“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except
from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1)
It has always been true that the Christians were to pray for and to obey the civil authorities. That is both consistent through Church history and the official doctrine of the Church. It’s the official teaching, even when the ruler is a tyrant or a persecutor of Christians such as Diocletian and Nero. St. Paul insists on this rule for several reasons:
A. He is opposing the party of his fellow Hebrews called Zealots. We would term them terrorists in our times. Zealots wanted no king at all other than the Lord God. They felt no Jew should pay taxes except the temple tax. Their aim was to make any government impossible, and they were not content to wait for better conditions. They carried daggers and made vows to use them to rebel against the Roman powers. We see their like in al Qaida, the followers of bin Laden, who used Afghanistan to organize and prepare for their war against the West, and specifically the USA. A poor and even wicked government is better than the chaos of no government at all.
B. There is more in St. Paul’s words. Christianity is a social faith, not a refuge for individualists. Jesus Christ did not hide from society; He went among the crowds and persuaded any who would listen to Him. Christians have a responsibility to the country they live in. During the terrible persecutions of the Russian Orthodox Church under Communism, when many believers fled the country and set up a Church in exile, the Patriarch Sergius insisted that the place of the clergy was with the suffering people, regardless of the cost.
C. St. Paul’s primary point was that despite appearances to the contrary, God is in charge of the world and society. Ultimately everything that happens is part of His grand design for our salvation. Hope, faith and confidence in His will for our lives are always open to us, and the traumas of difficult times even offer opportunities that good times may not.
America today is flush with the victory over Iraq. We are a proud nation; but pride is a risky business, perilous for spiritual growth. The Greek term hubris always portends a plunge downward. In St. Paul’s time Rome was the aggressor and suppressor of Christians. Today many of our fellow citizens feel that we should act like Rome. Who cares what other nations think—we proved that we don’t need them. And we are blind to the evidence screaming out at us that we are hated throughout the Muslim world including Iraq which we “liberated.” It’s not a time for cockiness or arrogance. It’s time to get over pique and “punishing” France for daring to oppose our invasion of Iraq.
The good side, for those old enough to remember, is the love of their country expressed by those who proved their patriotism with their lives—not many of our military personnel did die, but they were prepared to do so. In the past half century, our nation has had a roller coaster ride of loyalty. Selfishness, ungratefulness and mockery of all values marked the Sixties. Our flag was burned in our homeland, or worn on the seats of pants. Now it flies from our autos, homes and buildings everywhere. How glorious is the contrast. Young people are eager to serve their nation, women and men celebrating the life they earned the right to honor, and a bond of unity washes over the land like a cleansing stream, purifying us all as it rinses us from the dust of the 9/11 tragedy in Wall Street, New York City.
This is the best part of who we are. It is not the time to change our values. God and country, in that order. Yes, let us lead the world—but let us do so in a spirit of cooperation, friendliness and humility.