Many Christians use religious rhetoric to support President Trump and reference scriptural texts such as Romans 13:1 to defend their allegiance: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
Their endorsement of policies that reject refugees, ban foreigners, deport immigrants, limit healthcare, reduce environmental protections, cut educational funding, bomb enemies, and have a detrimental impact on countless lives is all done under the guise of a “biblical” rationale.
What they fail to acknowledge is that these Bible verses assume this “submitting” is coinciding—and never contradicting—the supreme call to love God and love others.
Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 22: 36-40).
Christians using Romans 13 as a defense in today’s political climate are ignoring the words of Peter when he tells the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) and the teachings of Jesus himself when he proclaimed “no one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).
Large numbers of conservative Christians suggest Trump is appointed by God yet insist he shouldn’t be held to the same standards of integrity that God commands. Any moral and spiritual qualms (and there have been many) are defended with verses such as Mark 12: 17—Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s—and Trump fans are quick to promote the separation of church and state as a convenient alibi against any faith-related criticism. Because Trump is vocationally a politician and not a pastor, they tout a divinely ordained leader who is immune to the spiritual expectations exemplified by Jesus.
The problem with this newfound appreciation of Romans 13 and the separation of God and Caesar is that it presupposes an us vs. government relationship, yet unlike the first century where Roman rulers were mainly determined by heredity, lineage, or brute force, today we are the government.
We the people get to choose our leaders, and we can’t detach ourselves from the moral obligations of a government we directly influence, control, and put into power. This is especially absurd when a major platform for endorsing Trump in the first place was based upon “Christian values.” Many evangelicals did promote Trump under the pretense of Christianity, so shouldn’t he be held according to those same standards now that he’s been elected?
Arguing that God put the government in place and Trump should be exempt from any sort of religious criticism is a justification by Trump’s Christian supporters to sign off on any legislation and executive orders that are callous and cruel, and the God-is-sovereign theory prevents questioning anything his administration does. However, we know from history that executive orders and laws are fallible and can even be downright evil.
Slavery, segregation, the internment of American citizens, and many other injustices were all once legal under U.S. law, and it would be naïve to assume similar wrongs don’t exist today or won’t exist tomorrow, which is why we must always be vigilant.
It was only a short time ago that many Trump voters lambasted the government—and hatefully opposed the Obama administration—for “sinfully” legalizing gay marriage and abortion, and judged anything and anyone according to their own Christian convictions. Ironically, the precedent for Christian outrage directed towards our highest elected officials was set by the very same people who are now adamantly opposed to it.
And the idea that God somehow specifically favors this government and this president also fails to consider the countless other global governments and leaders that have come into power, many of whom directly oppose Trump’s policies and agendas, and many of which are ruthlessly oppressive and tyrannical (Assad, Kim Jong-un, etc.).
Besides the problem of trying to decipher which God-ordained authorities are favored by God and which ones aren’t—especially when their policies either overlap or directly contrast each other—are we also supposed to respect dictators, war criminals, and authoritarian regimes as being divine appointments as well? Additionally, how can we fault citizens living in enemy states who wage war against the U.S., because aren’t they just following the Bible and submitting to their rulers and authorities, too?
Ultimately, today’s American Christians are separated into two political groups according to two differing biblical commands, one which says to submit to authorities, and the other which says you shall love your neighbor as yourself. When the two contradict each other, believers must choose which one to prioritize.
But God has already told us which directive is more important—to love your neighbor as yourself.
This is the ultimate argument favoring Christian resistance: we’re instructed to emulate the love of Christ, who is our final authority, and we must resist anything or anyone (even government officials) preventing this love from being given or received. Because to love God and to love others are the two things upon which depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:40).
Christians who propose that the current government and its laws should be the ultimate authority often forget that some of the Bible’s most esteemed figures were arrested and thrown in jail. Peter, John, Paul, Silas, and Stephen were all law-breakers, and Jesus himself was seized, put on trial, and crucified legally, well within the laws of the Roman Empire.
Most of the disciples and apostles faced martyrdom—often by the hands of the government authorities—and the early church followed a similar fate, and these were the very first Christian resisters.
This resistance was devoid of hate and always rooted in love. It wasn’t motivated by a desire to overthrow the Emperor but was founded upon a divine order to love God and love people. When Rome attempted to stop and obstruct that, instead of choosing self-preservation by submitting to their government, Christ-followers chose to be self-sacrificial, even unto their deaths. May we love—and resist—just as boldly and bravely. God help us.