Making Room for a Theology of Resistance

This week, President-elect Donald Trump will become President Donald Trump. Not everyone in our community shares the same feelings about say the least. One thing is certain. If our spirituality does not help us to relate to the world, to society, to government, in a moment like this then we need a deeper spirituality.

Does a Christian spirituality have anything to say about how to engage with government when someone like Trump, any leader from whom we can expect dehumanization of marginalized people, is elected? Many Christians say, "Yes, just pray for him!" And while praying for him is good (and much needed), I want to offer what I think is a deeper way.

Many of the just-pray-for-him Christians, if they can trace that theology to our sacred texts, will draw on Romans 13, one of the Apostle Paul's most famous statements on faithful relation to the government:

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. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 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. 

Now, this seems pretty straightforward (and a bit naive, frankly). Just live a good life and don't rebel and you'll be fine. But if you just think for one hot second, you have to ask yourself, "Did Paul really mean this as straightforwardly and naively as it sounds?"

For one thing, Paul was familiar with oppressive governmental regimes that wielded terror for those who do right! He wrote the majority of his letters in the New Testament from prison. In Acts 16, he was stripped, beaten, flogged and imprisoned for freeing a young girl from physical and spiritual slavery. In actual fact, he broke the law. But it was an unjust law...and he suffered the consequences of an unjust justice system. (If you know Paul's story, you can interpret his letters more effectively).

Beyond Paul's own story, the Bible is full of stories of unjust, even horrifically tyrannical governments. And Paul was a Bible scholar. He knew the story of Moses, for example, who resisted Pharaoh's slave-making authority over the Israelites. 

No, Paul is not saying, "Never stand up against unjust authority. Always blindly follow the orders of the government because the government always does justly." Absolutely, not! Paul is saying, don't be anti-authority as your default position. Governmental authority is not an evil, per se. Don't just rebel because you can't handle being told what to do.

Don't resist authority. Resist injustice. Resist abuses of authority. Resist apathy in the face of sanctioned danger to your neighbors. Christians, and all people of good will, must resist the governmental authority when that authority uses its power to dehumanize, oppress, and destroy human beings. And we must do this in a way that does not further dehumanize, oppress, and destroy other human beings.

Resistance like this could be found in World War II Germany, hiding Jewish neighbors from the Nazis. Resistance could be found in Birmingham Alabama in 1963, during sit-ins and marches organized by the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights & Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Resistance may very well be needed again if campaign rhetoric turns into executive action.  

When we are asked implicitly or explicitly by the powers that be to be silent in the face of injustice, we must say with the apostles Peter and John, "Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?"



Photo Creative Commons via Gage Skidmore on Flickr