Romans 13 and the American Revolutionary War


I find it interesting that conservative Christians, who love to quote Romans 13 at me whenever I question Christian nationalism, curiously overlook that America was itself formed as a nation in direct violation of Romans 13.

In Romans 13 Paul prohibits the revolutionary overthrow of one’s government. What then are we to make of the American war of independence?

7 thoughts on “Romans 13 and the American Revolutionary War

  1. Well, Matt…I have to wonder about what Paul was really telling the Romans? Was it really to blindly obey the government and its officials? Or was it more like not to rob the government of its due, if you want to live as a good citizen under its protection
    The Americans believed that their best interest was no longer being served by the British … and they were willing to stand up for themselves and their neighbors against what they considered tyranny. The Founding Fathers, as they are called, all lost their personal fortunes in order to secure the fortunes of others.
    The classic (and extreme) example, of course, is the Germans and their embrace of Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoffer was willing to sacrifice his life in order to attempt to remove Hitler and the Nazis from power.
    It’s a little to complicated, I think, to make sweeping statements like this.
    I have moments of extreme pride in my country that are balanced by moments of equally extreme shame. The pride usually speaks to what we are doing as a people to advance freedom and shalom … and the shame is usually associated with selfish or myopic actions of a few leaders that have terrible and far-reaching impact.
    I am hopeful that there will be a greater return to the spirit of representative government here in America in this decade…and away from the “scorched-earth” politics that have held in the past decade or two.
    At the end of the day, I am a Christian citizen of a secular nation which was founded by persons who believed that belief in, and respect for, God was the only proper foundation for a moral society that governed itself in order to provide freedom from oppression and freedom to benefit from one’s hard work. There will, regrettably, always be those who are more selfish and those who are less selfish in the progress.
    Humanity…the best and the worst are two sides of one coin, eh?


  2. In fairness, Peggy, I think Matt is more making an argument by hyperbole rather than actually espousing that the American Revolution is anti-Biblical. He’s simply pointing out that the hard-line interpretation of Romans 13 used by some to defend “my country, government, and preferred political leaders, right or wrong” leads you to condemning the American Revolutionists if you apply it consistently.


  3. Ah, consistancy. Look at the treasons it brings us to 🙂
    You’re right, I see no way of reconciling “support the government, right or wrong” with “God save America”. At least not logically. The British Empire WAS the US Government up until the Revolution. Hard-line patriotic use of Romans 13 is self contradictory.
    So, I would contend, are naughty invocations of the Nazi’s in the defence of patriotism. If the German Christians weren’t so dilligent in applying the hard-line interpretation of Romans 13, would Hilter have had so solid a support base to start with? Again, if we question Nazi injustice we should be questioning hard-line patriotic use of Romans 13, not invoking it. That is what Dietrich Bonhoffer was noted for.
    But my perennial question is, why is blind obedience on the one hand, or revolutionary violence on the other, always seen as the only options? If it’s difficult to biblically reconcile revolutionary violence with submission to authorities, and difficult to biblically reconcile blind obedience with the call to justice, why aren’t we considering the alternatives to both?


  4. Oooh, and now that I’m warmed up I’m gonna get hyperbolic some more. Or maybe just mischieveous. But anyway, here goes:
    How exactly can God be the only “proper foundation” for a “secular society”?
    Or maybe let’s invert it. What if I said ir/religious pluralism was the only proper foundation for a theocratic society?
    I can understand how God is the only proper foundation for the kingdom of God. But insofar as the kingdom of God is still coming, can our society be said to be squarely founded on God? Can a sacred society and a secular society be said to rest on the same foundations?
    Or to dip into apocalyptic language, are we defending Jerusalem or Babylon by our patriotism? What would the author of Romans have said about Rome?
    To my way of thinking, affirming “God” as the foundation of secular society creates pressure to secularize God.
    But then, I speak from a secular suburb where Hindus outnumber Baptists 40:1


  5. Matt wrote:
    > If the German Christians weren’t so diligent in applying the hard-line interpretation of Romans 13, would Hitler have had so solid a support base to start with?
    Do we know they used Romans 13 in this way (as did, e.g. South African apartheid advocates). Try this excerpt from an old essay of mine for a more comprehensive (and much more eerily familiar) explanation.
    “Carl Avery has identified a ‘milieu Catholicism’ of the period, which consisted of believing in discipline, punctuality, cleanliness and respect for authority, opposing Communism, attacking the Wiemar Republic’s social freedoms (speech, belief, action), and desiring a tough law-and-order approach to morality, especially pornography, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality and modern art. Similar cultural issues will have held in the Protestant churches. When Hitler offered all of this, plus militaristic nationalism to heal the pain and shame of [the Treaty of] Versailles, most Catholics and Protestants backed him wholeheartedly.”


  6. Darn that modern art!
    Ooops, now what do I do with my collection?
    It’s interesting to consider, isn’t it. If fascism arose in America, would evangelicals have the internal resources to oppose it? And what if outsiders saw just cause in waring against their government? What then? Would Americans celebrate Bonhoffer if he were an American traitor rather than a German one?


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