Saturday, May 22, 2010

Romans 13 and the American Revolution

I learn a lot from the folks over at American Creation. I always enjoy reading their debates over whether or not the American Revolution was carried out in violation of the New Testament book of Romans, chapter 13. I have a brief section on Romans 13 in my forthcoming book, "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: An Historical Primer" and a lot of what I have written has benefited from reading that blog. Thanks to Brad Hart, Jon Rowe, "King of Ireland," and the rest of the American Creation gang. (Guys: How about putting The Way of Improvement Leads Home in your book montage!!).

As I was recently polishing up the section of my book manuscript dealing with Romans 13, I ran across a great passage in Steven M. Dworetz's The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution.

I don't think I could put it any more succinctly:

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."