the results may not have been what a particular believer in good faith thinks the Bible teaches.

For instance, unitarians of that era "consulted" the Bible and determined that Jesus was not God. Universalists "consulted" the Bible and found it taught all men would eventually be saved. Benjamin Rush "consulted" the Bible and found that it abolished the death penalty. Even today Barack Obama "consults" the Bible in support of socialized health care and Ted Kennedy "consulted" Leviticus of all places in support of hate crimes laws that protect sexual orientation.

Likewise both sides "consulted" the Bible on slavery. And certainly the Bible was "consulted" in support of the notion that heretics should be burned at the stake.

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