Source: Huffington Post
Let any who doubt the lamentable state of theological education among Christians in America consider this fact: Right now, we are having a discussion about whether or not Donald Trump is authorized, by God, to destroy North Korea. That is what Pastor Robert Jeffress recently said. When it comes to punishing “evildoers” like Kim Jong Un, the Bible gives the president—I quote!—“authority to do whatever.”
Why? Because Paul said so in Romans 13! To sum up the important bits, Paul told the Christians living in Rome that the governing authorities have been appointed by God. They are God’s servants, God’s ministers, and the administrators of God’s judgment.Therefore, according to Rev. Jeffress, if the man who lacks the self-control not to launch a barrage of tweets against his perceived enemies, were to launch a nuclear strike at the people of North Korea, it would all be part of God’s plan.
To wax polemical for just a moment, this is one of the key weaknesses of Evangelical ways of reading the Bible in general. A naive concept of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) lends itself to selective interpretation. (I am Eastern Orthodox, if it matters.) Still, one need not acknowledge Holy Writ as part of a living tradition to know that, when it comes to the Bible, context is everything. Yes, in Romans Paul calls the governing authorities God’s servants. But not much later, in the book of Revelation, John depicts the governing authorities as the pimps of the “Whore of Babylon.” What changed between the books of Romans and Revelations? Nero. Once Rome started killing Christians, Christians stopped thinking of Rome as the de facto minister of God’s justice. Whether or not Rome administrated God’s justice depended on whether or not its leaders judged justly. Often, they did not. Often, so later writers would depict, the governing authorities were the instruments of Satan, the slaughterers of the innocent.
Call me crazy, but I think the children of North Korea would count as innocent.
Furthermore, every letter an apostle has written in the New Testament is situational. It was written to its audience, not to us. Paul did not have Donald Trump in mind when he wrote Romans 13. Sometimes what Paul says is applicable to us. Other times it is not. In Romans 13, Paul is clearly talking to Christians in a particular church about their particular need to obey the people who have authority over them. Romans 13 means, at the most, that we should obey the law, respect our governors, and enthusiastically pay our taxes (one presumes Jeffress glosses over that part). Romans 13 most certainly does not mean that whatever a governing authority does is okay. Honestly, one wonder what Jeffress would have done in Hitler’s Germany!