How are we to reconcile Romans 13:1-72 and Article of Faith #123 with the overwhelming and growing witness of hubris, abuse, and corruption by those in positions of power (whether east or west, north or south; up or down)?
Do we feel caught in a double bind4 between “honoring, obeying and sustaining” and this most revealing, insightful observation:
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion5?Perhaps these insights will help us find a discerning answer between blind obedience to or angry rejection of the Powers (or governing authorities as some have translated Romans 13:1):
Nothing is outside the redemptive care and transforming love of God. The Powers are not intrinsically evil; they are only fallen. What sinks can be made to rise again. We are freed, then, from the temptation to satanize the perpetrators of evil. We can love our nation or church or school, not blindly, but critically, recalling it to its own highest self-professed ideals and identities. We can challenge these institutions to live up to the vocation that is theirs by virtue of their sheer createdness. We can oppose their actions while honoring their necessity. For example, a factory is polluting the air and water of our city, and we want it cleaned up. We can engage in that struggle knowing that its employees need jobs, and that their families also are at risk from the pollution, just as ours are. We can talk without hatred to the hard-nosed representatives of the plant, because we know that they, and we, and this factory, are encompassed by the love of God, and exist to serve the One in and through and for whom we were all created. We do not have to struggle to bring this plant into the orbit of God’s system. It is already there. We have only to remind its managers that it exists to serve values beyond itself (though this “reminding” may require a protracted boycott or strike).So just as we all have a part in the body of Christ,8 we all have different skills, talents, and thus individual calls to action in challenging fallen powers:
Adam Smith himself acknowledged this when he wrote that the ultimate goal of a business is not to make a profit. Profit is just the means. The goal is the general welfare. It is part of the church’s task to remind corporations and businesses that profit is not the “bottom line,” that as “creatures” of God they have as their divine vocation the achievement of human benefaction (Eph. 3: 10). They do not exist for themselves. They were bought with a price (Col. 1: 20). They belong to the God who ordains sufficiency for all.7
There are no prepackaged answers that tell us how Christians should engage the Powers. One person may be called to try to reorganize the office where she works in a more humane fashion; another may have to walk out to protest sexual harassment. One may run for political office; another may despair of the electoral system and work to overthrow it. But all live in the paradox of “as if not,” as being in but not of the Domination System. “Come out of her, my people” (Rev. 18: 4) may be our marching orders, but so may be the call to assume secular office (as with Joseph and Daniel). Spiritual discernment takes the place of fixed rules. As Jacques Ellul argues, there really is no such thing as a “Christian ethic,” only the ethical inventiveness of Christians.9Thus, shall we not honor what is honorable; obey what is ethical in the Lord;10 sustain what is sustainable; and thereafter challenge, expose, and oppose all fallen actions according to the discernment and call given to each of us? In the words of Walter Wink:
It is precisely because the Powers have been created in, through, and for the humanizing purposes of God in Christ that they must be honored, criticized, resisted, and redeemed. Let us then engage these Powers, not just to understand them, but to see them changed.11----------------------/
* (whether political, economic, religious, secular, administrative, governmental, and so forth)
1. For example: “An institution may place its own good above the general welfare. A corporation may cut corners on costs by producing defective products that endanger lives. Union leadership may become more preoccupied with extending its personal advantages than fighting for better working conditions for the rank and file.” Wink, Walter. Collected Readings (p. 170). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
2. New Testament | Romans 13:1–7 ~ 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. Whosoever 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. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. (Bold emphasis added.)
Also, amongst others: New Testament | 1 Peter 2:13-18 ~ Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.
3. Pearl of Great Price | Articles of Faith 1:12 ~ We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
4. Double Bind: A double bind is a dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, with one negating the other. In some circumstances (particularly families and relationships) this might be emotionally distressing. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will automatically be wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor opt out of the situation. //...// Double binds are often utilized as a form of control without open coercion—the use of confusion makes them both difficult to respond to as well as to resist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_bind
5. Doctrine and Covenants | Section 121:39
6. New Testament | Colossians 1:16-17 ~ For by him [the firstborn of every creature] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
7. Wink, Walter; Collected Readings (p. 171). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition. (Bold emphasis added.)
8. New Testament | 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 ~ For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Doctrine and Covenants | Section 84:109–110 ~ Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; and let not the head say unto the feet it hath no need of the feet; for without the feet how shall the body be able to stand? Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.
9. Walter Wink. Collected Readings (p. 187). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
10. Doctrine and Covenants | Section 98:4–18 ~ And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil. And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God. For he will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept; and I will try you and prove you herewith. And whoso layeth down his life in my cause, for my name's sake, shall find it again, even life eternal. Therefore, be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me. Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children; And again, the hearts of the Jews unto the prophets, and the prophets unto the Jews; lest I come and smite the whole earth with a curse, and all flesh be consumed before me. Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father's house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye shall be also. (Bold emphasis added.)
11. Walter Wink. Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Kindle Locations 215-217). Kindle Edition. (Bold emphasis added.)