Christian Nation series: beyond parenting, to authority

Christian Nation series: beyond parenting, to authority July 6, 2023

Christian Nationalism…the ideology that believes America is (or should be) a Christian nation has been on the rise in recent years. Christian nationalists generally believe that democracy and capitalism are part of God’s perfect will, and other systems of government and economics (communism, socialism, marxism, etc.) are of the devil. Christian nationalists want to see our country administered according to the Ten Commandments and other Biblical texts.

As we’ve been discussing (go here to read the series in full), Andrew Seidel (constitutional attorney and atheist) argues in his book, The Founding Myth, that America’s founding documents actually stand in opposition to the Bible.

In the last post, we examined the possibility that a just God would not consider children solely accountable for their own behavior, to the point of sentencing a “stubborn and rebellious child” to death by stoning (Deuteronomy 21:18–21). I suggested that, up to a point, parents bear at least some responsibility for their child’s conduct.

This is something we all know intuitively, but to look at the 4th commandment (by the Lutheran numbering system), apparently God does not. In fact, God even vows to punish children for their parents’ sins (Exodus 20:5).

Beyond parenting

Many churches teach that the commandment to honor our parents ought to apply to other authorities as well. For example, First Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Corning NY proclaims,

God has given us parents, pastors and other authorities for our good. They serve as His representatives. Through them, God richly blesses us, and our world, with orderly authority, as opposed to the chaos that sin brings. By honoring parents and others in authority, we honor God. 

This is dangerously idealistic. Some parents, pastors, and other authorities are wonderful; some are pretty good; some are really terrible. But when you learn from a very early age the necessity of submitting – without question – to authority, there is a possibility of tremendous damage (as we know).

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The pattern of putting leaders on a pedestal and submitting to their authority grows out of a literal reading of certain passages, especially this one:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 

Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended (Romans 13:1-3).

Paul’s exhortation in Romans 13 above would work only in the case of a benevolent, just government.

Anyone who is intellectually honest knows that “doing what is right” does not necessarily make us safe – on the contrary, sometimes it can get us in trouble. Many people of color experience this on a daily basis: driving, walking, buying candy, even sleeping while black can be deadly.

And of course we all know that America was created by an act of supreme rebellion against the powers that “were instituted by God.” If the founders had been good, “Bible believing” Christians, the American Revolution would never have taken place.

Andrew Seidel reminds us how incompatible Romans 13 is with our founding documents.

The Christian bible stands directly opposed to the Declaration [of Independence’s] central ideas, including that it is “the Right of the People to alter or to abolish [their government], and to institute a new Government.”

(Many evangelicals who exhorted progressives to honor President Trump because the Bible says so, are today dishonoring President Biden – some of them by using the loophole, “he’s not my president,” or “the election was rigged.” Please.)

Speaking of Trump…

In fact, Andrew Seidel has a few thoughts about evangelicals and their authoritarian leaders – one leader in particular. Seidel suggests that since the God of the Hebrew Testament was presented as a deity that demanded absolute loyalty, some Christian groups are naturally comfortable with that type of ruler.

Trump’s dictatorial tendencies and mendacity, negative attributes for many voters, poised him perfectly to manipulate the evangelical mind.

Like the biblical god evangelicals worship, Trump is a thin-skinned authoritarian with totalitarian tendencies. He craves love and punishes any disloyalty or slight. Evangelicals have been taught to worship and adore that type of being above all others. This strain of religion cultivates a veneration for extreme authority.

Studies bear this out: religious fundamentalism and a tendency to submit to authoritarianism are highly correlated. Trump acted like the character evangelicals worship and benefited from their ingrained adulation. Evangelicals were simply seeing in Trump a character they’d been taught to revere.

Trump was elected – and is a popular choice for 2024 – because his followers do not think critically. They can’t articulate why Bill Clinton’s sex scandal made him unfit for the presidency, but Trump’s are acceptable. They have no rational explanation for why they should control women’s bodies, why Americans need , how to define “wokeness,”or why we should support Israel unconditionally.

If a supporter of a political candidate – regardless of the party – can not make a coherent case for her/his candidate’s positions on various issues, that is cause for concern. If your candidate can articulate a logical case, you should be able to speak coherently about it.

Is a certain issue hard to wrap your brain around? Don’t assume your candidate’s intelligence is far above yours. Take some time to get educated, and see whether you can make sense of their position.

If you can’t support your candidates’ positions with facts, or answer simple questions with words you understand, you may be vulnerable to authoritarianism.

Andrew Seidel is onto something when he insists that the parent/authority-honoring commandment

As Christians, we ought to care about the wellbeing of all people, not just the ones in power. And we ought to protest the use of ancient, problematic texts (like those interpreted to serve the powerful).

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FEATURED IMAGE: “File:Flag map of the United States (Christian Flag).png” by DrRandomFactor is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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