Next, we are told to submit to authority because God has appointed that authority (Romans 13). However, the discussion of this passage is something that is complex and nuanced. Scripture must be balanced with Scripture. There are passages in the Bible where people resist the government when it chooses to do evil, when they choose to obey God rather than human beings. This is easier to do if we understand ourselves to first and foremost be citizens of God’s kingdom rather than any kingdom of this world. Our allegiance to the United States and to God’s kingdom should never be equal entities. We can love our country dearly, but we must love it enough to resist when we are asked to do something against God’s command.
The problem is that many in the American church have gotten in the habit of thinking of God’s kingdom and America as intertwined. America is good, can practically do no wrong, must not be questioned. God approves of America–except maybe of those godless liberals. It is not only un-American to protest, resist, or question America, but it is also anti-God.
I completely disagree with this line of thought. I love my country dearly, but I hope to love it enough to put God first. I hope to love it enough to speak up when something is wrong, just as I would speak up to a dear friend who had gone on the wrong path. As Peter and the apostles told their authorities: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29). We must be like the Hebrew midwives in the book of Exodus who not only refused to obey the Pharaoh in his command to kill male babies, but actually lied to him cannily afterwards. Life took priority over obedience. Obedience to God took priority over obedience to a human ruler. And these women are praised in the book of Exodus:
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”
The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”–Exodus 1:15-19, emphasis added
This week, I read an amazing story about a Mennonite community, historically practically allergic to secular political engagement since they have a strong belief in the separation of God’s kingdom from the kingdom of the world. And yet, the current environment has galvanized some of this community to protest the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants. They are able to do this because they understand that God’s kingdom and America are two separate entities. God can do no wrong; America very well might. Their first allegiance is to God. When you are in the habit of thinking this way, it is easier to resist when the time comes. If you aren’t, it is easier to rationalize.