Shock and war
This week, Tom Benyon gives further thoughts on Romans 13 and when it is justified for Christians to rebel against governing authorities.
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority if rebelling against that which God has instituted.” Romans 13 v 4-6
“If I was to be asked to formulate the main cause that swallowed up sixty millions of our people I would have to say: “They have forgotten God”, that’s why all this has happened.” Solzhenitsyn.
In my view rebellions against the States rulers can be justified when the government forgets that they have no power themselves except the power that comes to them from God. That is when government:
(a) ignores the interests of the people and rules instead for its own benefit (as is presently the case, for example, in N Korea and Zimbabwe);
(b) commits war crimes and/or breaks the common law
(c) passes laws to form a long term dictatorship
or (d) persecutes a minority of its citizens.
All these enormities and more have been perpetrated by the likes of Saddam, Mugabe, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Assad and so on.
However, such is the depth of our capacity for self-delusion that any Christian who wants to rebel against the ruling authority should, prior to taking action, submit his views to a group of mature Christian friends to test the efficacy of his or her plans and to establish rather if he or she is embarking on a prideful pursuit. For example I doubt that outrage over a single narrow issue (such as animal rights issues or issues over the EU) would qualify for rebellion.
Further I suggest that all campaigners who conclude their government has passed the point of no return should initially seek to make changes by democratic means. Only after peaceful means have proved fruitless can violence against the state be justified.
Here are two examples from many where justifiable rebellion was necessary and in my view moral:
(1) The Puritan rebellion led by Oliver Cromwell (in the English Civil War 1646-9, leading to the execution of King Charles 1 in 1649)
Cromwell and his supporters were reluctant to lead a civil war against the King and prior to the revolt they did all they could to avoid conflict. They subsequently claimed they were forced into a series of violent confrontations by the obduracy and duplicity of King Charles 1, who refused to allow democratic rule by the people and instead relied on the “Divine Right of Kings”. Charles broke each of the compromise agreements to avoid conflict between himself and the Puritans.
Up to the month before the execution of Charles, the rebellious Puritans were trying to find a peaceful solution to the dispute instead of execution.
The Puritans were acting morally and were justified. Without that bloodshed there would be no parliamentary democracy today
(2) The revolt by a tiny minority against Hitler’s Third Reich in Germany between 1932-45.
What made life difficult for Bonhoeffer and his few friends was the complicity of the vast majority of the German people and the church with Hitler's genocide of the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally ill.
In retrospect it is impossible from 1934 for any Christian to have supported the anti-Jewish race laws or the Dictatorship. Yet only a tiny handful found the courage to try and assassinate Hitler who tried to turn himself into a god. The vast majority found many reasons to compromise with the Third Reich.
Bonhoeffer was acting morally in seeking to assassinate Hitler and he was justified.
Listen again to Tom's talk
Listen to Andrew Wingfield Digby's further thoughts on the topic