Monday, August 4, 2014

Bible and History in 1776

Some American evangelicals have a hard time with our country's Revolutionary War.  How can we justify the war from a Biblical perspective?  Are we the beneficiaries today of a long-ago sin on the part of greedy New World radicals?  When we praise the colonists who revolted against England, are we merely wrapping the Cross of Christ in the stars and stripes?

What is the point at which both history and the Bible intersected in 1776?

Technology entrepreneur and evangelical thinker Roy Martin tries to answer these questions in an article entitled "Was the American Revolution Sinful?" on World Magazine's website.  He answers his own question in the negative, although he acknowledges that in Romans 13:1-7, God lays out a pretty basic expectation for us regarding how we are to treat "governing authorities," since God Himself has established the rulers of this world for His purposes.  

Here's another exhortation along the same lines, from 1 Peter 2:13-17:

Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.  Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.  Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.

So, how does Martin argue against such fairly blatant language regarding how we are to honor people who have authority over us?

Unfortunately, he relies on a dollop of flimsy theology to champion democracy, buttressed by a heavy dose of conventional history from a politically conservative perspective.

Martin claims that God Himself established the democratic electoral process both when David was made king, and when his son, Solomon, was.  In the first instance, Martin uses 2 Samuel 5:1-5 as his proof text, and while he focuses on Israel's elders anointing David king in verse 3, he doesn't acknowledge verse 2, which teaches that the Lord Himself had already ordained David to be king.  Then, at the end of David's life in 1 Kings 1, Martin fails to acknowledge that David had already promised Bathsheba, she of the rooftop bath years earlier, that her son Solomon would replace him as king.

That's not really the divine democracy in action with which some American evangelicals desire our Revolutionary War to be associated.

Besides, the democracy Americans ended up with immediately following the war was only available to white male landowners.  But we won't go there here.

So, was God honored by the Revolutionary War?  Martin admits that the crucial impetus behind the war involved England's onerous taxes, but Christ tells us to "render unto Caesar," right?  King George may have been exacerbating the colonists with his imperiousness, but was he forcing any colonist to commit sins against God?  To deny God's deity?  Or Christ's Sonship?  After all, these are the only true justifications for revolting against governmental authority, aren't they?

Martin also brings up the episode about the Egyptian midwives from Exodus 1, but was anybody in England forcing any of the colonists to kill their children?

Some right-wing evangelicals like to rhapsodize about religious freedom, and how the colonists fought to be free from the dominion of the English church.  And yes, plenty of religious pilgrims populated the New World.  But what gets lost in history's haze is the fact that many states set up their own state churches, and that different factions of Christianity fought amongst each other, with a fair amount of brutality and oppression being exhibited by people claiming to be acting in the name of Christ.

The more you study early America, the more you understand how unique our country's origins were.  First came the original hunter-gatherer people groups who settled where basic natural resources were the most abundant.  Then came Europeans searching for new opportunities in more sophisticated human pursuits.  There were people pursuing religious freedom, of course.  But the desire for money, fame, power, and autonomy also attracted a remarkable assortment of entrepreneurs, malcontents, swashbuckling adventurists, and otherwise headstrong individualists to our shores.  Having a relatively new country overwhelmingly populated by such people is a veritable recipe for anarchy and revolt, fueled by a distaste for what these people had been fleeing still trying to exercise control over them.

The appeal for romanticizing such a history still resonates in the United States, since a bristling against authority remains a common characteristic of the human condition.  It exists among conservatives like Martin, who bristle against those who challenge their nostalgic view of Americana, but it also exists among liberals, who chafe against those whose sense of morality is based on a traditional religion, instead of humanism, science, or hedonism.

In fact, one of the reasons why this topic of revolution and rebellion resonates as strongly as it does involves the increasingly menacing ways our current presidential administration appears to be usurping longstanding beliefs about the sanctity of life, the freedom of religion as a human right, and the limited power of the state.  The more Washington advocates for the killing of the unborn, the irrelevance of religious choice, and unilateral executive privilege, the more distinct the possibility becomes that, sooner rather than later, we Christ-followers may indeed be forced to challenge our government on at least these first two issues.  Which could lead to civil war.

Another point to consider is how our view of our Revolutionary War's legitimacy extends not just to our lives here in America, but to conflicts that are brewing all around us today.  If, as Martin argues, the permissibility of a Biblically-just war extends to contempt for methods and amounts of taxation, how extensively should we be supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ who, for example, live in high-tax countries we label socialistic?

There's not much enthusiasm for that among American evangelicals, is there?

Okay; so, if the Revolutionary War was so Godly because it was a revolution to secure Christian principles, why aren't America's evangelicals encouraging our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Iraq or Syria to be taking up arms against the insurgents in those war-torn countries?  Why aren't we advocating such action through fundraisers in our churches, or evangelicals personally committing their own money to the cause?  Because it's a noble cause, right?  Hey - the French helped us in our war against England.  We Christ-followers are better than the French, aren't we?

Again... cue the chirping crickets...

What about Iran, or North Korea?

How should Christians be advocating for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are caught in the gunfire between Russia and Ukraine?

And what about China?  Evangelicals seem more interested in making money off of China's exploding economy, rather than fighting against the religious oppression being ruthlessly - and increasingly - exercised by China's communist regime.

Although we Americans are all beneficiaries of a valiantly-fought war with England, our revolution was not fought on the basis of Biblical reasons.  But even that's no excuse for pretending that the persecution being faced by Christ-followers across the world isn't something that deserves our attention.  Unfortunately, more American evangelicals get worked up trying to defend our revolution than get worked up trying to defend the religious rights - indeed, the very lives - of fellow Christ-followers on the other side of our planet.

It's enough to wonder if Satan is toying with our infatuation with the Revolutionary War to distract us from the bigger picture.  At the very least, isn't it ethnocentric of us to embrace nationalist rhetoric for ourselves without considering the broader international context of warring for "freedom?"

Perhaps arguments like Martin's represent the difference between independence and freedom.  A battle for independence, indeed.  Except this time, it's an independence in terms of isolationism, as far as carrying the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ are concerned.

After all, if we really were concerned about freedom - and in particular, freedom in Christ - wouldn't we be more interested in helping others experience it, too?

Instead of trying to justify a war that ended two centuries ago?

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