Sunday, September 10, 2017
Thursday, May 18, 2017
[[This is the first draft of the introduction to what I hope will become a handbook for Christians who want to see the kingdom of God expand and fill the earth, who believe that Jesus wants us to live lives of loving service to our neighbors as a way of calling them to submit to Jesus, the ultimate servant and the true ruler of the universe, and who are convinced that Christians have made a tragic mistake by thinking of themselves as citizens of two kingdoms and of the “powers that be ... ordained of God” as rightful lords over the lives and property of those powerless to oppose them. Subsequent chapters will appear as I am able to make them coherent; this will have to suffice for now to give my vast readership an idea of where I am trying to take my argument.
The inspiration for this endeavor was my trip to Vietnam in 2016, documented here. Upon my return, I was invited to report to my church, which had supported me financially. While in Vietnam I read a Vietnamese Christian account of the bombing of Hanoi by the US—which I know included US Evangelicals—and I felt it my Christian duty to muse on at least the possibility that had US Evangelicals had a proper view of the state they would not have supported the war in Vietnam and thus saved Vietnamese Christians years of the misery of war and of the subsequent reprisals, which includes decades of being viewed with suspicion by the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. I did so by trying to go from Genesis to Revelation in ten minutes, a journey that ended up taking considerably longer. My importunity (and, I must admit, discourtesy) was gently but firmly rebuked, but I think I am on the right track, and so I will press on.]]
While one can answer the question “What is wrong with the world?” no better than G. K. Chesterton’s “I am,” somewhere high on the list is the tendency of human beings to idolize power. What Augustine called the libido dominandi, the lust for power, pollutes all relationships, from the toddlers and schoolyard bullies who insist on forcing others to do their bidding, to sexual exploitation in dating and marriage, to national and worldwide politics.
While most people condemn the lust for power in most circumstances, they give it a comparative pass when it comes to politics. Christians especially tend to begin their theology of society by quoting Romans 13:1–7:
When reminded that God’s people from the beginning have faced severe persecution at the hands of government—the decapitation of the writer of Romans 13:1–7 being one notable example—and that the famine and other forms of poverty—to say nothing of war—that plague the world today are the product of government policies, the response is something along the lines of “Well, government is imperfect, but it is God who has established it and so we have to submit and trust that God is working his perfect will out through it.”
Worse, they allow Romans 13:1–7 to trump everything else the Bible has to say about how people are to treat their neighbors. They reduce “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) to a prohibition against literally bowing down to an idol (à la Daniel 3) or ceasing to evangelize (Acts 5), meanwhile saying nothing against theft by taxation and murder in imperialist war; perhaps worse, they disdain to bring bring disputes over such matters as sexual abuse by church staff before church courts, preferring instead to take them to secular courts in violation of 1 Corinthians 6.
Perhaps the paramount principle in biblical interpretation is to put the passage under discussion in context. This book is an attempt to put Romans 13:1–7 in its proper context by taking the Bible in chronological order, reading it “along the grain.” That is, I am assuming that the Torah is almost entirely the work of Moses, written during his lifetime, prior to 1400 BCE, and that the events the Old Testament describes happened pretty much as the books describe them. The writings of the early church, specifically the books of the New Testament, seem to know little if anything of modern source criticism. More to the point, my intended audience is people who, as I do, believe that the Bible is God’s holy Word and intended by its ultimate author to be so read.
Under this hermeneutic, Romans 13:1–7 was written a millennium and a half after Moses brought down from Sinai the commandments against murder and theft. For fifteen hundred years, then, the Word of God to his people was unalloyed: love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18); do not kill, steal, commit adultery, or bear false witness (Exod 20:13–16). The Torah knows of no exception to this rule for a special class of people set apart as the state. While the Lord commands capital punishment in some instances, we shall see that it is to be executed by common people, not a special class of people. Similarly, he commanded the people to pay what amounts to taxes, but these were to support the cult system—the temple and the priesthood—and to help the poor, not to support career politicians and their armed agents. Most importantly for our purposes, how much people gave, how they obeyed the commands, was between them and God; there was no class of people funded by the very taxes they extracted to enforce the tax laws.
It is this kind of society—a society of people voluntarily serving each other—that we are to hold up to a world ravaged by the political class. Whatever form the state takes, it destroys whatever it touches. Monarchs have always tended to exploit their subjects. Republics and democracies arose as a response to the depredations of monarchs, but democracies inevitably degenerate into mob rule as people vote themselves privileges out of their neighbors’ pockets, and republics similarly degenerate as the elected representatives are no less greedy than the people who elect them. And, as the book of Judges documents so clearly, an anarchy will degenerate into the chaos of the state if the people will not put the Lord and his law first in their hearts.
The take-away from this book should be a passionate desire to see the knowledge of the glory of the Lord fill the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14). While those who live to see that day will live well, our goal should not be that we, or even they, live well. This passionate desire should instead spring from our love for God, which in turn is the result of his love for us: our gratitude for the grace he shows us in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension and his gift of the Holy Spirit.
The way forward, then, is to eschew the weapons of the world, specifically political power, to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor 6:17), and to build a society that models the nature of our God, the servant king. We will pay taxes and obey just laws meantime, but always with an eye to winning a hearing for the good news of salvation in Christ. Part of that good news is the nature of the kingdom, the promise that the king of that kingdom will make sure that his people are fed and clothed (Matt 6:31–33) and that innocent people will never have to hear a functionary of a self-serving state say, “Do as I say or I’ll kill you.”
We model this kingdom not by attempting to “Christianize” the coercive world system but rather by meeting people’s needs God’s way: through voluntary means. Schools, hospitals, and homes for orphans and the aged, institutions that post-Christian and never-Christian societies now consider indispensable, were begun in earnest by Christians as voluntary operations. As they have been taken over by the taxman, they have indeed become more “effective,” if by such is meant able to “serve” more people and provide more in the way of tangible benefits. But as selfish human nature has taken its toll, many of them have also become primarily places where employees make a living and secondarily channels of common grace.
To the degree that they fulfill the function their builders intended, such institutions proclaim that God is irrelevant. That is, not only does the observer see no reason to glorify God for the benefits he receives from an institution that does not acknowledge God, but those who build the institutions do so in part to show that they have no need of God, that God is somewhere between irrelevant and the subject of an excrable, death-dealing lie.
He who is faithful in little will be given charge over much (e.g., Luke 19:17). The stone “cut out without hands” that destroyed the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was small, but grew to fill the whole world (Dan 2:15). The kingdom of God—the antitype of which Nebuchadnezzar’s stone is the type—similarly starts small and grows to fill the earth (Matt 13:31–33). We can choose to be part of this growth or not. We can, to borrow C. S. Lewis’ metaphor, make mud pies in the slums of politics, or we can work to have a holiday at the shore of voluntary service. Crowning Romans 13:1–7 king of our social theory inevitably binds us to the slums.
This book is intended to give you the courage to put that unwitting usurper in its place, a place in subjection to Jesus’ plain words: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:25–26), and most importantly, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:37–40, quoting Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18).
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Annie Black is a lady at my church. She would not call herself an anarchist, but if it flies like a duck and swims like a duck …
She is the embodiment of what Christian anarchists, all two dozen of us, are trying to see as normal for the body of Christ.
Annie has two lovely and musically talented daughters. One day, for reasons probably related to those daughters, Annie decided what our church needed this spring was a handbell choir. So she went and recruited players and a director. She sent reminders for people to come to rehearsals. She made sure there were snacks at rehearsals, which involved getting the people who are responsible for music at the church to pony up money for said snacks. She may even have been the one to negotiate which Sunday the bells are to play in the Sunday service.
When it comes to rehearsal time, Annie is usually elsewhere, but the director she has chosen is able to keep the rehearsal moving and the players on task. It is not a professional ensemble by any means, but it is sure to draw a few positive comments from the audience for its performance.
All this without threats or any other form of coercion or even tangible reward for anyone (unless sandwiches count). I don’t remember her even saying so much as, “This is my project.”
This is anarchy in action. It is proof, or at least strong evidence, that anything worth doing can be done without coercion. If the Annie Blacks of the world put their minds to it, they could come up with ways of educating children, keeping poor people fed and healthy, and probably even defending the innocent from violence, all without resorting to the coercion inherent in the state.
Compare this to what our detractors call anarchy: warlords in Mogadishu running around with machine guns mounted on trucks, fighting over territory and trying to become the head archōn. At its worst, that’s chaos, but since there is no pretense there of people and their property being sacred, it is not anarchy. However, it should be noted that the more chaotic the situation is the less wealth there is for those archōns to extract from those over whom they are the powers that be, ordained of God, so it is in their best interest to make the situation as peaceful as possible and allow those under their boots to engage in productive labor. Whether they actually do so or not, I don’t know, and the statist Western media has no ideological incentive to treat the situation there sympathetically, so I’m not sure where one would go to find out—except, of course, to Mogadishu, in which case one would have the CIA, no friend of anarchy or innocent life, to contend with.
Annie Black is no warlord. She is what we should all aim to be: influential and willing to serve. As the church relies on the Annie Black model for modeling society, we will see the church grow and everyone live better. May her tribe increase.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Whenever I go on Facebook, I’m reminded that you are unhappy about the results of the recent election. Maybe I should be more specific: I see a dozen posts from you that state in great detail how unhappy you are with the election.
I don’t feel all of your pain, but I do feel some of it. I didn’t vote for Mr. Trump either, but I found his opponents’ platforms even worse, so if I had to be stuck with one of the choices I was given, I got the one I disliked least. I happen to know that you didn’t get your first choice either, but your second choice was, shall we say, good enough for government work. And most voters agreed.
But posting anti-Trump memes on Facebook isn’t going to help your cause. (Writing posts on a blog that no one reads won’t help mine either, but my asthma is acting up, the only inhaler I have is steroids, and so I can’t sleep, and I have to do something, so here I am.) Unless you can do something more constructive than post on Facebook, you’re stuck with four years of Mr. Trump’s boot on your neck, or the death of everything you’ve worked for in the last eight years, or however you care to characterize the disaster that awaits you beginning on January 20.
I would like to propose to you a mission that, should you decide to accept it, will result in a better world for you and those you love.
I want you to write your state-level elected officials and tell them to pass legislation that states unequivocally that residents of your state will not submit to either a Trump presidency or laws passed by the current Republican Congress. That is, your state will secede and become its own nation. If you’re not sure how to word the letter, I’m happy to help you.
Until you tell me you have done so, I am going to unfollow you on Facebook. I won’t unfriend you, because I am honored that you friended me to begin with, but I can’t be party to you wasting your time and mine griping about the Trump presidency when there is something you can do to change things so they are more to your liking.
(If there were enough people who think like me, I’d organize my own secession movement. We can about fill a football stadium. You can draw on the majority of people who voted last November.)
If you look at Politico’s map of the state-by-state election results, you will see that with the exception of Texas, all the richest states in the USA went for Clinton. That tells me that if those states were to secede and form their own nation, that nation would be richer and better educated than the remaining USA. And, of course, you would no longer have the poorer, less educated folks telling you what to do.
In fact, if you really wanted to shed the dead weight, you could simply secede at the municipal level. Look here:
I defy you to find a blue county on that map that isn’t wealthier and better educated—that is, both more urban and more urbane—than the contiguous red counties. Why would you want to be “united” with people who are inferior to you? Would it not be far better to leave them behind, forge your own path, and then, once they come begging to be admitted to your socialist paradise, decide for yourselves under what terms to admit them, if at all?
Would a highly urban state be at a disadvantage? Not at all—look at Monaco, the richest nation per capita in the world, and Singapore, an economic powerhouse by any definition. Both are entirely urban.
Could secession be done peaceably? Of course—look at Czechoslovakia’s division into the Czech Republic, which is more free market, and Slovakia, which is more socialist. Not a shot was fired.
Would the remaining USA resist secession violently, as in 1861? I can’t guarantee that they wouldn’t, but I promise that I would come to you and do my best to stand between their tanks and you if they did. Much of the support for Mr. Trump came from people who simply want you and your friends out of their faces. They’re happy to let you do as you wish. And they certainly don’t want you in a position to outvote them in the future. So I would expect them to do all they could to speed up the secession process.
The resulting urban nation—which would probably become a federation of city-states—would need to import food from the USA, and the new, highly rural USA would need to import technology from the federation, so it would be in everyone’s best interests for trade barriers to be low. I would hope that the advantages that would accrue to the resulting USA from the secession would influence the protectionist Mr. Trump to make sure that the federation had access to food.
So please, S__, write your elected officials. Take the zeal with which you publish Facebook memes and turn it to constructive activity. Be a force for good.
I hope I can resume following you soon.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Thursday, November 24, 2016
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
— T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He’s got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.
|One of these people is the manager of the hotel.|
|One of these people hadn't moved since the previous picture was taken.|
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Sermon preached at Meadowood Senior Living, November 13, 2016
Many people have said that there is really only one story in the world. Christians would say that that is because all good stories somehow reflect the story of Jesus. Surely the story of Jesus fits in with all good stories.
The story of the ugly duckling has endured for centuries because we can identify with the ugly duckling. We all feel at some point like the world doesn’t appreciate us. We long for someone to see that we really are good people and that the world is wrong to look down on us. We long to be vindicated, to have people know that we are right and they are wrong, to be able to say to the world, “You don’t appreciate me because you’re asking the wrong questions. I’m not an ugly duckling; I’m a beautiful swan.”
And Jesus, of course, is the ultimate ugly duckling: “He had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him.” “The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone.” “God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
This is the template from which our ugly duckling story comes, and the Bible promises that those who pledge allegiance to God’s ugly duckling will someday be vindicated as Jesus was.
Today I’d like to take a look at the ugly duckling of the Book of Psalms, Psalm 83. I call it the ugly duckling because hardly anyone pays any attention to it. I once suggested to some Christian leaders that maybe Psalm 83 would be a good Scripture passage to do as a choral reading in church, and the response was a guffaw; one man said, “No hope there,” and that was that.
To be sure, Psalm 83 doesn’t offer the comfort that we get from Psalm 23 or the down-to-earth wisdom of Psalm 1, and Handel didn’t include it in his Messiah, as he did Psalm 2, but it’s in the Bible for a reason. It’s what’s called an imprecatory psalm, a psalm that calls on God to harm people. It’s asking God to curse people. As Christians, we are called to bless, not to curse, yet Jesus also says that he has come to fulfill all Scripture, not to do away with it. So imprecatory psalms do have a place in the New Covenant, and I’ll try to explain what that is.
So let’s see how Jesus, God’s ugly duckling, fulfills this ugly duckling of the Book of Psalms.
83 A song, a psalm of Asaph. O God, do not be silent! Do not ignore us! Do not be inactive, O God! For look, your enemies are making a commotion; those who hate you are hostile. They carefully plot against your people, and make plans to harm the ones you cherish. They say, “Come on, let’s annihilate them so they are no longer a nation! Then the name of Israel will be remembered no more.” Yes, they devise a unified strategy; they form an alliance against you.
Here we are back in the world of Psalm 2 (“Why do the nations so furiously rage together?”):
The kings of the earth form a united front; the rulers collaborate against the Lord and his anointed king. They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us! Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”
We are in the world of Psalm 2, and we see that the emphasis is on the kings of the earth wanting to get out from under the Lord’s rule. In Ps 83, though, the surrounding nations are out to do active harm to God’s people. In Ps 2 we’re reminded that we live in a world full of rebels. Every human being wants to do his own thing, to determine by himself and for himself what is wrong and what is right. No one wants God looking over his shoulder and keeping track of everything we do.
Here in Ps 83, though, the rebels are not content to turn their backs on God. Now they want to go after God’s people. We see that in places where people who leave Islam to follow Jesus are disowned by their families, fired from their jobs, imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes killed. We see it in animist villages, where the other villagers are convinced that the local spirits dispense good crops or whatever on an all-or-nothing basis; the spirits say, “Unless everyone in this village does as we say, we won’t do good things for anybody,” and they get angry at the whole village because some of the villagers are Christian and don’t obey the spirit’s rules. And we see it here in the USA when Christians are fined and lose their livelihoods because they refuse to profit from—not tolerate, not participate in, but profit from—activities they consider immoral.
People these days complain that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is intolerant, that he unashamedly proclaims himself a jealous God who punishes those who rebel against him—as if a totally good God is somehow supposed to tolerate rebellion against what is good—but the other gods out there are just as intolerant, just as jealous, and just as vengeful against those who will not serve them.
So here in Ps 83, we have God’s people being attacked precisely because they belong to God. “Your enemies are making a commotion; those who hate you are hostile. They carefully plot against your people, and make plans to harm the ones you cherish.” Rule number one for imprecations, for calling down curses on enemies: they have to be God’s enemies, and they have to be causing harm to God’s people and God’s causes. He doesn’t want us calling down curses on whoever the Eagles are playing.
And we have to remember that even the godless rulers of this world, the ones we hear about in Ps 2 or Rom 13 or 1 Pet 2, are “God’s servants to do [us] good.” They may “do [us] good” by cutting our heads off or crucifying us upside-down, as they did to the men who wrote Rom 13 and 1 Pet 2, but Rom 8:28 says that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose, so we have to be willing to follow our commander’s orders, even when he sends us on suicide missions. We have to believe that “Precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of his holy ones,” and that he will reward those who are willing to die for his causes. (That includes putting up with inconveniences, which is sometimes harder than dying.)
[This united front] includes the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek, Philistia and the inhabitants of Tyre. Even Assyria has allied with them, lending its strength to the descendants of Lot.
Here the list of enemies begins with those who should have been Israel’s friends. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the brother of the Israelites’ patriarch Jacob. The Ishmaelites were descendants of Jacob’s father’s half-brother. The Moabites were descendants of Jacob’s second cousin. Jesus promised us that “a man’s enemies will be the members of his household,” and that’s why he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” We have no guarantee that these people who are close to us are not going to turn against God’s causes, and we have to be willing to pray imprecatory prayers against them if they do. At the very least, we have to be willing to accept what happens to them if God decides to punish them.
It’s one thing when the Philistines and Assyrians oppose us. They were people groups before the time of Abraham, so we expect them to be nasty, and we’re glad to call down curses on them because they’re not our people. But our own families can be God’s enemies just as those we have no peaceful dealings with. Are we willing to call curses down on those we love?
Does it hurt yet? It hurts me. There are many people who have been good to me who are rebels against God. Do I love God more than I love them? Am I willing to pray what the psalmist prays? It gets harder:
Do to them as you did to Midian – as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the Kishon River! They were destroyed at Endor; their corpses were like manure on the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, and all their rulers like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let’s take over the pastures of God!”
Here the psalmist recounts some of the great victories that God supernaturally gave Israel over the Midianites, enemies that were much stronger than they were. We hear of the victory over Sisera and Jabin, where a woman put the commander of the enemy’s army to sleep in her tent and then ran a tent peg through his head. Oreb and Zeeb were the commanders of the army that Gideon’s small band of men were able to defeat because the Midianite soldiers killed each other, and Zebah and Zalmunna were the kings whom Gideon executed. Again, they weren’t just personal enemies. They were enemies of God, who said, “Let’s take over the pastures of God!” They not only wanted God to leave them alone, they wanted to displace God’s people.
O my God, make them like dead thistles, like dead weeds blown away by the wind! Like the fire that burns down the forest, or the flames that consume the mountainsides, chase them with your gale winds, and terrify them with your windstorm. Cover their faces with shame, so they might seek you, O Lord. May they be humiliated and continually terrified! May they die in shame! Then they will know that you alone are the Lord, the sovereign king over all the earth.
Here we have more of the blood and guts this psalm is famous for: “make them like dead thistles … dead weeds … chase them … terrify them … Cover their faces with shame … May they be humiliated and continually terrified! May they die in shame!” Blood and guts! No hope here!
Not so fast. Maybe you caught the two rays of hope in this passage? “Cover their faces with shame”—Why?—“so they might seek you. … Then they will know that you alone are the Lord, the sovereign king over all the earth.”
This psalm is a prayer that is prompted by the danger that God’s people find themselves in, and it does urge God to use lethal force, but it is ultimately a prayer that God will vindicate himself, that people will know who he really is. He’s not an ugly duckling; he’s a swan. If you’re looking for a good-looking duckling, you won’t find God. (I don’t have time to go into this, but good-looking duckling religions are those that give you a bunch of rules that you can follow to curry favor with whatever is in charge.) But if you take God on his own terms, you’ll find a thing of beauty.
And, of course, we are all rebels against God. We are all guilty of opposing what God is doing. We all deserve to have Jesus pray Ps 83 against us. But he doesn’t. Instead, he allowed us to act out our rebellion by calling him the ultimate ugly duckling and killing him. He did that so that his people would not have to suffer the curses we’ve been talking about. And we deserve to suffer even worse curses, but God raised him from the dead to show that he really is the ultimate swan and to let us know that we can still seek God, that we can know for sure that he is the sovereign king over all the earth, and that he can forgive our rebellion against him and bless us rather than curse us if we repent, and we can be not only his subjects but his children.
May God grant us such repentant hearts. Amen.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Someone whose sense I trust asked me what I thought about the election, so I'll tell you what I told him.
I woke up at 2:30 and purposely didn't check the results until I went to my men's group meeting at 6; I let them tell me. The last I had (thought I had) heard, the electoral vote was close, so I was thinking that even if Trump won by, say, 5, the establishment could get a handful of electors to "vote their conscience" and vote for Killery even though their state had gone for Trump, but I think the gap is large enough that they'll be "content" to cut their losses and plan for 2020.
I think I feel like folks in Syria and Iraq feel after a wave of bomb attacks when a bomb hits a part of the house they're not in. Things aren't good, and we need to prepare for something worse the next time around, but we need to be grateful for things as they are.
I don't think Trump is any less a foe of the voluntary society (what people used to understand libertarianism to be) than Clinton, but we may have more room to work. A 40% tariff on imports, bad as it is, is light years more tolerable than nuclear war with Russia or even Iran.
I'm reminded of a cartoon I saw after the hurricane that smashed Haiti only grazed Florida. It was of "the hand of God" between the hurricane and Florida. God has been merciful to us: Trump will damage things, but he won't destroy everything. I think I need to learn how to be loyal opposition here. As long as there is taxation, I must be in the opposition, but I need to learn how to package that opposition so that I can state it in terms of common goals: "You say this is what you want, but the route you're taking to get it" -- whether through eminent domain or tariffs or limiting migration (as opposed to ending the welfare state) -- "is less likely to succeed than removing all vestiges, to say nothing of the substance, of privilege and power from the ruling class."
How to do that when he and most Americans consider taxation a sacred duty when I consider it the abomination that makes all others possible I don't know yet. Let's see where we are in four years.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
For the purposes of this post, a bootlegger is anyone involved in a commercial activity of questionable moral value, e.g., commercial gambling, sex, or mind-altering substances. A Baptist is anyone who wants to use “the sword” of Romans 13:1–7 to prevent the bootlegger from bootlegging.
“That ought to be a crime! There should be a law against it!”
One of the consequences—Or was it a cause?—of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is the human tendency to believe in salvation by law: if we just make a law against bad things, we can muster our forces against the evil and it will go away.
Armed with Romans 13, Christians, especially since the Progressive era of the mid-nineteenth century, have tried to use political power to wipe out social evils. In doing so they have inadvertently attempted to do God one better: the evils they are attempting to wipe out are evils that God has nowhere said he wants us to eradicate by force.
This is not to say that social evils are not evil. Gambling is a zero-sum perversion of mutually beneficial investment in businesses that offer evidence, but no guarantee, of success. Intoxication is a perversion of the pleasure that accompanies a stomach full of nutritious food. Prostitution is a perversion of marital love.
But God has nowhere commanded his people to use force to eradicate these evils. The Bible speaks to menstruation, wet dreams, and defecation, so it’s not as if he was shy about telling what to do about gambling and prostitution and intoxication. And in fact he does tell us what to do: “Preach the gospel to all creation.”
We are to do our best to convince our neighbors to abandon evil practices. And while “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” is not in the Bible, at least not in as many words, if two and two make four, we will be most likely to convince people to make the right decision from the heart if they know we don’t threaten them.
So sometimes less is more. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay. Let the dead bury their own dead. You follow me.”
There’s another, a “two and two make four,” reason to avoid taking the sword against bootleggers. By doing so we play into the hands of the most ruthless among them.
By arresting the Fantines (i.e., desperate women) and the Xaviera Hollanders (i.e., those who do it for fun) among the sex workers, we eliminate the competition for those who kidnap women and enslave them. By arresting the people who grow pot in their basements and sell it on the streets, we eliminate the competition for the cartels, who are not averse to using their profits to set up political entities: can you say warlord?
And by outlawing penny-ante card games and online poker, we eliminate the competition for brick-and-mortar gambling establishments, which are also not averse to setting up political entities. Hmm, gambling and politics. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—do you suppose they have any connection to legal, cartelized gambling money?
When God said, “Do not steal,” he meant it. What people do with their property is their business until they put their neighbors’ lives and property in credible danger. We may wish that they did something better with it than what they’re doing, but God has not called us to confiscate their property for some “higher purpose.”
We are to do for them what we want them to do for us: first, leave us and our property alone, and only in that context, help us when we ask for it.