Sunday, May 17, 2009

Response to Gregg Fraser on Romans 13

Gregg Fraser responded to some comments I made on the blog "American Creation" a few weeks back. The questions are about the liberation of Israel from Egypt and whether this is an example of revolt against legitimate authority. This was all in the context of a discussion about whether The American Revolution can be supported from the Bible.

The disagreement is over the interpretation of Romans 13 where it states:

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is not authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment to the wrongdoer."

This verse is the lynch pin of the "Divine Right" for kings to rule argument that was used throughout European History. It also is somewhat supportive of the Roman, Persian, and Mongolian Empires' idea of Kings being God on earth. In short, this line of thinking has been used by tyrants to discriminate against, enslave, and even kill off people who get in the way of their expansionist ideas. Since I reject this practice I reject this interpretation of scripture. I think it sets reason and logic aside and sends one down the road toward fatalism.

Perhaps the best example of this idea is Hitler and the Jews. I asked my World History class why the vast majority of Jews did not fight back? Some Jews did not realize that Hitler was out to exterminate them until they went into the shower room and the poison gas came out of the shower heads. What caused this passive reaction to such brutality? I am not sure that anyone really has a good answer to this question but it should be asked. Why? So it does not happen again.

History is filled with examples of people living under oppressive and abusive governments simply because they were told that to oppose the will of the King was to oppose the will of God. I see this theme repeated over and over again in the Showtime series "The Tudors". One advisor to the King exterminated thousands of woman and children based on the flawed reasoning mentioned above. He went against his conscience to appease the King based on not wanting to disobey God.

This was the same King who had revolted against the Pope so he could marry who he wanted. If the Pope was God's authority then when the King refused to submit to him did he lose his authority? For that matter who says these men are the authorities? What keeps someone else from claiming "Divine Right" and refusing to listen to either? It seems that whoever manages to raise the largest army has God's favor since that is usually what settles these disputes over who is King. Sounds more like Darwin's "survival of the fittest" gone mad than anything to do with Christianity.

These questions open up a huge can of worms about what legitimate authority really means. This issue really is the crux of the entire discussion. I share these thoughts to put the discussion of Romans 13 and the revolt of the Israelites against Pharaoh into the context of the larger subject of legitimate authority, God's use of it to punish wrong doers, and in what context disobedience, resistance, rebellion, and revolution are permitted.

I say all this to illuminate my main issue with Dr. Fraser's interpretation: If he is right then Hitler was established by God to exterminate the Jews as punishment for something. If that is true then logically anyone who tried to help a Jew was fighting against God. For that matter anyone who ever questions "authority" is opposing God's will. That is if we take his ideas to their logical conclusion. At least in my view.

This whole discussion comes down to government. I would say that the more specific issue is borders. A drawn border represents a government. The problem with most borders in the world were drawn by outsiders. The best example is along the Silk Road in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The largest Nation of people without a border around them is near the Khyber pass region. Years ago the British came along and decided to split the area, and thus the Nation, into two countries. I assume that this was done to divide and conquer so that they could control this vital trade route between China and Europe.(No time to prove this thesis in this post beyond the following example)

If I am right then Romans 13 prohibits this Nation of people from doing anything about it because they have to submit to the authority. What authority? Is it the British and Cecil Rhodes? If it is then God supports the following statement:

"We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories."

If the British were the authority then God was behind these plans just the same way he must have been behind Cortes and company when the discriminated against, enslaved, and killed off the Aztecs.

If the legitimate authority is Pakistan and Afghanistan governments why so? Why should this Nation of people submit to governments that someone else set up with greed as motivation? Do these governments override their tribal or clan governments? If so why? What if the Tribal government tells someone to resist the outsiders and the National government tells them not too? Which do you listen to? Which one is establishing God's will?

I am sure Dr. Fraser gets my point philosophical point. I also get his Biblical point: God uses both just and unjust governments to judge the Nations. This is in the Bible and is indisputable in my view. My problem is how can we know for sure when this is taking place? If not, then why not error on the side of overcoming evil with good. This is the verse that precedes Romans 13. I know this verse would seem to support Mr. Fraser's pacifist reading of Romans 13 but I am not so sure.

Ecclesiastes 3:8:

"There is a time for war and a time for peace"

If this is true then war can be good. In fact, your interpretation of Romans 13 would seem to confirm this. King George was God's authority and he liked to start wars. Thus war is good. In fact, war is God's will because His authority on earth that starts wars against the weak of the world for profit is God's way of bringing wrath on the evil doer. If this is true then the Revolutionaries refusal to pay taxes to support this is opposing God too. That is part of Romans 13 also. Maybe God was punishing the colonists for their audacity to go against his chosen servant by sending Red Coats to kill them off? This assumes that the weak are guilty of some sort of sin and leads down the theological flaws of Job's friends.

Could the time for war possibly be to defend the weak against the strong? Can this be "good" that resists evil? If it is then it is a valid way to overcome evil biblically. I ask you, Dr. Fraser, which form of war would seem to be "good"? The former or the latter? Is the loser automatically assumed to have been on the wrong side of God? Several wars in history have had both sides claiming the favor of God. The Civil War would be a good example. Can we at least agree that to discern the will of God and his use of judgement in the punishment of evil is a complex affair?

Now that I feel this discussion has been put into the right logical and biblical context, I will address the topic that led to Dr. Fraser's direct questions to me about the liberation of the Israelites. This was part of a long discussion about the Founding of America and whether we are a Christian Nation or not. Dr. Fraser's contention is that we are not. I would agree in the sense that most Christian Nationalists and members of the Religious Right would see it.(Though I do believe the Millenial Reign will come to earth but I will post on this later) I just do not think this is a legitimate argument to prove his point that we both agree on. Furthermore, I think it dangerous reasoning for oppressed peoples. I also have seen tyrant pastors use this verse to control people which has led to severe emotional baggage. I have had personal experience with this.

The whole "God said because I am in charge" movement needs to die a slow death. I hope the Religious Right and Christian Nationalist movements die with it too. I respond to Dr. Fraser with these goals in mind that I think we both share. I also respond to what I feel is an overreaction by some to these movements to just completely separate religion and politics all together. I believe Dr. Fraser is an associate of John Mac Arthur and they both share the view that the Christians focus should be on promoting the gospel not politics because God's kingdom is not of this world according to scripture.

This view can easily lead one down the road toward fatalism as well. This fatalism seems to promote an undue focus on the spiritual world and the afterlife at the expense of doing good in this life. The same type of reasoning overcame China in the Middle Ages.

Neo-Confucianists responded to the overemphasis of Buddhists on the spiritual world and the after life by teaching more or less that this world is real and that the key to happiness is to participate in the world. Within a few hundred years, land reform came about and a new educated class used the Civil Service Exam to break the hold of the Buddhist elite that had been buying up and controlling all the land. By the time of Marco Polo he was able to describe the progress of "Kinsay" in glowing terms. This progress included the new educated class that overthrew the Buddhists.

I think the Neo-Confucianists had it more right philosophically then modern Christians. Why? Modern Christians seem to have thrown out the Lord's Prayer:

"This is then how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

This clearly seems to state that we should pray that God's will would come to earth through his kingdom. I know this is a loaded topic and that much has been written about it. But I think my point is clear. To emphasize the spiritual world over the physical and the afterlife over this life to an extreme can distort the picture of who God is. He can come off to the world as an uncaring tyrant. Possibly almost like the Deist God that sets things in motion and just stands back and watches. Or like the Calvinist God that only intervenes on behalf of "His Children".

It is with these goals in mind I addressed Mr. Fraser's argument and commented on "American Creation". At the core of the discussion is the meaning of Romans 13. I have read some different interpretations of this verse that seem plausible and the best I have heard is that God is talking about legitimate government that should not be feared by those out to do good. Which leads back to my question about what it really means to overcome evil with good as stated in Romans 12 that precedes the verses in question.

I think the key to understanding this passage is Romans 12:18. It states to be at peace with all men IF it is possible. The key word is if. I know the next verses talk about feeding your enemy and doing nice things to him to put hot coals on his head. I struggle with these verses and always have in that I am not sure how far to take this stance. It goes into the whole turn the other cheek argument. I also think it is clear that Jesus did not come to lift the Jews from their political oppression. I just do not think this eliminates political revolution as a Biblical concept. I think it was more of Jesus showing priorities. His priority was to die. Any type of revolt would have been counter productive to his main goal.

As far as that goes, I can imagine someone feeling a calling from God to die in order to show the love of God. I have no problem with this and have read many accounts of martyrs that chose this path rather than fight back that I can logically and biblically see support for. I can see the merits of the tactics of Martin Luther King and Gandhi and the good that came about from civil disobedience.

My question is if this would have worked against Hitler? I think not. I also acknowledge the merits in letting God repay as it states in Romans 12. But this taken to an extreme can lead to severe pacifism that puts the weak of the world as risk if they buy into these types of teaching.

With all that stated, I think it can be "good" to actively resist evil by taking up arms and fighting when it is no longer possible to be at peace. I think Mr. Fraser would agree with me to a point until I talk about arms and war. He stated on "American Creation"in response to a comment I left:

"There is a difference between "disobedience" and "resistance". Authorities should be disobeyed when they command disobedience to God, but "resistance" is never justified."

This quote is a good place to start my response to his specific comments and questions.

I have no idea what the difference between "disobedience" and "resistance" is in this context. In fact, if Mr. Fraser's interpretation is right then "disobedience" could be ruled out with a strict interpretation of Romans 13. But this cannot be because we both understand that Jesus himself disobeyed the authorities at times. His disciples did as well at times. What makes this "disobedience" and not "resistance"? If the King is God's vessel to punish wrong doers then how it is ever permissible to question him period? I wonder if Mr. Fraser has a list of what constitutes "disobedience" and "resistance"? I guess my question would be: if "disobedience", which by definition is not submission, is okay in some instances then why not "resistance"?
Both are non-submission which seems to be outlawed in Romans 13.

The context of this comment was his disagreement of my example of Moses being sent to liberate the Israelites as support for revolution/resistance against tyrants. My comment

"If revolution is always wrong then God is a liar. He told Moses to go and break away from Pharaoh and even helped him. So many people take one scripture our of context. There are numerous times that Kings were taken out by someone and it says God was behind it. Ahab comes to mind. A reading of the books of Kings and Chronicles proves this"
Dr. Fraser replied:

"God did NOT tell Moses to "break away from Pharaoh"-where? What verse? Told Moses to go to Pharaoh (not to organize a rebellion) and repeat to him God's demand that he let the Israelites go. When Pharaoh refused, Moses still did not organize a rebellion- He just kept repeating God's words to Pharaoh. Revolution is always wrong and God is not a liar."

Lets go through the Socratic Method here to gain clarity. What I need is a definition of revolution and rebellion. I am sure that Pharaoh, or any tyrant that thought he was God or sent by God, felt that coming to ask to be let go was rebellion. It is certainly lack of submission to authority. As far as revolution, it can mean anything. I guess it implies armed revolt. But it does not have to be of the Russian variety. I also think the Declaration of Independence is part of the American Revolution. The arms were not taken up until the British came to enforce the King's will and peace was no longer possible. I wonder if Dr. Fraser has a problem with the Declaration of Independence and would deem it rebellion or revolution.

If so he should have just as much of a problem with Moses going to Pharaoh. Why? The essence of the story is the same: People invoke the name of God as the reason to relieved from the oppression of a tyrant. This was more than likely in response to the tyrants insistence that God had told him they existed to fulfill his will because we was god or sent by god. To question Pharaoh's right to hold them was to question the gods. The Declaration was written to confront the "Divine Right" of Kings. What is the difference?

If Dr. Fraser's problem with the rebellion is only when arms come into play than this should be clarified. If this is so then I still have a problem. Why does disobedience, rebellion, revolution have to stop short of self defense? Is it possible that the Israelites did not take up arms because they had none? Another reason could have been because they had not been attacked. How do we know that God would have a problem with them if they had fought back when attacked? There are numerous instances when they encountered a foreign authority in the desert and were told to fight. What was different about Pharaoh? This gets back to what authority is legitimate? Was Moses legitimate when he told them to go and attack the people in the desert or was the foreign king the authority that was not to be revolted against?

As far a when Moses was told to break away from Pharaoh it seems obvious to me when he states in Exodus 3:10, "I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt." Since they were under the government of Pharaoh and God was sending Moses to bring them out of Egypt I think that states clearly that he was sent to break away from the government of Pharaoh. How is this not breaking away?

I do not understand unless you take a hyper-Calvinist approach that we are all robot vessels that just stand by and God does everything. If this is true then why tell Adam to work the ground. Why not just sit by and let God do everything. Another example is David. One time he asked God if he should attack and God said yes and he routed his enemies. The next time when they came he asked again and God told him to wait and listen for the breeze in the trees. The former does not rule out the latter as a way in which God brings about His will on earth.

Dr. Fraser also responded to my question as to when it clearly states that God sent someone to kill a king and how this jives with his theory:

"As for rulers going down, God uses the sinful activity of men for his purposes and makes it work to fulfill his plan-but that does not change the fact that the action was sinful/wrong(the end does not justify the means)."
I could use various examples to prove this nonsensical(is that a word?) but one that seems to leave Dr. Fraser's argument lifeless comes to mind in Judges 3:8-11:

"The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Risha-thaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the LORD and he gave them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger, who saved them. THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME UPON HIM, SO THAT HE BECAME ISREAL'S JUDGE AND WENT TO WAR. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aramin into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years."

So God punished someone by sending an oppressor in accordance with Romans 13. This backs up your contention that God uses evil empires to punish or judge people. This included Israel. But it also seems to prove my point that it could be "good" to resist this evil in a war. It clearly states that God raised him up and the Spirit of God was with him. If this is sin then God is a sinner. Dr. Fraser's refutation and interpretation die here it would seem. Logic and the Bible prove him wrong in my view.

There are two more comments I would like to respond to. The first is:

"Jesus did NOT tell his disciples to "get their swords" when they came for him-what's the verse? BEFORE they came for Him, He told his disciples to CARRY swords in order to fulfill prophecy. When they said they had two swords( For 12 men), He said that was enough-because they were not to be used. He rebuked Peter for USING a sword, which was never the intent."

The point about prophecy is non-sensical. It is much like your thoughts that God did not send Moses to break away from Pharoah's rule. Two swords does not seem like many I agree. Maybe it is all they had. I think my point about him getting mad at Peter is because Peter struck before being struck.

It was probably more about Peter trying to prevent the death of Jesus again. I would also say that even though His purpose was to die he did not expect his friends to just sit there and take it if they were attacked. If you can supply any verse where someone is attacked first, then seek to keep peace if at all possible, and then protect themselves and God rebukes them then I will listen. You will not because it is not in the Bible. I also refer again to the story of Othniel above for support of my contention.

The final Fraser comment I would like to address is:

"I disagree with your assessment: I think most people have a problem with Christianity because 'men love the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds are evil." You complain about lack of choice but when men have a choice they reject God."

My assessment was based on missionary travel, numerous conversations with unbelievers from almost all religious backgrounds, and how I felt before I was saved. What about you? I am pretty sure I have talked to at least a few hundred thousand people about this. I sent out a church kid who thought I was wrong to ask 100 people if they wanted to go to church. Not one did just like I told him. Most for the same reason I stated that you reject. Do church people have any responsility to represent God the right way at all? If not they why did Jesus send out witnesses? I chose God. Even if no one else does this refutes your comments on choice.

By they way if we are talking about who the Christian(many resort to this when confronted with people who disagree) is I have tickets ready for anyone who doubts me to some of the places I have been to share about Christ(I actually regret it now I went about it the wrong way) and see who is willing to really die for this and who just sits around running their mouth. Comments like the last one is is why people hate church. This includes me now too.

I got tired of trying to defend it so I left. Best year of my life. I spent this Sunday writing this. Made me think. Sermons never do so this was time well spent. I apologize if the last comment here offends you(Dr. Fraser) but I mean it. Arrogant Christians turn off people. You seem like the type that may be so sure your right you do not listen. I could be wrong but it comes across that way. Get out of the church scene and maybe it will sharpen your message.

I think it is good that you come on sites like "American Creation" but that is still probably preaching to the choir. Go on Dispatches on the Culture Wars and see how others think, get roughed up some, and people may listen more. Just a thought. Maybe you do it I do not know. I would just watch how you and church people come off. It is not all about people liking darkness. Some of the concerns are valid and comments like the last one just blows them off and makes you all look ridiculous to unbelievers. It is a persecution complex.

It is also dangerous. Most Christians I have met that were raised in a certain tradition and base their beliefs on what they were taught never question it. When one thing they have believed is proven wrong when reason is applied the house of cards crumbles. Up to 80% of church kids lose their faith in the first year of college. I hear not too many are coming back. These same words have fallen on deaf ears before. I do hope you consider retracting your last comment and acknowledge that people have some legitimate concerns with the church. I think the thing that tops the list is the authoritarian stuff that starts with abuse of Romans 13.

Thanks for the discussion, you made me think. I am sure my reasoning and application of scripture is flawed in some points. But I think I have proven my case. At least to myself. I look forward to further exchange to sharpen my thoughts.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: Our Undemocratic Constitution

I have spent the last week reading a book by a man named Sandy Levinson called: "Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong." Mr. Levinson wrote the book in hopes of inspiring an effort to call for a new Constitution Convention to address the issues that he sees need to be dealt with with our current version. Despite my initial suspicions, I actually see some merit in what he was advocating. I cannot say I agree that we need a new Convention, in general, nor do I advocate all that is stated in the book more specifically. Nonetheless, he did make me think.

This is especially true of the point he makes about small states having a disproportionate amount of representation as compared with bigger states. He list a multitude of statistics to back up his point but one jumped out to me more than the others,

"Although it is unrealistic to think that the fourteen senators from the seven smallest states would be united on any given controversial issue.... should that ever occur , they would offset a similarly hypothetical united group of senators from California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, whose collective population in 2000 was approximately 124 million." p. 51
In his view this is allowed to happen because,

"To be sure, this illustrates an important feature of the Constitution that underscores many of its features: Those who framed the document, and those who VENERATE it today are fundamentally fearful of change...." p. 35 (caps mine)
As I read the latter quote I wrote a few notes in the margin of the book. I asked: 1) Why were they fearful of this at the time? 2) What did they fear would change? 3) Were these fears based on rational concerns about going back to the same type of system that they had just broken from? I am skeptical of change for many of these same reasons that our founders had at the time based on my questions above. However, as I began to think about the veneration of the Founders and the document they constructed he began to persuade this skeptic to listen to them merits of the former quote regarding the disproportionate power of small states in the Senate.

This was because I began to realize that this same argument was had at the Convention and was the subject of numerous arguments on the Federalist and Anti-Federalist side as each state voted for ratification. If they discussed it then why can't we now? If people at the time questioned the men we now venerate why can't we? As my assumptions began to crack apart when I admitted my veneration of the document and the men who wrote it, I soon realized that I was more open to the other problems that Mr. Levinson sees with our Constitution. In fact, I am starting to think his major premise, that it is undemocratic, is probably correct in that our current system does not seem that responsive to the voice of We the People anymore.

Do we need another convention? I am not sure. But I am listening. I have begun to read a similar book by Larry Sabato called, "A More Perfect Constitution." He makes some similar arguments. Both men are self proclaimed Liberals. Though I am no Conservative, this does make me take what they say with a grain of salt considering that most of what they advocate would seem to favor the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, I am intrigued and plan to post more on both books. The next post will be about the similarity of one of Sabato's arguments with those that were made in Centeniel One which was the first Anti-Federalist paper. Both arguments seem to back what Levinson was arguing about the Senate on p. 51 quoted above. Until next time....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Our American Founding

After taking the better part of a year to read the Federalist Papers in their entirety I was ready for a long break from the subject the of our American founding.  This was due to enormous amount of information and the fact that they were written the 18th Century English.  Well that break is over and like any open minded person who seeks the truth in the matter I decided to read the Anti-Federalist papers in order to hear the other side.  

This endeavor to understand the founding started about two years ago when I was out preaching in churches about the beauty of America and the need to get back to the roots of what made us great.  At the time I was being influenced by Christian books on the subject and thought that this entailed the Christianizing of America.  At the time, I was also in an organization that taught about the seven spheres of society that needed to be changed to transform the world around us and wanted to send young people out to pray for it and do it in the way they prescribed. 

Then one night before I was going to preach to a youth group about God and his mission for us on this earth I woke up in the middle of the night and saw a C-SPAN special on Constitution Day.  I had been preaching from Ezekiel 17 about great tree planted by abundant water that had branches that spread wide and far.  I was making the argument that this allegory applied to America and our influence in the world.  I also went into the whole "city on hill" argument as well.  Anyway, I began to ask myself, "If we are the tree what is the bark that protects us?"  That night I realized it was the Constitution while I watched the celebrations on C-SPAN.  

This completely confirmed the focal point of all I have learned traveling the world and visiting the poor and oppressed.  I have learned that the single greatest determinate of poverty and oppression is corrupt government.  If this is true then the bark of the Constitution that has  been the key to our freedom, prosperity, and influence in the world is exactly what others need.  This belief caused me to leave the mission organization I was in to seek some sort of career in politics or influencing politics.  

Soon I was sitting in Florida jobless living at my brother's house trying to pick up the pieces of a life that had taken a drastic change.  I realized soon that I had been so heavenly minded that I was no earthly good.  The words of the prayer in Matthew of heaven coming to earth had recently hit home.  I was going to seek bringing heaven to earth by influencing the Seven Spheres of society.  Then I watched a man named Ed Brayton on C-SPAN again and got so mad about what he had to say about Christians who wanted to influence government I began to post comments on his site at  

As time went by, I moved back to D.C. and found a job delivering pizzas.  I used my time during the day to argue with Ed and his readers about evolution and religion.  As time went by I realized that a lot of what he was saying was correct.  When we debated about the whole Christian Nation thing I began to say less and listen more because he knew his stuff far better than I did.  Then one day he said, "You need to read the Federalist Papers."  Soon after I was given a copy randomly by a friend and started reading.  It opened my eyes to the one thing I had always loved in school:  History and Politics.  

Soon I as teaching History again at a school in D.C. and began to wonder about getting  a doctorate in something to do with the founding, the enlightenment, or something in that vain.  I sought many avenues but then got so busy I just dropped everything.  

Then I started to teach about common law in my History class.  While researching the topicI found an article about the Law and Development theory. It states that the nations that have established law and order prosper economically.  My good government=prosperity thoughts came back as research seemed to back up my experiences.  Then I decided that I need to go to law school and study property law. This was decided after I read a great article by a guy named Sandfeur who was a friend of another blogger name Jon Rowe at  Sandfeur wrote about John Locke's political theory and its influence on American law.  It inspired me.

That was a few months ago and I have decided to read the Anti-Federalist papers now to add a balance to what I have already read.  I am going to get trained in the "We the People" program to hopefully teach the Constitution next year as well.  So I decided to make one of the subjects I post about the Anti-Federalist papers.  My hope is to go through them one by one even if it takes a while.  Putting my thoughts down in writing helps me clarify things in my mind if any else ever gets anything out of it then great.  

If nothing else is learned from this post take away this:  Much is to be learned from people you think you disagree with.  I have learned more from Ed Brayton and Jon Rowe than I did in 10 years of church sermons.  I still have my faith but I have rediscovered my reason thanks to them and others that were patient with me as I came out of a cultish Christian movement.  I look forward to learning from what some of the people who opposed our Constitution felt at the time and also take a look to see if any of their predictions came true.