Our Allegiances and the Role of Government
I wrote a book on the Lord's Prayer entitled Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord's Prayer. In that book I try to make the case that if we are to take seriously the prayer of Jesus, which so many of us pray each week, then we need to understand that this is a pledge of allegiance to the realm/kingdom of God. If this is true then every other allegiance, whether to country, ethnic group, family, tribe, or whatever, must be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. I firmly believe this to be true, which is one of the reasons why I'm always quesy about the display of flags in churches and making a big deal about national holidays in church. I'm not so sure that the Jehovah's Witnesses aren't correct in their refusal to say the pledge of allegiance to the flag -- could this not be a graven image?
If our allegiances must be placed secondary to that of God, what does that mean for the way we participate in or with the national state? In Romans 13 Paul tells the church to submit to the governing authorities; "for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (vs. 1). Those words have been used by many an authority, ecclesial and governmental, to enforce authoritarianism and deprive people of rights and liberty. It has also left many a Christian passive in the face of evil. Who am I to resist the government? I don't want to go into a discussion of how Paul may have intended Romans 13 to be read, except to say that Paul seems to be concerned about order, has a sense that the end is near, and therefore, Christians need to keep their heads down.
But, how should we live now? After all the eschaton has yet to arrive 2000 years later.
I am not a statist. I don't believe that any particular government is divinely inspired or ordered -- including that of the United States (I need to note here that John Fea's Was America Founded as a Christian Nation, WJK, 2011 arrived today). At the same time, I'm a realist and I believe that government is necessary -- not a necessary evil, but a necessity to provide for order and more importantly to help provide for the common good. Government can be overbearing and it can be evil. It can be inefficient -- democracy is a very inefficient form of government -- and it's only as good as its leaders.
Government isn't perfect, but I'm concerned that we're heading down a road that's very dangerous -- a road where certain parties are seeking to delegitimize government. Whatever its inanities at times, good government is possible, and when we believe that government itself is at best a necessary evil then I think we'll create a self-fufilling prophecy. Why would good people want to participate in government if it is such a bad institution?
So, as we stand on the brink of a government shutdown that is as much about ideology as it is about cutting deficits, I'd like to ask the question -- if government were to disappear today, what would you miss?
As you seek to formulate your answers, let me suggest a few possibilities:
- Clean water and clean air
- safe roads
- travel safety of all kinds
- libraries and schools (education)
- affordable health care for the poor
- safety nets
- disaster relief
- I could go on . . .
If you find government a problem, do you think laissez-faire corporate control would be better?