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Holy Dissent: Biblical antigovernment activity

Recently I got an e-mail from someone who had seen my August 2005 piece “Holy Dissent” which argued against the idea, popular at the time, that we owed unconditional obedience to the President. I searched my blog to refresh my memory of the piece only to find it wasn’t there. It was actually written in my pre-blogging days and posted to my personal static website that I haven’t updated in years and should just take down.

But I think the point of the piece is just as relevant now as it was in 2005 and so I’m reposting the piece here so it has a chance of outliving my personal website that I’m going to try and take stock of in the next month or so.

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Holy Dissent:
Biblical antigovernment activity

Many on the so called Religious Right say that we owe the President complete obedience because of Romans 13, which commands Christians to be obedient to civil authority because it has been put in place by God.

Interestingly, the mere fact that you and I can have a discussion on how Romans 13 affects modern life is a sure sign that it wasn’t slavishly adhered to! Christians throughout history and many places have been ordered to stop preaching by the local authorities. They didn’t. So clearly Romans 13 had at least one unwritten exemption. There’s an article from a Mennonite Christian seminary that offers a deeper analysis of Romans 13, that I believe to be on target.

This page looks past Romans 13 to see how the God-inspired people of the Bible interacted with the civil governments of their time. I was surprised by the amount of dissent and in some cases direct action that people directed against their government under the calling of God. I found everything from simple criticism to sadly, murder of government representatives. I found all of that just between the books of Samuel and the 11th Chapter of Ezekiel. In the coming months I hope to comb through the entire Bible for more examples of God-inspired dissent against one’s own government.

To be placed on this page, a Bible passage had to meet these conditions:

1) The conduct had to be directed against one’s own government.
2)  The person committing the antigovernment conduct had to be motivated by God as shown by approving remarks by scripture. So the various rebellions against Israel and/or Judah that were pure power struggles were not counted.

These criteria unfortunately, do not screen out Isaiah’s killing of over 100 men with divine fire in 2 Kings 1. Apparently the scripture writer wanted to highlight the power of God over the State. I want to make it that despite listing this scripture and the passages that talk about David’s rogue army, I am NOT in favor of violence or armed struggle against our government.

What I am in favor of is refuting the idea that Country is entitled to the same devotion that God is, and that opposing the State is equivalent to opposing God. The Bible is littered with verses that show otherwise.  So, without further ado, here they are:

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All Bible hyperlinks go to the New American Bible version of scripture.

Political Rebellion (1 Samuel 16) – The prophet Samuel anointed David King of Israel in opposition to the reigning King Saul.

Operating an Illegal Militia (1 Samuel 19-30) – Despite repeated summonses from the reigning King of Israel, David raised a band of hundreds of men and never surrendered to King Saul. Important to note that David’s band fought mainly against Israel’s enemies and only fought Saul’s army when cornered. But David was still operating against his government’s wishes.

Criticizing Government Conduct (2 Samuel 12) – The prophet Nathan rebuked King David for sending Uriah into certain death in battle and taking Uriah’s wife Bathsheba as his own.

Criticizing Unjust Legal Proceedings (1 Kings 21) – The prophet Elijah criticized the trial and execution of a man which ostensibly followed legal procedure in Israel.

Opposing an Optional War of Offense (1 Kings 22) – The prophet Micaiah said that Israel will pay a heavy price if it embarks on a war of aggression.

Violent Resistance to Government Orders (2 Kings 1) – The prophet Elijah killed 102 men in the process of refusing two orders to appear before the King of Israel.

Political Rebellion (2 Kings 9) – The prophet Elisha rebelled against the King of Israel by anointing General Jehu as King.

Refusal to Obey Unjust Law (Ester 3) – Mordecai refused to provide Haman with legally mandated marks of respect that conflicted with Mordecai’s Jewish faith.

Supporting a Country’s Adversary (Isaiah 10) –  The prophet Isaiah announced that Israel’s archenemy Assyria was an instrument of God and that Israel’s military defeat is a part of God’s plan.

Spreading “Defeatist” Rhetoric (Isaiah 29) – The prophet Isaiah announced that Jerusalem, capital of Israel would be destroyed as a punishment from God.

Criticizing Government Conduct (Isaiah 30) – The prophet Isaiah denounced Israel’s alliance with Egypt as destructive to the nation.

Criticizing Government Conduct (Jeremiah 5) – The prophet Jeremiah publicly cataloged the sins of Israel’s leaders.

Spreading “Defeatist” Rhetoric (Jeremiah 21, 27, 34, 37) – The prophet Jeremiah repeatedly counseled Israel to surrender to Babylonia and told all levels of Israeli society that fighting was futile.

Failing to “Support the Troops” (Jeremiah 38) – Officials in Israel denounced the prophet Jeremiah for demoralizing soldiers and the people. They charge him with being solely interested in the destruction of Israel’s people.

Criticizing Government Conduct (Ezekiel 11) – The prophet Ezekiel denounced the princes of Israel for their corruption.

Please check back for more entries. I know I’ll be able find examples up through the Acts of the Apostles.

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As it turns out, I never made it past Ezekiel. If you know of examples that meet the criteria above beyond Ezekiel, please leave a comment. If there’s a pre-Ezekiel example you think I’ve missed, please post that too. In either case, please explain how it meets the criteria of:

1) The conduct had to be directed against one’s own government.
2)  The person committing the antigovernment conduct had to be motivated by God as shown by approving remarks by scripture. So the various rebellions against Israel and/or Judah that were pure power struggles were not counted.

I think this is an interesting subject. It’s also an important reminder that no one in power — not Bush, not Obama, not any human being — has a monopoly on truth or automatic expectation of obedience.

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