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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Should Christians Rebel Against Sin?

Christians around the world are in a dilemma. On the one hand, we have grown up with passages like Romans 13 and I Samuel 15:23 that condemn rebellion and command submission to those in authority. For the American Conservative Christian, these ideas have been driven deep into our psyches and souls and thus to hear the other half of our dilemma sometimes causes us to seek an escape. But if we don't make authoritarian leaders like Endrogen, Morsi, Putin, Netanyahu, America's Democratic and Republican parties, and others relics of the past, we will condemn ourselves and all around us to totalitarian rule. And during that totalitarian rule, if not already occurring, we will be forced to both financially and politically support all sorts of evil atrocities.

So if we care that we would be contributing to the abuse of others, the question becomes: Are there ways that us Christians can resist and oppose those in authority and still remain faithful to God and obedient to His Word?

For some, the answer is a slam dunk. "Of course not!" So rather than learning how to resist, some say that we need to focus on how to stay faithful during the coming trials. But such is a self-centered approach and is not always the way that our spiritual forefathers handled those in authority. The Old Testament prophets often challenged the kings over social justice issues in behalf of those who were made to suffer. They did so for the sake of the oppressed. So our choice in today's world where those in power only serve those with wealth is to either try to keep our own noses clean or rebel.

Now if we choose the latter option, we should assume that, at least in some ways, Christians would rebel differently from nonChristians. That rather than seeking to rebel because we are  self-asorbed, we want to flee from accountability,  and we with to be numb to the pain we inflict on others, especially our enemies, we need to discover different methods in how we resist and goals for why we rise up against those who rule over us.

Therefore, I would like to propose two, what I believe to be biblical, guidelines for how Christians are to rebel if they must, against those with authority.  The first guideline comes from Chris Hedges. In his book, The World As It Is, Chris distinguishes rebellion from revolution (see here for quote). While revolution is simply replacing who is in power with those whom you prefer, rebellion is a constant state of opposition we take to whomever is in power for the sake of the vulnerable. Here Chris is addressing why rebellion is preferable to revolution. And what Chris is saying here is that we should be loyal to the principle of defending and caring for the weak rather than continue the same old tribalism that usually revolves around a person.  We could add that depending on revolution and the tribalism involved all to often results in changing the players but not the game. And because we would have sacrificed to install the new leaders should our revolution be successful, we would be least inclined to oppose their abuses. We should also note that we should stand up for our own rights if persecuting us will lead to attacking others who are more vulnerable.

What we should note about the Hedges's  cause for rebellion is that it is at least partially for the sake of those who cannot repay or compensate us. It is for those who have been forsaken and left for dead by the status quo. Rebellion here isn't about fighting or exploiting others in order to increase the chances that I will fame and foture; rather, it is about anonymously standing up for the defenseless. Rebellion here plays no favorites in order to serve the untouchables of our society.

Being the moralist that he is, Hedges wants us to rebel for morality's sake, not because of some perceived financial or power opportunism. And since Hedges is liberal theologian, Conservative Christians like myself ask how can this perspective be unbiblical rather than, in this case wrongfully, assume it is?



However, if we are going to remain faithful to our Christian calling, we can't given into self-righteousness and give ourselves permission to lash out simply because we are defending the poor and oppressed, we have limits what we can do and say. These limits are set by Nicholas Wolterstorff's biblical reminder  (I Peter 2) that we are to honor everyone. Such a command does not limit the level of the opposition we exercise against those in power who oppress the innocent; but it requires that we don't get so carried away with ourselves and our cause that we would fail to give the respect due to those in authority simply because of their position. It basically means that we should not practice what Martin Luther King called "internal violence" or have feelings of hate or showing disrespect for those we want to hold accountable. Since the ends cannot extend past the means, we should note that the more we give into the dark side when opposing oppressors, the more likely it is that we will join them even if we should we win.

There is something horribly wrong when nonChristians are willing to sacrifice so much for justice while Christians prefer to play it safe by staying on the sidelines, focussing on being good, and never being an absentee citizen. Christians should be in the forefront in the protests in Turkey, Brazil, Bulgaria, and the coming protests in Egypt. These protests, for the most part, are about justice. At the same time, Christians participants will have to depart from their fellow activists when it comes to attacking our opponents.  If we are to rebel, it can only be for the sake of the marginalized and morality. In addition we must control how we express that rebellion. 

2 comments:

Steve said...

Have you considered that opting for submission over rebellion may not be as safe and self-centered as you imagine (boy, you lay it on thick)? It might be that to submit with believers like you around may end up getting us cracked int he skull for not being righteous enough.

Zrim

Curt Day said...

Zrim,
When all one cares about is not getting in trouble, then submission is self-serving. Being self-absorbed is one of the primary sins that the Gospel's call to repentance is trying to break us of.