5 Things to Bear in Mind about that Passage concerning “The Governing Authorities.”

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. —Romans 13:1–7 (NRSV)

These words have been getting a lot of attention over the last couple of days, primarily because Attorney General Jeff Sessions used this passage to justify the separation of children from their asylum seeking parents at the southern U.S. border.

It has been pointed out that this passage was used by slaveholders in the American South to justify the institution of slavery and to demand the obedience of slaves to the slaveholding system. It has been further pointed out that this passage was also used by the Deutsche Christen (the “German Christians”) in Nazi Germany to justify subservience to the Nazi state. Both of those things are true.

But the question for us is, given the apparent clear language of this passage, how do we make sense of what seems to be a straightforward Biblical admonition to submit to governmental authority? To understand this passage and what it means for us today, we have to bear a few things in mind. Continue reading


Made With Our Own Hands

Remarks delivered at “Critical Conversations: Gun Sense,” convened at the Baltimore-Washington Conference Mission Center by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, October 17, 2017.

Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe has spoken already to the policy and advocacy side of the question here today. I have been invited to address a theological perspective. As any good Methodist, I am naturally drawn to using the Quadrilateral and so, began my own reflection with the scriptures.

Scripture does not make explicit mention of firearms, of course, but it certainly has a lot to say about violence. And the scriptures are replete with references to swords—there are 407 verses that reference swords in some way, with the highest number in Ezekiel, followed by Jeremiah and 1 Samuel—books relating the story of Israel and Judah at war.

If one is to look for a consistent ethic, it is not always easy to find. There are certainly verses where God commands violence. There are verses in which violent retribution for some offenses is affirmed or tolerated. And of course, there are verses that counsel another way forward: Continue reading

A Christian Letter to the Mosques

Perhaps you have seen the news reports of the vile letter that was sent to a number of mosques throughout the country, threatening genocide against Muslims in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. The accompanying photograph of the handwritten note shows the letter signed “Americans for a Better Way.”

Well, the earliest Christians were called followers of “The Way” and this letter represents no part of that faith that I know. And so, I took it upon myself to write my own, handwritten letter—a Christian version of that same screed, improved to reflect the values and faith that are at the heart of The Way.

To the Children of Abraham and Ishmael,

You in the Muslim community are a generous and faithful people. Your mothers are compassionate and your fathers are giving. You are good. You worship God. And the day of your redemption is at hand.

img_5138There is no new ruler of the earth except the King on the Throne whose name is God. He will cleanse the world of sin, of racism, of bigotry, and hate, and will make it good again. He is going to start with us Christians. He is going to do with us as the Prophets did with the Jews—re-instilling in our hearts the Divine Law of love, justice, mercy, compassion, and love of neighbor. You in the Muslim community are our neighbors and will be blessed to remain so.

This is a great time for Faithful Christians to recommit themselves to the gospel of love that Jesus called us to live. We send you our prayers for long life and blessings upon you all.

American Followers of The Way

A Sacred Task

I am not about to argue that voting in itself is sacred.  Nor will I pretend that democracy is a political system ordained by God.  Those sentiments stray too closely into the Civil Religion of our country that is too often confused with Christian faith.  But I will say this: voting is a spiritual task and a sacred obligation for us as Christians.

ballotWhen Jesus is asked to name the greatest commandment in the law, he names two: “Israel, listen! Our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” and “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31 CEB)  Jesus quotes the great confession of Hebrew faith, the shema, as the first great commandment, but then reminds us that our covenant with God is accompanied by a covenant we have with one another, and a duty to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Voting is power.  It is the one great leveler in our political culture.  Regardless of wealth, education, status, race, or creed we all stand as equals in the voting booth. (Yes, I am aware that for those of us who live in the District of Columbia this isn’t exactly true.)  But the exercise of the right to vote is an exercise in political power.  And as Christians, we are called to use our power for the sake of our brothers and sisters, for the sake of our neighbors.

If we truly love our neighbors, then we care about their well-being.  We care about their health, their safety, their job security, their educational opportunities.  We care about all the things that lead to wholeness of life.  Voting, then, is not an exercise in insuring that we get what is beneficial to us alone, it is a sacred trust to exercise that power on behalf of others.

John Wesley wrote that to make Christianity into a “solitary religion is indeed to destroy it”.  Christian faith is inherently about community.  From the Immanent and Economic Communities of the Trinity to the community that is the church itself, we are believers in a God who expects us to be in relationship not only with God but with one another.

Voting is not in and of itself sacred.  We are not Roman Catonians who believe in the Divinity of the Republic itself.  We are Christians who believe in the divinity of Christ, who calls us into fellowship with him and one another.  Who calls us to be “last and servant of all”.  Who calls us to exercise power on behalf of “the least of these, my brothers and sisters”.  We are given an opportunity on Election Day to exercise power.  To do so on behalf of our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, is indeed a sacred task.

Christian Ethics and Voting Rights

I. Introduction


The logo of the Foundry Democracy Project of Foundry United Methodist Church

The people who inhabit the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., are the only American citizens who are subject to the draft, who pay their full measure of federal taxes, and who are subject to federal legislation, who have no voting representation in the Congress of the United States of America. While the city received a home rule government in 1974, the Congress has ultimate say over D.C. legislation and has in the past legislated specifically for the people of Washington, often on matters contrary to their will. Various movements have attempted to secure voting representation for District residents through a variety of means. In recent years, the  intensity and activity of the voting rights movement has reached a level unprecedented in the history of Washington.

This paper is addressed to Christians who seek to discern what the church’s role should be in this cause. It is written for Christians who believe that they should be active in the political order and that the Church does have something to say about the forms of government under which we live. [1] Continue reading