Over the last month, I have been thinking a lot about a discussion point that I heard one evangelical Christian talk show host make when he was talking about how we have a “God-given right to freedom.” By his comment, I knew what he was saying and where he was going with it. He was saying that every single person has been made to be free and that it is our responsibility (as a country and as Christians) to fight for our God-given freedom.
In essence what he was saying is that Christians ought to be willing to support and/or participate in fighting and possibly killing, in order to preserve freedom that has been given to us by God.
Did you catch that? Fight and kill to preserve God-given freedom. It is an oxymoron.
His position had me asking all sorts of questions.
If freedom is of God, would God have us kill to maintain it? Is the freedom we talk about and fight to protect in our country the kind of freedom that God wants for us, or is it possible that freedom from God can be different than our cultural definition? And if there is another way to view freedom from God…is it possible to have this God-given freedom in the midst of tyranny and oppression?
All of these questions shake us to our core, because we, as Christians, have hardly taken the time to challenge those things that have been so culturally engrained in our collective psyche. The majority of Christian Americans can hardly imagine any other way of having freedom than fighting and killing to preserve it. We have failed in our churches to teach those who want to follow the way and life of Jesus that God-given freedom never has to be fought and killed for. The reality is that church leaders must either believe that our freedom must be fought and killed for like the masses they minister to, or they avoid saying those things that are politically incorrect so as not to offend the congregation…even if those things are central to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
In the gospel accounts, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,” yet we know that the prisoners were no less prisoners of the Roman Empire after Jesus proclaimed this good news than they were before he preached the good news, yet he claimed that he was proclaiming freedom for the prisoners nonetheless. If the prisoners were being set free, yet were still imprisoned, one has to wonder what kind of freedom Jesus was talking about, and then further wonder if his kind of freedom required fighting and killing in order to be preserved?
Our cultural definition of freedom is the unencumbered ability to pursue my own wants, wishes, and desires. Yet, this is very different than the freedom that Jesus was proclaiming and that God calls us to in and through the way and life of Jesus Christ. For the follower of Jesus, freedom is always a sacrifice of my own wants, wishes, and desires and a life fully given over to the Spirit of God. Paul would say it this way, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This would give us the impression that the freedom that God gives us through Jesus can be experienced in each and every kind of situation, no matter how oppressive or enslaving it may be.
For the one who follows the way and life of Jesus, who has picked up his/her cross dying to the pursuits of his/her own wants, wishes, and desires, and has taken on a new life through the Spirit of God, freedom is everywhere all the time and it does not have to be defended, fought, or killed for.
Yet many Christians who believe we ought to fight and kill in order to preserve our “God-given freedom” will be quick to cite Romans 13, when Paul says:
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 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 he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
While this passage has been used by many Christians out of context to make the case that since the governing authorities are the agents of God to bring punishment upon the wrongdoer…the Christian (even though it may contradict the way, life, and teachings of Jesus) ought to participate and support it…rather than tolerate and submit to it.
If we read Romans the way it was written (as a letter without chapter and verse numbers)…we would see that what immediately precedes the above excerpt is the larger context for how a Christian ought to conduct him/herself. The preceding texts says:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul is making the case to the Christians that they should not fight the tyranny of the governing authorities by retaliating and repaying evil with evil…rather calling on them to submit to the governing authorities so as to not be punished and to have a good conscience before God. Paul is directly in line with the heart and spirit of the way, life, and teachings of Jesus that calls the Christian to freedom through the Holy Spirit of God no matter the situation or circumstance.