Immoral Government? Submit Anyway

When Jesus and the apostles told us to submit to the government, they never said it had to adhere to Judeo-Christian values.

On September 10th, 2014, Congressman Frank Wolf said at the American Enterprise Institute's Evangelical Leadership Summit, "I think evangelicals and people of faith are really going to have to adopt what Martin Luther King did and maybe go to jail and do some things like that." 

He was speaking about religious freedom. And in a world where some are fighting to not bake cakes for gay weddings and others are literally fighting to prevent abortions, many Christians will agree with him. So, being a producer of a Chicago morning show, we decided to throw this question out to our listeners: Do you think Christians should be willing to go to jail for the sake of religious freedom?

Conservative evangelicals make up the majority of our audience, so the answers didn't surprise me. Almost everyone calling in said "Of course!!!" with three, aural exclamation points. But what surprised me was their reasons why. There was no defense of Christian America or even a slippery slope argument warning us of godless socialism. Most of the callers were saying that we have to be willing to go to jail for preaching Jesus. And what's scary about that is it means many Americans don't know the difference between religious freedom and the gospel.

We don't need religious freedom to preach the gospel. Yes, many first-century Christians laid down their lives for Jesus, but going to jail for religious freedom is like going to jail so you don't have to go to jail. Bold as they were, those early church martyrs didn't go running headlong into swords. Because they recognized that though government is ordained to exercise justice, there is no guarantee that it will.

That's an uncomfortable reality because we're told in Romans 13:4 that rulers are, "God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Doesn't this mean that all governments serve God's will? Or that those that don't need to be forced to?

Many wise men of the Bible grappled with similar questions to no avail. On the one hand, Proverbs says, "Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things." And on the other, Ecclesiastes notes that, "the righteous get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked get what the righteous deserve." The book of Job makes it even more complicated by pulling back the spiritual curtains and observing how conflicts beyond our reality affect what we experience.

Behind all of these questions is the palpable tension between a fallen world and a holy God. And it manifests itself through biblical principles that express an idealism not possible until Christ's return.

Governments may have been intended to be just because God is just, but most are not because the world is not. And trying to make a government just is like trying to make the wicked perish. Furthermore, conforming a government to God's law assumes he hasn't already conformed it to his will.

We may not find any biblical injunction to effect change in government, but we do find Peter telling slaves to submit to their masters, "not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh." So if submission isn't dependent on morality, then we have very little ground to rebel.

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