Eugene Cho

blind versus discerning submission

photo by cbc.ca

I received this comment last week regarding my supposed slandering of soon to be former President George W. Bush.  The funny thing was I was trying to defend him in that post about an Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe at him.  Okay, I know he’s not the greatest president and many can’t wait to see him out of office but we should give him some props.  Why?  His work and advocacy for Africa was signifcant and secondly, the reality of extremist terrorists is legit and he navigated the country through uncharted territories especially through post 9/11.  But I still don’t support the war in Iraq.

Anyway, read the comment below.  Good thoughts for rumination by the commenter who I don’t know.  I appreciate the respectful tone in which he communicated his concerns.  But honestly, I get very concerned about Christians quoting Scriptures instructing people to “respect our governing authorities and fall in submission to them.”  

Really?  Yes, let’s respect our leaders.  I agree that it’s important but please don’t blindly submit to your leaders.  Please don’t tell this to Christians in Burma.  Please don’t tell this to people under the terror of Mugabe in Zimbabwe.  Please don’t tell this to the 200,000+ Christians that are in concentration camps in North Korea…

Respect is one thing.  Blind submission is another.  What do you think?

you said that his memoirs would be the biggest selling because he would share things he could not during his presidency as well as an apology.

and i would like to know if he had explicitly communicated that he would issue an apology in his memoir or are you just implying in a back handed way that you view his decisions as huge mistakes to be apologized for?

if not, then i would like to remind you, with respect, the words of romans 13 instructs us that we should respect our governing authorities and fall in submission to them. paul wrote these words as christians were being persecuted and killed. the same apostle instructed us that everything is permissible but not beneficial and you who are mature should always be mindful of the weaker christian.

pastor eugene, as someone whom i greatly respect for the honorable work and service you execute for God, i know that many take your lead and follow it. i just want to express my concern for the weaker christian, as many in our city are theologically deviant and authority hating. I wonder is this sentiment due to the lack of good examples to follow? should we not try to foster a heart that respects our government and authorities no matter how much we disagree?

though its flawed because of sinful humans, in God’s economy we all have our roles. the bible says we submit to the government and the government submits to god.

is it not the christian’s hope that the leader makes his apology to God not us? and is it not the christian’s role to ( regardless of the situation ) repect the government? NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH CONDONE SINS… but address sins in a respectful way? so christ is exalted.

Dr. King set the bar with civil disobedience. he addressed atrocities in a holy yet extremely painful way. instead of borderline gossiping, slandering, and gossiping about the government.

if its something to write about maybe its your responsibility to address the situation respectfully and leave it between you and the government. instead of posting hateful disapproving words that could potentially lead the weaker christian down a bad path.

to be sure, i do not intend this to be a judgement of your heart and person, as im sure everybody knows it is a large and loving one. but it is an expression of concern regarding your followers and their misinterpretation of your words and sentiments.

Filed under: bible, christianity, church, justice, , ,

18 Responses

  1. elderj says:

    Well Eugene, to be fair, your commenter did not use the words “blindly submit.” Those are your words, and they imply something not implied in the comment (or portion thereof) which you quoted. Aside from that though, I have come to believe that one of the “original sins” of the US is actually very much tied to an unwillingness to submit. We are a nation born in rebellion, that celebrates having our own way, and that takes more than a little joy in thumbing our nose at authority. To be sure, submission is not to be confused with blind allegiance and it certainly does not require a suspension of one’s critical faculties. And submission does not mean agreement.

    I understand your concern about Christians quoting scripture in support of this or that issue, but your commenter does cite it in context. The Roman government which crucified Jesus is the same one to which he called the early Christians to submit up until the point where such submission would cause them to violate God’s law. Jesus himself willingly submitted ti the authority of the high priest. So submission is throughout the NT. And yes that word is the same to believers throughout history and in every place; we are to submit willingly until the point where such submission causes us to violate the law of God. It is a tragic thing that such obedience to the cause of Christ is all to often the cause of persecution for our brethren around the world.

    Submission does not imply that a particular government is moral; the Roman Empire was anything but. It does not imply that disobedience to unjust law or protestations against the same are never in order; Christianity has a long tradition and intellectual history of civil disobedience. Submission rather recognizes that there is a principle of authority present in the universe that is established and sustained by God. All too frequently our protests and complaints are merely anti-authoritarian impulses in disguise, dressed up in the garment of righteous indignation, when it is neither righteous or really even indignant.

    Lastly, and I will close this comment which has become essay, the word respect is too weak a word in our current usage. People say they respect the president (or their pastor, or whomever) and yet say the most disrespectful things, encourage the most salacious gossip, and condone the most flagrant smears against them. This is not respect. So then we add to our disrespect the sin of deceit, because we pretend a humility that we do not have.

    P.S. We don’t know where he will rank among greatest or not among presidents yet. History will judge that. After all Lincoln wasn’t at all popular at his death, but Coolidge presided over one of the most prosperous periods in US history. Nixon opened relations with China and ended the Vietnam War, but he isn’t very popular right now. Kennedy invaded Cuba and got us into Vietnam, but people think he’s great. Time will tell…

  2. yeah elder j, long comment, but i think your point is we should always submit to authority until the point of violating the law of God, right?

    what about the third way? subversion? jesus submitted to the hight priest, but subverted the high priest’s purposes by revealing the bankruptcy of the moral law. also, turning the other cheek, giving your cloak and tunic, walking two miles instead of one, and not to mention the fish with the coin in its mouth are classic examples of there being a way to submit and yet subvert.

    i don’t think these things are necessarily in disagreement either, just fishing for some other points of view.

  3. elderj says:

    Yeah, subversion is an interesting concept. I agree that Jesus indeed subverted the high priest’s purpose and we follow in his footsteps, eh? These are not in disagreement, though I would say that we have to be profoundly humble and aware of our tendency to justify ourselves (in the same way that power seeks legitimization) by using notions such as subversion. That is why the efforts of non-violent peaceful resistance were so powerful in subverting the law through disobedience. The protesters broke the law but then willingly and protestingly submitted to the consequences, thus utterly exposing the bankrupt morality inherent in the law.

  4. kateflorida says:

    I’ve often thought that we in this nation, myself included, are somewhat blind/calloused to our own rebelliousness. We don’t have a good understanding of how to act out true NT respect and submission. In all the situations I’ve been in, I still don’t have any idea what it means have a servantlike attitude. I simmer or act out when treated unfairly,or unjustly, and it is a good thing to try and stop unfair and unjust treatment towards others. But when reading and thinking about the inhumane treatment people in general and christians in particular have been subjected to… well it’s humbling. This is definately a thought provoking topic.

  5. Steve says:

    Is our ‘subversion’ motivated by a desire to ‘get mine?’ A desire to ‘show them for what they are?’ Or a genuine love of God’s world and God’s people, and a desire to see His Kingdom come in a world tainted by abusive power and corrupting desire?

    Desmond Tutu said something along the lines of, “True revolution will set the oppressed free from being oppressed, and it will set the oppressors free from being oppressors!”

    It will be obvious to anyone watching which mindset we are acting out of, even if it is opaque to ourselves!

  6. john says:

    as elderj said,

    we are a country birthed by rebellion

    dissent by the people is protected and encouraged. If God has given us a government that included our dissent, shouldn’t we respect that aspect as well?

  7. Where’s the line being drawn between respect and condoning, or between subversion and rebellion? How do we decide which is good and which is bad?

  8. Jim Chen says:

    Maybe there were a lot of rebels and rioters back in Rome when Paul wrote. To me, this chapter is talking about the role of government. That it has the right to punish when you break the law. It is saying you have to submit to the law. Government are GOD’s servants also, that’s why we pay taxes. But if government officials are not doing right, they should be taken out. If laws are not right, they should be repealed. Thank GOD we have a system of government that allows us to do so.

  9. Dan Hauge says:

    After my quick re-reading of Romans 13, Paul does command us to ‘be subject to governing authorities’, although he doesn’t specifically say ‘respect’ them. Now, I doubt Paul would advocate flagrant disrespect of governing authorities, but since much of the premise for this conversation is Paul’s command for us to ‘respect the authorities’ I thought it was worth bringing up. (He does later talk about giving respect and honor to everyone to whom it is due, including the authorities, but only in a way in which it is also applicable to anyone else.)

    Jesus himself once referred to King Herod as a ‘fox’. That one comment is probably insufficient to build any kind of theology on, but the point is–I simply don’t believe that the biblical command to submit to the authorities mean that we should always speak only in reverential tones about them. What Paul was talking about, in context, clearly had more to do with following the laws of society, and acknowledging the authority of those who were charged with enforcing the laws. So if I speed down I-5, and try to evade the police car that is chasing me, that has a lot more to do with what Paul is talking about, rather than insisting I must never make fun of or stridently disagree with whoever is in the oval office.

    Simply asserting an opinion that the current President has much to apologize for is not disobeying Romans 13.

  10. chad says:

    on subversion: i don’t think Jesus would have said that he was subverting the high priests or the Temple order, he would say he was redeeming it – bringing it back to its original true purpose (which the High Priest and various corrupt systems had, themselves, subverted. and which only rarely did fulfill its original role from the time it was founded – a testament to depravity(?)).
    so the way i always took the whole argument was that we are to be true and obedient to commands of the Creator and to live lives founded in the character and heart of the Law. which is, at least the way I understand it, Love. When the governing bodies and institutions made and run by men make laws and enact policy that runs parallel to this ethos we are, by virtue of the fact that 1=1 obeying a man-made, man-run government. Conversely, when governments make laws and policy that run counter to the ethos of Love, we subvert/civily disobey/counteract those actions with our own.
    if the question is “whose authority do we recognize to make national decisions” like laws and foreign policy or economic policy, it seems to me that the point made by Paul is that we submit in those respects to the official government, not setting up a mafia of sorts to coordinate a second government under and behind the national government (which, i just realized, the institutionalized Church in America could be argued to be, lol).
    In our current country and society this raises a wrinkle because our government gives us the freedom to do things like impose restrictions on ourself (either through legislation or through personal choice); it also gives us the freedom to, essentially, make foreign policy – if we have the resources, we can go anywhere in the world we please and do what we will (i’m thinking of the Mennonite Central Committee or other 501(c)3′s or NGO’s involved in the life of citizens of other countries around the globe). So, i guess the point i am trying to make is that our government itself gives us the freedom to thumb our noses at it – if we don’t like it’s policy of sales of weapons to foreign militants, we can go to that place and get involved there to show the futility of armed struggle. if we don’t like our government’s policy on the treatment of wetlands, we can purchase the wetlands and manage them ourselves or go through democratic channels to enact legislation to produce the same results.

  11. Peter says:

    Interesting conversations. Romans 13:1-7 has been the subject of much controversial discussions. Hitler used it to summon the obedience of the German church to his totalitarian rule, including his acts of evil perpectrated through the holocaust. Of course, I am not making any comparison between our present government and the Nazis. Few of us would even think about it, except for some leftwing crazies. Few of us have ever experienced the challenge of being under a government that embodies evil through attitudes and policies that reflect the devil himself. Whether we agree with this outgoing administration’s and President’s policies and decisions, I don’t think any of their decisions would be assessed in the way Hitler’s actions were assessed. We may not support the Iraq war, but we are not among those who suffered under Saddam’s tyrannical regime. The President did what he thought was the best for the nation, and even to some extent, the world. He could be wrong. Sincerity of intention is no proof of its goodness. Yet, none of us know perfectly all that is going on in this world. Just as we are reminded every Sunday at church that the church at its best is still a flawed community of sinners saved b y grace, how much more so, any collection of politicians trying to govern a nation and intervene in the affairs of the world?

    I agree with elderj that history will be the judge of this outgoing president. Personally, I think we owe it to him to leave him some dignity in his exit, for trying so hard to do what was right “in his own eyes” for the benefit of this nation, even if we disagreed. This is what I understand “respect” and “submission” in this present political context of ours. Let’s not be quick to judge his flaws. We are not perfect. So is he.

    Now back to Romans 13. I agree that we should not forget the context that Paul wrote it. We must not minimize it by our own experience of freedom, or pretend we understand fully the struggles of living out the Christian faith under the Roman regime. It seemed that Paul had a somewhat positive experience of the Roman regime (Acts 16; 18:12-17; 21:39; 22:23-29; 25:10-11). Yet Paul was not naive about the complicity of the Roman rule in the crucifixion of Jesus. Neither was he blind to the injustice and evil that is present within the Roman government. So Paul did not exhort Christians to “blindly” submit to government authorities.

    There was growing discontent withe power of the Roman rule during Pauls time. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us so. When we add the Jewish zealot movement into the mix of discontent, we can understand how the Christians at that time, with their experience of persecution and injustice, might be tempted to take on the same attitude of not submitting but instead revolting. I don’t think Paul is giving a complete treatise about the relationship between Christians/church and state here. He was writing to help Christians deal with the challenge of a climate of growing insubmission to governing authorities. Perhaps this should resonate with our current climate. Nonetheless the principle of submission to government authorities is timeless.

    Now we must read this text, and seek to understand and apply it, knowing that we are raised and blessed with the tradition of democratic freedom. In the climate of the recent campaign promises of returning the governemnt to the people, we, of course, feel that our lens of understanding the choices we have in influencing our government’s policies as ordinary citizens. Not so for millions of people who live under autocratic and even repressive regimes.

    Ps E knows that there are suffering Christians around the world, and he seems to apply his understanding of not blindly submitting to government to the suffering church worldwide. Think of how the house hcurch exploded in China? Through political rebellion or insurgencies? I just re-visited a church in Kathmandu Nepal, which I visited in 1980. Then the church was about 300, with many of their believers having gone to prison for periods of 3-6 years because of their faith, some even on multiple occasions!!! Many have suffered persecution that made my own experience of it then seemed trite. Nepal has been through political instability because of corruption of the government and the monarchic rule, until last year. The current Maoist government is no better, as seen in the recent street protests by young people, and conditions of poverty that prevailed over much of Nepal. I have never known or heard of the church in Nepal protesting against the government. They did not have the freedom of speech, like we do. Perhaps. Or perhaps, they are more like the church that Peter exhorted Christians to be: 1 Peter 2:13-25. The church that I worshipped with this last Chrsitmas at Kathmandu is now 10,000 strong, with 14 worship centers in Kathmandu valley!!! There are now an estimated 400 churches in Kathmandu alone. Young Nepalese are questioning their inherited Hindu identity and faith, now more than ever. While trekking, we were accompanied by a Hindu porter, who is seeking the Christian faith and invited us to a Christmas service. It is amazing! The Nepalese government proclaimed Christmas as a national holiday in Nepal for the first time in its history. Its President and Prime Minister even sent greetings ot churches and Christians on Christmas day! In fact, the President was to visit the church where we worshipped on Christmas day, but he was still recovering from a recent surgery. None of this freedom enjoyed by the Christians were attained by the political process, because they did not have any then (and not much of it even now). It was a great living testimony and fruit of faith in action under the worst of times.

    I am in no way suggesting political passivity. Instead I am suggesting that we need to comment on what we know in our context, and seek to live out our obedience to biblical principles faithfully as witnesses of Christ for the message of reconciliation and redemption. Given our political freedom, we must seek to understand what does it mean to submit to our elected government, yet obey God rather than men (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2: 13-25; Acts 4:19-20). And to do so blamelessly. We have to be careful when we extrapolate from scriptures, and even from our context of political freedom, applying our limited understanding universally to all people.

    Let me summarize some thoughts here:

    1. Submission means submission. If we start qualifying, we need to check our own motives, and guard against the deceitfulness of our own hearts. All the biblical texts about submission has to do with acknowledging the rightful leadership that one has over another. It is very clear where rightful leadership ends – when orders are given to dishonor or disown Christ.

    2. Implicit in this idea of submission is the recognition of God’s sovereignty, and that He is at the pinnacle of all authority. Therefore our ultimate submission must be to God. When we echo the cries of the Apostles in Acts 4:19-20 in areas that clearly challenge our faith in and loyalty to God, we must decide who we rather obey even if it incurs persecution and sufferings – like the church in China, Nepal and many other nations in the world experienced and chose to obey God even to death.

    3. Submission is expressed through obedience, but it doesn’t necessarily obedience in all things, especially where specific decisions or policies force us to do something that are incompatible with our faith and allegiance to God (Acts 5:29). We will, of course, disagree about what those specific occasions might be. I agree with Chad about our personal responsibility to act, given our freedom to so! Rather than debate about it, just do it! Amen.

    4. Check out http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/bonhoeffer/particulars.shtml for a more detailed discussion of our faith through our civil liberty. Bonhoeffer is a shining example, and yet his example is not perfect.

    Sorry for this rather long discourse.

  12. Matthew says:

    It is an interesting question. But I would argue that there is a good case to be made that much of our Scripture has at its core a subversive nature, and to overlook this in preference to a single passage in Romans seems somewhat irresponsible. I recently read Ched Myers’ excellent book, ‘Binding the Strong Man’. He argues very convincingly, using a hybrid of historical and literary criticism, of a Jesus portrayed by the Gospel of Mark as an extremely subversive figure. The very notion of a ‘Gospel’ as a message of messianic peace and hope was subversive in a time when the Greek word ‘euaggelion’ had the original connotation of an announcement of a Roman imperial military victory.

    As described by Myers, the teachings and symbolic direct actions of Mark’s Jesus are always portrayed in diametric opposition to the temple authorities (healing on the Sabbath and contact with lepers, ‘unclean’ women and Gentiles, all of which were forbidden under the debt and purity laws of the time) and to the Roman authorities (the exorcism of the ‘Legion’ from the Gerasene demoniac and the drowning of the herd of pigs in the sea, symbolising the expulsion of the Roman Empire from Judaea while referencing the drowning of the Egyptian forces in the Red Sea during the Exodus).

    But Jesus also overturned the expectations of the Jewish social bandits and other messianic groups that the Messiah would arrive in kingly triumph to drive out the Roman empire with military force and restore the Temple to its former glory. Instead, he entered Jerusalem on a lowly donkey not with a military but amongst a crowd of hungry followers. He drove the moneychangers from the Temple and opened it to everyone, after prophesying that the Temple would be destroyed with not a single stone left standing. At the same time, his practice was not a military practice, but throughout his ministry was always one of nonviolent direct confrontation and reflection. I think Myers makes a good case that the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark was consistently anti-authoritarian and anti-hierarchical, but again not blindly and proudly so as elderj very rightly pointed out we Americans too often are.

    How does this relate to Romans? I think Paul’s comments in Romans have to be considered in the context of a social practice among early Christians of nonviolent direct action and witness, often against the Roman imperial government (for example St Maximilian of Tebessa). I think many of the comments here are on the right track in comparing this kind of practice to the nonviolent direct action of the Civil Rights movement, and the kind of submission and obedience to the rule of law inherent in such forms of protest.

    As to Bush, I have never made any bones about my dislike for a number of his policies, particularly with regard to science, to the environment and to the use of institutionalised violence (both the death penalty and the larger issue of war). Very few if any of his actions reflect a sense of accountability or obedience to the American public which elected him, and he has behaved with little more than contempt for those who disagree with him. That’s not to say that he hasn’t done anything of merit – as Eugene said, his policies toward the poor in Africa have produced laudable results, but I would definitely not say criticism of the sitting government is contrary to Christian orthopraxis, particularly when so many moral issues are at stake.

    Peace,
    Matthew

  13. JC says:

    Well said Eugene!–I like the distinction you made between submission and blind submission. –Submission should be our respectful response to just law and leadership– a God informed, qualified obedience. Blind submission is unquestioning compliance with and perhaps mindlessly ignoring injustice–and not what the Romans passage describes.

  14. Kevin says:

    I think Romans 13 is being written, in part at least, to the Zealots, some of whom were in Jesus’ inner circle. Paul is telling them not to revolt, especially not violently.

    Just as, for example, Romans 12 is being written, in part at least, to the political legitimizers, some of whom were in Jesus’ inner circle. Paul is telling them not to conform to the evilness of the political establishment.

    Our job is to walk the middle line.

  15. Tom says:

    Encouraging thread.

    @elderj

    Seems like you’re trying to work out an important take. You’re not communicating clearly to me right now but I think you’re on to something significant.

    Paul encouraged slaves to submit to their masters. Yet, at the same time, he challenged Christians to live and speak out in a way that challenged the foundations and false claims of an institution like slavery.

    I think Paul–as a pastor–recognized that some Christians took their freedom too far into hatred and violent reactions against governing authorities who, in the end, are just fallen people like everybody else. Romans 13 makes a lot of sense in that context.

    I like to call that kind of tension ‘Christian Anarchy.’ ”Anarchy’ because Christians can never feel at home with any fallen authority and should challenge them all, and ‘Christian’ to distinguish that kind of anarchy from the dumb and violent worldly versions (like Al Queda).

    I’m not sure what to do with your example of MLK and the civil rights movement.

    Seems like he tried to follow Paul’s pattern. MLK challenged the political authorities of the time in pretty withering terms–I guess some conservatives would consider him disrespectful–while rejecting physical violence in his attempt to overthrow those authorities.

    Nobody who was alive then would think King had much respect for the politics of the time. He made that clear in almost every writing or speech. I think he had some respect for the basic idea of necessary political authority in a fallen world that keeps things from getting way violent and crazy, often by imposing order by violence. I think he was a ‘Christian Anarchist’ for lack of a better term.

    I think King would have felt very comfortable challenging GWB very specifically and exposing the pretensions of arrogant and violent worldly power.

    I appreciate your concern that some progressives have gone too far in reducing Bush to a ‘sub-human.’ That kind of thing has no place among Christian Anarchists.

    But, in my view, most of the dehumanizing rhetoric and action in American politics and in the conservative church has moved ‘right against left’ in recent decades. I think the worldly reaction of the left has been sad but pretty understandable.

    Some of us are pretty tired of it. I guess all of us are pretty tired of it.

  16. Travis McKee says:

    So I doubt anyone is reading this way down here but:
    I agree that we need to submit to the laws. I agree that we need to show respect. Eugene did not burn a pic of the president, simply stated that things were wrong. If that effort is not showing respect, then we are not being respectful to Eugene because we are saying that he did something wrong. If we are not to say things are wrong, then there will be no change.
    SPEAK UP!

  17. david says:

    wow i just saw this today ( like 5 years after the dust settled ).

    I feel like i must apologize after reading my original comment and make some retractions.

    1. I insinuated that your words were in fact “hateful and disapproving” … when i was trying to communicate that some people could MISTAKE your words for such. I know how frustrating it is when people twist your words and put them back in your mouth. and i see that i am guilty of this.

    2. I must apologize for any misunderstandings as my point became long fuzzy and convoluted.

    i didnt mean to imply that people should submit blindly… i dont think i even mentioned the idea of submission in my comment… but since you brought up the subject… may i submit the idea that there is no such thing as blind submission?

    For submission to exist, isnt there a need for conflict and disagreement?

    For someone to blindly “submit” with no issue… i believe that would be called agreement maybe ignorance?

    all semantics aside i did raise issue of respect (not submission)
    i even went as far as to cite dr king’s civil DISOBEDIENCE in an effort to highlight the Christian’s responsibility to exercise our choice of submitting or protesting against sin respectfully. wasnt his nonviolent respectful approach to racism ( the polar opposite of malcom x and the militant black panthers ) that won his conflict?

    in daniel we are told of 3 God loving men who a king tried to burn for their disobedience.

    im all for not submitting when push comes to shove and sin is on the horizon…

    submission of any sort was never a point of mine…

    what i tried to convey was concern for the less mature christians (the kind the apostle paul speaks of in 1 cor) who take their cues from pastors/elders/older brothers/sisters… and the possible disrespect they foster out of opinions they could misinterpret (and god forbid interpret correctly).

    a moot point possibly, but i felt i needed to say it, as i know many impressionable ( even know it all kids ) who think the internet is their bible…

    i foresaw someone saying pastor eugene doesnt agree with the war RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE KILL BUSH … and such.

    at any rate. i need to stop now because this is just getting too long. and i want to say that i greatly respect and admire the work you do for God.

    Thanks

  18. david says:

    … and yet another retraction…

    i did mention submission while citing the verse but my focus was meant to be on the issue of respect.

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