By J. Andrew Mackenzie and Samuel C. Still | Guest Columnists
“God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”
This latest promulgation from megachurch Pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress comes as an implicit endorsement of the president’s warning that “North Korea best not make any more threats… [and] will be met with fire [and] fury like the world has never seen.” Not insensitive to the fact that such an overt declaration of divine right would be controversial to many within the Christian community, Dr. Jeffress acknowledges that “some Christians, perhaps younger Christians, have to think this through.”
As two young Christians, we would like to think a few things through with Dr. Jeffress. The pastor of First Baptist Dallas, who accuses young people of not being well taught in the Scriptures, cites Romans 13 as his authority, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God,” Paul writes.
A closer exegesis of the first few verses of Romans 13 reveals some problematic aspects of Dr. Jeffress’s proof-text. Based on the first two verses of chapter 13 alone, one might be tempted to say, “If God appoints all authorities, then we should accept whatever actions those authorities presiding over us take, and comply to every precept they hand down.”
Such an interpretation is out of step with Paul’s other writings, however. In verses 3 and 4, Paul proclaims that rulers are meant to serve as “a terror” to evildoers by upholding “what is good,” emphasis on ours.
What to do when a governmental authority takes actions or enacts laws that are manifestly not good? Paul would certainly not suggest we remain complicit to evil, since the standard of character and virtue under which he writes is Him in whom there is no darkness whatsoever. More practically, there are instances throughout the pages of Scripture in which judges, prophets, and Christ himself call into question the character and actions of the rulers under whom they lived. If ever we are presented with a situation in which the governing authority asks our complicity in evil, we ought have a ready response, “We must obey God rather than men.”
We hope that Dr. Jeffress’s intentions aren’t overtly or necessarily nefarious, or that he intends to make an idol of the state. It is worth reflecting, however, on the moral ends to which Dr. Jeffress makes his implicit appeal. For if he is using the Church to promote an agenda other than that of the Gospel, his harm goes far beyond bad hermeneutics. Like many Americans, Jeffress is enamored by the idea of a return to an American “golden age” of peace, prosperity, and world prominence: an American utopia, of sorts. In a word, he wants to “Make America Great Again.”
To use the pulpit to promote any agenda other than that of the Gospel is a defilement of the Church and one that further alienates her from a world already starved for the true peace and true riches that come as a result of knowing Christ. Lest “the way of truth be defamed,” the Church must proclaim only the Word made flesh, and seek to live into the call of Christ to discipleship, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”