It would be an utter dismissal of American culture and history to denounce the crucial role that Christianity has played. It is impossible deny the presence of a church on nearly every street corner in the so-called “bible belt”, and also ubiquitous throughout the rest of the country as well. There are approximately 300,000 churches in the United States, and it is estimated that about 20% of Americans attend one of these Christian churches every weekend.
Whether it’s the founding fathers praying before each Continental Congress meeting, the Catholicism of John F. Kennedy being a contentious issue during his election, or Donald Trump calling for a day of prayer in light of the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, religion has curiously mingled in our nation’s politics. Now, some would argue this has been of benefit to America, and some say it has been a catastrophe. It is not my intention to make a case for either side of that issue. My thesis is that through the vehicle of Christian thought, there has arisen a worship of another God, markedly different from the one described in the Bible: the State.
This notion has stemmed as a response to certain supposedly biblical teachings, and the manner in which they are taught. Romans 13:1-2 is commonly used, where Peter has written:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
On the face of it, this may seem to completely legitimize and support many church’s conclusion to always follow the law, whether in private or public. However, there is a major factor of this particular aspect of scripture that when left out of the teaching, causes it to be a command to worship the government: the ultimate end of submitting to this authority is for the Lord’s sake, and it is the only end. This requires that if it becomes apparent that submitting to authority is not ultimately for the Lord’s sake, then there is no biblical justification for doing so.
An example of where this teaching goes awry is when drinking underage, gambling, or doing drugs are often mentioned in passing as sins, not based on scripture, but based simply on the fact that they are illegal. In the heart of this tendency, which I have witnessed growing up in a particular, anonymous church, is the eisegesic (putting your own meaning into the text) idea that the state is a moral agent. Whatever the state declares good is good, and what is declared bad is a sin. It is perfectly Christian to argue that we ought not do these things based on biblical ideas, but to justify this first via the authority of man is a textbook example of idolatry.
What I argue that Peter is teaching is that submitting to authority can be a means to a righteous end. This idea has been perverted to justify idolization of the government, making out the government to be a lesser God to worship when it’s not in conflict with the larger God. This is a sick ideological cancer on a pillar of our society, and we ought to combat it relentlessly.