Thursday, December 11, 2014

Therefore, Stand

John Sterling (December, 1014)
I have lived long upon the earth and I have observed certain things about my fellow man.  I have observed that people usually just want to be left alone.  They wish to live peace and for the most part, are content to let their neighbors live in peace as well.  In fact, an important part of our understanding of the function of government is that it is instituted for the purpose of protecting us from unwanted and unwarranted intrusion into our lives.

I have observed that the nature of government is to govern, which means to control.  In a sense, they can't help is the nature of the beast.  The founders knew this and knew also that if government was not kept in chains it would destroy the power that created it (the people).  The people (desiring to just be left alone) have failed to monitor the beast and to keep its chains secure. We note throughout the history of man, that once loosed, the beast cannot easily be returned to captivity. This results in an inevitable war between the people and the government it created (or allowed) and to which certain authority and power have been ceded.  I say inevitable because it seems that history repeats itself over and again, even though we study history and should have learned from it.
If you have not seen Mel Gibson's movie, "The Patriot" I highly recommend it.  (NOT the Steven Segal movie by the same name).  No sane person ever wants war, or to see their children become warriors unless forced into that role.  In that case, you would want your children to become the best warriors they could be.  The problem is when we ignore the possibility that war might be inevitable, and that our children might have no choice but to become warriors.  Then when the need arises (as history teaches will be just a matter of time) we are forced to react and often react too slowly.
Being proactive, then, is the order of the day. If we are proactive spiritually, we transform our enemies into our friends and remove the threat. If we are proactive politically, we neutralize our enemies' abilities to attack us and we restrain the threat. If we fail in those two, then we it is likely that our path will be chosen for us and we must react to the threat in the best way possible.
Sir Edmund Burke (1729-1797 ) said that "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing".   In Ephesians 5: 15-16 we read, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. "  In Eph 6: 13 says, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. "
We are exhorted then to study (gain knowledge), and be wise (apply that knowledge correctly). Then, walking in wisdom, and relying on our spiritual preparation as well, we are expected to “hold the line”…to STAND, firm and unyielding.
One of the very popular verses in the Bible concerning God’s provision is found in Matthew, 6: 32-33.  In context the verse is speaking of God’s provision for His children of the basic necessities of life: food and clothing.   I think it is not a stretch to say that another basic need of man is protection from our enemies, and that God likewise offers His divine provision for that as well. "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?  Verse 32 reads, "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “  The “Gentiles, here referring to people who outside of God’s covenant,  try very hard to obtain theses things, just as every human being does, but the inference is that they are doing so without any acknowledgement that those things come from God.  In verse 33 then, we read, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.…” and we (covenant people) are to find the necessities of life directly from the hand of God.
In America (as in many other places in the world) people look to Government to be their provider, and protector, and sustainer.   But these are specifically the province of God.  When we look to anything or anybody, for the things that are supposed to come from God, then we have placed “gods” before Him.   We have made idols of government and of the things that government promises if we will be “good citizens”. 
Eventually, the god that we have created will demand that we serve him, and inevitably will demand more and more until we are reduced to slavery.  Of course, if we refuse, we will be arrested, or even killed. The cycle of violence continues: governments rise and fall and man is subjected to periods of subjugation, despair, violence, war, and perhaps, sometimes for brief periods, relative peace  before the cycle begins again.
In the verses just preceding  Mt 6: 33 (above ) Jesus said that man cannot serve masters (Mt 6:24). Both will demand absolute loyalty. We can choose one, or the other, but we cannot serve both.  In this world, and at this time, we in America are being divided by many issues.  But we see a line being drawn in the proverbial sand, and all of America will have to choose on which side of the line we will stand.  One side represents God, and His righteousness, while the other represents Mammon- the kings (governments) of this world.  We may choose, but we may choose only one.  No matter which we choose, because we have allowed our nation to depart from the righteous path, we will have to fight the monster that we have created or be consumed by it. Ultimately, the battle is the Lord’s and every American will have to seek God’s wisdom and discernment as to how to negotiate the path that is before us.  But know this: if we are grounded firmly in the Word of God, we WILL stand (Eph 6:13) but if our loyalties are with Mammon, there will be Hell to pay.
John Sterling
December 11, 2014

Was Michael Brown Shot over a Box of Cigars

Was Michael Brown Shot Over a Box of Cigars
John Sterling Dec 09 2014
Recent conversations on the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO seem to focus on the amount of force (deadly- shot 6 or 7 times) by police officer Darren Wilson, over what was nothing more than a petty shoplifting charge.
It is too easy to see a single event and the consequences of that event as being the only elements of the discussion, (i.e. Brown stole cigars, and Brown got shot, ergo life is cheap and we think Black lives don't matter). That is far too simplistic and so completely misses the elephant in the room that if anybody truly is limited to that perspective, it will be impossible to have an intellectual discussion with that person. If people REALLY want to discuss issues of race, and race relations, we cannot ignore the obvious. We must say what needs to be said, and feelings must be put aside in the interest of honest dialogue.
Using the Brown scenario as the symbolic reference point in my analysis, I note that young Mr. Brown had history of violence. This was not released immediately because he only recently became "legally" an adult so his juvenile record was hidden from the public view. But now that it is exposed to the light of day, we can see a pattern of disrespect for the law, and disrespect for his fellow man that was the proximate cause of his final, and terminal, conflict with the law. His demise was "triggered" by the incredibly small infraction of walking in the middle of the street, and disobeying an officer, but it was CAUSED by Mr. Brown's belief that his conduct was beyond any meaningful disciplinary consequences. What could have CAUSED that mistaken belief?
We can look to his dysfunctional family, his dysfunctional community, and the previous failures of the justice system to properly discipline him in the past. It is irrelevant for purposes of this discussion what caused the dysfunction, but there is ample sociological evidence that if one is brought into this world, and raised in the manner in which Brown was raise, his statistical probabilities of fully assimilating into mainstream culture are terribly low.
Be that as it may, at some point, a man becomes personally responsible for his own choices. Legally, the presumption is that when one attains the age of eighteen, as if by magic, and without regard to previous inputs, one is now suddenly responsible for his actions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this is not going to end well.
So, consistent with the predictable pattern of his previous conduct, Brown not only steals cigars but does so by throwing his not insignificant weight around. He bullies, and he pushes to get what he wants, on HIS terms, without regard to his fellow man nor his duties to his community and to society at large. Whether he knew it or not, Big Mike Brown’s continuing pattern of thought produced the conduct that got him killed.
The "elephant in the room" is that if we acknowledge all of that, it forces us to have to deal with whole range of other issues. It challenges us to accept responsibility for a range of past behaviors that we have sought to justify, whether we are black or white. It forces us to stretch our understanding beyond merely what we can feel. If we are not conditioned to be introspective, or self-critical, we can never transcend our present state. Denying culpability condemns us to more of the same.
There is no question but that throughout the history of man, some of have subjugated others.  Whites enslaved other whites, and blacks enslaved other blacks and whites and blacks enslaved each other. But that cannot explain why some people, both black and white, have been able to “move on” while others seem unable to shed the shackles of the past… to escape the consequences of being born into disadvantage.
Political and social science experiments have tried to “level the playing field through programs like Affirmative Action (and its stepchildren) but the results seem to prove that the “cure” is worse than “the disease”. Programs that provide “extra” assistance on the basis of race, while definitely benefitting some African-Americans, have NOT significantly improved race relations. Arguably, race relations is worse in 2014 than at any time since Affirmative Action programs were first introduced.
Logic and observation of human behavior suggests that there is no reasonable expectation that the black community will ever be self-reliant, or fully "integrated" (in the social sciences sense) until there is an end to the special treatment produced by Affirmative Action. Accepting special help is often seen (by both Blacks and Whites) as an admission that the Black man cannot be competitive without “help”. Affirmative Action is guaranteed to keep African Americans from becoming equal (or being viewed as equal) in mainstream society. It has been observed repeatedly that life is not fair and it is LESS fair for some than for others. Some people will have to work harder and some people, no matter how hard they try, will never be "equal" in terms of outcome. This is true regardless of skin color.  It never happens in nature, and it cannot happen even if "managed" by government. In fact, artificial attempts at legislated "equality" will definitely backfire (as the current evidence proves) by making its recipients MORE dependent, not less, upon government assistance.
This is not "new" revelation. Frederick Douglass said as much in 1865: ‘What shall we do with the negro’” after emancipation? Douglass’s response was disarmingly blunt. “I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us…. [If] the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall…. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!” (Citation available)
As he explained to an audience of Boston abolitionists in early 1862, fair play meant that the ruling majority should “do nothing with us, by us, or for us as a particular class…. The broadest and bitterest of the black man’s misfortunes is the fact that he is everywhere regarded and treated as an exception to the principles and maxims which apply to other men.” (Citation available)
Dr. Martin Luther King echoed those sentiments in 1958. "We've broken loose from...slavery and we have moved through the wilderness of legal segregation. Now we stand on the border of the promised land of integration.” He went on to say, "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love...Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding."  In Montgomery Alabama, in 1956, Dr. King said, "We believe in law and order. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. If I am stopped, our work will not stop, for what we are doing is right."  In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963,  Dr. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Michael Brown was not killed because he stole cigars. His death was the logical, predictable result of a past pattern of years of being led to believe that there would be no consequences for his actions. Like so many young men, both Black and White,  his failure was that he chose not to become part of something bigger-something good- something worth more than immediate gratification. He chose the wrong kind of character to imitate. He and his friends, and those others who want to elevate Michael Brown to sainthood after his death, are STILL camped on the mountains of violence and hatred.  Dr. King said, “We’ve been in the mountain of war. We’ve been in the mountain of violence. We’ve been in the mountain of hatred long enough. It is necessary to move on now, but only by moving out of this mountain can we move to the promised land of justice and brotherhood and the Kingdom of God.” (Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood in June 1965)
Given the highly flammable passions following the incident in Ferguson, MO, and the unapologetic calls for even more violence by pretenders like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other self-proclaimed leader of African Americans, we will not see progress in race relations until there emerges another Frederick Douglass or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Federal Court Blocks Drug Testing for TANF Recipients

A federal appeals court Tuesday agreed to block enforcement of a Florida law that requires people who apply for welfare to submit to drug testing, calling it an unreasonable search. 

“The simple act of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy,” the judges said.

“I am thrilled for Luis and his family, and for the thousands of class members he represents, that yet another court has affirmed that all of us are protected from unreasonable, invasive, suspicion-less searches,” Maria Kayanan, associate legal director for the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “The state of Florida can’t treat an entire segment of our community like suspected criminals simply because they are poor and are trying to get temporary assistance from the government to support their families.”

I disagree with the ACLU and the court on this one.  

First, the Fourth Amendment is a cornerstone of our criminal law and procedure.  It is a critical safeguard against the power of the state to arrest, and to confiscate private property.  Outside of the context of criminal law, one doesn’t see or hear much of the 4th Amendment but the principles are enduring and essential to safeguard our private property.  

Second, the “simple act of seeking public assistance” has all of the earmarks of a contract. AN offer, followed by an acceptance, with specified terms and performance obligations, for a legal transfer between competent parties.  The only element arguably missing is the want of  “consideration” which is the quid pro quo (something for something, or “this for that”) requirement . Consideration may be found when a party to the contract performs an act, or refrains from performing an act that he is otherwise entitled to perform.   Making application  for someone else’s money should, as a matter of conscience and morality, demand something in return. Especially when the recipient is not required to pay back the money (s)he receives. 
Third, the application of the word  “unreasonable”, taken from its criminal context and plunked down into a civil context, seems to me intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible.  What is “unreasonable” about requiring the recipient of a “gift’ to meet a minor condition?   

Judge Rosemary Barkett said in the ruling that the state failed to prove that there was any reason to treat poor families in Florida as more likely to be drug users.  Right.  What attorney out there, especially a state attorney, is going to make the case that (1) Blacks make up a disproportionate number of TANF recipients, and (2) Blacks also make up a disproportionate number of persons incarcerated for drug offenses. No elected official, nor anyone who works for an elected official, nor anyone in government is EVER going to make that assertion, regardless of the facts.  But more importantly, why is that even the focus?  It should be a simple, non biased, non-racial,  accounting procedure.  The government, using tax money coerced from its working citizens, determines to re-allocate this money to its non-working citizens, ostensibly for furtherance of some valid (this being a highly subjective term) public policy goal.  To insure that the government maintains itself as the steward of the “common wealth” it owes a duty to the “donors” to maximize effect use by the “donee”s.  

Why should re-distribution of the “common wealth” NOT consider drug use as a “deal-breaker” ?  Since being poor is not a crime, then why are we using criminal procedure concepts to regulate (or fail to regulate)  what is essentially a civil transaction by and between  consenting adults.
The article concluded with this: 
“In 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, issued an executive order requiring state employees to undergo mandatory drug tests as well. A federal judge also blocked that move.” I ask the same question, using the same logic.   I used to be a Florida employee. I have also been an employee in several other states.  Nobody, no person, no government, no entity OWES me a job.  I agree to work under the conditions, and to the performance stands my employer requires. ESPECIALLY when I am being paid public dollars, the public has a right expect that their (our) money is getting the best employee that they can get for that money. Asking me to take drug test is NOT an infringement on My rights as an employee. Rather, not requiring a drug test for public employees is an infringement on my right as a taxpayer. 

Supreme Court Won't Allow Challenges to Surveillance

In the News on Feb 26, 2013  
From an AP News story

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t allow a challenge to the Surveillance law (FISA) on the grounds that the challengers (group of lawyers, journalists, and organizations) cannot prove that the government will monitor their conversations.  According to the AP release, Justices “have been reluctant to endorse standing theories that require guesswork” said Justice Samuel Alito.    In other words, just because a law exists that COULD be misused, the law cannot be challenged until an actual violation has occurred.  Well, well.  Apply that same logic to the Gun control debate. How can the government act to restrict legal firearms or ammunition, or component parts, on the theory that someone might misuse them?   

Alito also said the FISA expansion merely authorizes, but does not mandate or direct, the government monitoring. Because of that, he said, "respondents' allegations are necessarily conjectural. Simply put, respondents can only speculate as to how the attorney general and the Director of National Intelligence will exercise their discretion in determining which communications to target."

Applying that logic to gun control, doesn’t it follow then that before advancing ANY legislation pursuant to “gun control” the government must first establish a direct causal link between private gun ownership in general, and specific criminal violations perpetrated by people who possess guns illegally in the first place?
The Liberal judges embraced the argument of Jonathan Hafetz, an expert on national security and privacy issues who teaches at Seton Hall University's law school, said, "The decision effectively insulates the government's increasingly broad surveillance powers from meaningful court review, threatening constitutional liberties in the name of secrecy and security." Hafetz used to work for the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. So the Liberal position (on this issue) is that the government should be prevented from passing or enforcing a law because IT MIGHT BE ABUSED. 

Personally, I lean more towards the “liberal” position on this one, because I do not favor any law that has such great potential for government abuse, without sufficient checks and balances and some pretty specific guarantees of fundamental liberties.  But applying the logic of majority to other aspects of the relationship between the people and its government, I agree that the government (and the law) must establish a strong cause and effect relationship  between the law, and the behavior the law seeks to remedy. Absent a strong link, I would rather err on the side caution and have a government that governs LESS and lets liberty follow its own path.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Render Unto Caesar

What are Christians supposed to Render unto Caesar?
Political Philosophy from a Christian World-View
John A. Sterling
(Originally published as: RENDER UNTO CAESAR: A citizen's duty to government, UWLA Law Review,
University of West Los Angeles, Vol 32, Nov, 2000. ) (Updated Dec 31, 2001)
For a synopsis of political philosophy, see: Political Philosophy: an Overview, by John A. Sterling
Although considered a distinctly "religious" book, the Holy Bible has much to say about politics and social order. Between its covers, the discerning reader may discover a rich treasure of knowledge about the regulation of order in a community and in a nation. The natural tendency is to interpret ancient writings in light of current practices or beliefs. The result of that technique is that, often, history becomes distorted. Carefully historical scholarship, however, can place ancient chronicles in a social/ political context that will aid the reader in better understanding the modern application of timeless principles.

This essay will attempt to glean from scripture the moral principles that define the proper relationship between the Christian and the government. First, the fundamental principles which formed the American founder’s beliefs as to the nature and purpose of government will be examined in light of scripture. Second, arguments will be made that the form of government ultimately adopted in the United States of America was a reflection of the principles derived from the moral and religious beliefs of its founders. One of many writers whose work supports this presumption, Russel T. Kirk writes, " All the aspects of any civilization arise out of a people’s religion: its politics, its economics, it arts, its sciences, even its simple crafts are the by-products of religious insights and a religious cult. For until human beings are tied together by some common faith, and share certain moral principles, they prey upon one another."  Finally, an analysis of scripture will permit a conclusion to be drawn that political authority is limited to that which is necessary to perform its legitimate function. 

The American system is a balanced blend of several forms of government that has enjoyed some limited degree of success in centuries past. That it endures after more than two hundred years is a testimony of its principled foundations. It has built its core Constitution upon political ideals of Democracy, Federalism, and Republican (representative government) systems of government. It includes the historic concept of a “covenant” or “contract” with the people.
Civil (or secular) government has, at various times, been separate and distinct from ecclesiastical (religious) government. It seems, however, that the two spheres tend to merge into one until some “rebellion” or “revival” provides the stimulus to move those spheres apart once again.

During the Old Covenant era of Biblical History in Europe and the Near East, culture, morality, and social behavior were more closely woven together in seamless fabric. In many early cultures, the heads of state were also the religious leaders for there was no clear distinction between those different offices, ". . . [i]t is quite conformable to the ideas of those times, and not foreign to the notions and manners of the east in all ages, that the judicial and sacerdotal offices should be united in the same persons." By the time of Christ, the Roman republic had become the Roman Empire and civil authority had a distinctly different and identifiable role. However, at the same time, the Jewish state was given a great deal of national autonomy and local rule was established in the Sanhedrin, or Jewish Courts. The religious leaders of Israel were also the civil leaders, although subject to the rather lenient hand of the Roman authorities. This dynamic tension in the political realm was one of the reasons that the Sanhedrin tried so hard to eliminate Christ- He was seen as a direct threat to the delicate political balancing act so desperately being attempted by the Jewish leaders. (Mt. 27: 1-26; Jn 7:1; 11:53-54; KJV) 

In 323 AD, Emperor Constantine embraced the persecuted church and made it a step-child of the Roman Empire. Lifting up the embattled faith and clothing it with the authority of the Roman State, Constantine transformed outward Christianity into an arm of the civil government. With this beginning, the Roman Catholic Church became a tool in the hands of the king as Civil government and Ecclesiastical Government were merged once again. During the middle ages, there was constant conflict between the emperors and the Bishops over the issue of authority. Bishops of the church were granted investiture (everything needed to pastor a church: a building, a cemetery, clerical staff, robes, fixtures; even a congregation.) by the civil authority. Typically, a Baron, Chieftain, or Prince would permit the cleric (church official or pastor) to marry one of his daughters. Thus, he would control the administration of church business and even the doctrine preached from the pulpit.

In the eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII declared that Bishops and Priests could no longer marry. Further, in 1076 AD, Gregory issued the ban on lay investitures and essentially "fired" the king. This edict, although having definite direct support in principle from Holy Scripture, had the primary aim of making the ecclesiastical authority separate from the civil authority. In response, King Henry IV of Germany wrote back a letter to Pope Gregory calling him a "false monk" and telling him to "Descend, descend, to be damned throughout the ages" (translation: Go to hell!). In 1080 Gregory wrote back to King Henry and declared him to be excommunicated from the church and dethroned. 

This rending in two of the single sphere of authority resulted in “The War Of Investitures” which lasted nearly fifty years. (The unofficial conflict lasted more than a century!) Finally, a tentative peace was struck and the parties issued the Concordat of Worms in 1122. The matter was not fully concluded, but at least a shaky peace was possible. In England in 1213, King John I conceded to the Pope, all of England and Ireland "with all their rights and appurtenances, for the remission of our own sins and of those of our whole the Roman church without demur." In other words, the king bargained all the real estate of the kingdom (and everything else) for the sins of the people forever. Not at all happy with this situation, and convinced of the usurpation of authority by the crown, the noblemen of the realm confronted the king on the green at Runnymeade and forced the king to sign the Magna Charta in 1215. Of course, there were many other abuses against his subjects that King John was guilty of perpetrating but the idea that the state might presume to have the absolute authority over all property was too much for the noblemen of the Realm. Magna Charta is acknowledged to be the first written account of the bill of rights found later in our U.S. Constitution.
During the development of the Common Law during these middle ages, the principles of separate and distinct spheres of authority were being refined. Ultimately, the principles formed part of the foundation of our American system of self-Governance. Separation of Church and State had an entirely different meaning to our founders than is currently taught by some modern scholars.

What is a "Biblical Model" of Civil Authority?
In the historical context of "authority", what does the bible have to say about leaders? What is legitimate authority? How do we know whether a person’s claim to authority is just or not? If we are convinced that a person has set themselves up as authority over us, but lacks legitimacy, what are our options?
One must guard against the tendency to make a doctrine out of a single example from scripture. But patterns do emerge and principles may be gleaned from biblical examples. Among these patterns the reader may discover that, although the form of civil government may change, the principles remain applicable to the social order. (1)God demands and expects obedience. (2)The people, walking in obedience, are free to select men from among themselves to lead them. (3) The leaders selected are limited in the exercise of their authority to the boundaries of the constitution. and, (4) failure of either the leadership or the people to remain obedient results in judgment from God and loss of social order.

One of the lessons to be gleaned from the Old Testament is that righteous civil government is charged with preventing idolatry (the worship of other gods). "A fundamental purpose of the Mosaic polity was the abolition of idolatrous worship, and the substitution in its place, and the maintenance, of true religion in the world." Many of the Levitical laws are difficult to understand unless we appreciate that the prohibitions are intended to discourage the Hebrews from the practices of neighboring (idolatrous) nations. In Leviticus 19:27 we read the prohibition that, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard." Reverend Wines, having done exhaustive research on the subject, opines that this custom was prevalent among the contemporary cultures of the Idumaeans, Moabites, Ammonites, and other inhabitants of Arabia. "This law has called forth many a sneer from men who, without any remarkable claim to such a distinction, arrogate to themselves the exclusive title of free thinkers. But to those who really think with freedom and candor, it will appear a direction, (that) . . . was aimed against an idolatrous custom, which was extensively prevalent when the law was given." In Leviticus 19:19 Moses forbids the wearing of "Garments mingled of linen and woolen" and in Exodus 23:19 we read that "Thou shalt not seethe (boil) a kid in his mother’s milk." Deuteronomy 22:5 forbids a woman from wearing "that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment." Again drawing from his research, Dr. Wines concludes that these (and similar difficult to understand verses) would have been absolutely clear to the receiving audience as a specific prohibition against imitating the idolatrous practices of other nations. One may conclude that one of the legitimate functions of the civil government, according to the Bible, is to proscribe behavior which is destructive to the social order and that includes, specifically, idolatrous practices.

Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20 that if the people desired a king over them, the king was not to be an absolute ruler, but would himself be subject to the written law (v. 18-19). Although the Hebrew form of government remained a commonwealth for many years, it eventually changed into a monarchy by the will of the people. In chapters 8 through 10 of I Samuel, the people complained because they had no civil figurehead like the neighboring countries. God told them that such a system of government would result in conscription of the young men for an army, both men and women being pressed into service for logistical support, and a restructuring of the agriculture and the economy to support a shift to a military footing. God instructed His people that the selection of an earthly king to rule over them, after the fashion of their neighbors, would result in a form of idolatry that would be destructive of their society. Nevertheless, the people declared what they wanted so God gave them a candidate by way of the prophet Samuel. After Samuel finished the interview process and presented Saul to the people, they endorsed the new king and Samuel wrote the new Constitution that limited the authority of the king. (1Sam 10:24-25) This process is indicative of all of the principles articulated above. When the people are obedient to God, they select leaders from among themselves whom God anoints. It is an example of a form of representative government, democratically elected by the people and yet constrained by a written constitution. 

After the death of Saul, the men of Judah came and anointed David as the new king. There is much more to the story, of course, but the pattern is consistent. God reveals who the king will be, the elders and religious rulers of the people (speaking on behalf of the people) affirm the selection, and the chosen one leads the people according to the precepts of God. (2Sam 2:4) Another subject, beyond the scope of this article, is how man’s sin nature predisposes a man to the corrupting influence of power. This pattern is the most predictable in the entire bible. Sin destroys men and nations. As the leaders go, so goes the nation. The throne is established for the purpose of establishing righteousness (Proverbs 16:12; 20:28; 29:14; Is 9:16; 10:1; II Chron 19:6). It is the solemn duty of rulers to submit themselves to the ordinances of God and to ensure that the people do likewise. (II Sam 23:3; Ps 2:10,11). 

Government as a “Ministry” of God
Attributes of God which are nearly always found in conjunction are RIGHTEOUSNESS and JUDGMENT. Seldom, when reading of the character and nature of God, does the reader find one without the other. Mishpat is the word in the Hebrew language which conveys the sum total of what we understand a just government to be. The word appears in the Hebrew scripture over four hundred times and, depending on the context, can have judicial, legislative or executive meaning. Although this essay will not attempt to cover the ground necessary for a complete understanding of the word, suffice it to say that, while it was generally understood by the Hebrews, it is often misunderstood, or incorrectly applied in the common English usage.

Because of our modern concept that government may have distinct spheres of authority, we must be careful not to place mishpat in that same context. The Hebrew understanding was that government was responsible to administer the law, decide the law, and enforce the law, thus fulfilling the legislative, judicial, and executives functions of any legitimate system of social order. In addition, since God possessed all authority, no other authority could exist except as an extension of God. (Ro 13:1) God created man distinct from all other creatures in that man alone possessed the image of God. Man was therefore delegated a certain limited authority by God to have dominion over the creation and to act as God’s moral agent in the administration of an ordered society. (Ge 1:28; 9:2; Ps 8:6; Job 32:8; Ja 3:7) 

Man was endowed with the ability to communicate directly with God through the Holy Spirit (Eze. 36:27; Jn 14:17, 26; 1Jn 2:27) and, except for the introduction of sin, man would be able to enjoy fellowship directly with the Creator. In fact, were it not for sin, man would have no need of government, or laws or judges. It is in this vein that Paul writes to Timothy, " But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, [he then lists several examples of the kind of people who need the law]...and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine." (I Tim 1:8-10)

Regardless of the form of government, whether king, chieftain, monarch, dictator, congress or committee, the principles are the same. Government must act as the influencing force for God’s principles in society and its primary legitimate role is to protect the "rights" and compel the "duties" of its members. As understood by America’s founders, "rights" were granted by God and were not able to be "alienated" (except by acts of the individual amounting to forfeiture) and rights were emphatically NOT the creation of the state! Further, one could not possess rights without having a corresponding duty to God. Thus, our duty to render love and obedience to God created a right in our fellow man to expect that performance from us. This was the basis of social order in the Hebrew sense and the apparent understanding of America’s founders. 

Obedience to government is duty to God
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood passages regarding the believer’s obligation to civil authority is Romans 13:1-7. Although there is some support for the idea that Christians must obey civil authority in every case except extremes (where scripture clearly teaches that obedience to the ruler would be contrary to God’s law), these references are relatively few in number. The weight of the evidence is viewed best in the historical light of the majority of verses dealing with this subject. Clearly, the civil ruler, when distinct from any ecclesiastical role, is limited in his jurisdiction to matters of civil administration. Social order is best accomplished when the conduct of individuals within the social framework is regulated to the least degree, and then, only in a way consistent with natural (revealed) law. This view was taught by Sir Edward Coke and later, by Sir William Blackstone and was adopted by virtually all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

Romans 13 endorses the concept of civil government, albeit constrained by the doctrines and the precepts of the Creator. The role of the magistrate (civil ruler) is to punish evildoers, executing God’s wrath against those who would pervert His righteousness. For this cause, it is legitimate for citizens to pay taxes. However, the role of the state is limited with regard to how much it can require of its citizens in the regulation of individual liberty. With regard to acts of worship, or any belief, the state has no authority whatsoever! This is why the current controversy over expanding the federal jurisdiction to encompass "hate" crimes is without a Constitutional basis. The civil government may never regulate "thoughts" or "beliefs" as these attributes are properly the jurisdiction of the Church. Civil authority is limited in its reach to those acts or conduct which constitute a breach of social order.

Rome v. Jesus of Nazareth, (33 A.D.)
Given the historical background and the theological framework of the Jewish relationship to God, it is no surprise to see that Jesus does not give much more than a cursory nod to the authority of the Roman rulers. Indeed, it is surprising that so many Christian pastors have apparently missed such an obvious principle as the true nature of authority. A good example of how a biblical passage may be interpreted in conflicting ways is Matthew 17:24-27. The Jewish tax collectors, whose job it was to extract money from their fellow citizens for the Roman Coffers, approached Peter and inquired whether Jesus paid taxes. Peter answered in the affirmative but either he lied, was uncertain or was otherwise troubled by the implications because Jesus thereafter asked him, "What thinkest thou Simon, of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children or of strangers?" (verse 25). When Peter answers that, in the normal course of things, only strangers are obligated to pay taxes, Jesus answers (can you see Him smiling?), "Then are the children free." Momentarily, we will look at what follows in verse 27, for it is rich in truth as well, but, stopping here for moment, let’s identify what Jesus said to Peter. The moral obligation (duty) to pay taxes to the king arises out of one’s relationship to the king. If the person (or system) in POWER (Gr. Dunamis) lacks AUTHORITY (Gr. Exousia), then that person or system is undeserving of support. Since it was commonly understood that ALL authority is held by God and is subject to God (Ro 13:1) and only limited authority is delegated to men to either minister good works or avenge evil doers, (Ro 13:4), then any earthly leader whose POWER exceeds his AUTHORITY is a covenant-breaker. His authority ends at the boundaries of the grant of authority by God. Jesus’ answer to Peter in Mt. 17: 26 seems to suggest that when the basis of the relationship does not conform to the covenant, the person in breach has no legal (or moral) claim to the fruits of that relationship (taxes). Compare this with Romans 13:6-7 where the duty to render support is tied directly to the moral authority of the leadership. 

Jesus continues in Mt 17: 27 with an explanation of his next act. It is important that Christians discern what is of this world and what is not. That will determine which battles are worth expending much energy for and which battles are eternally significant. Jesus gives instructions to Peter so that the government will not find offense, yet selects a rather absurd miracle to make His point. It is a ridiculous claim that the Roman government would have any authority at all over the Son of God (or, by extension, the children of God) so Jesus tells Peter to do a ridiculous thing to illustrate this point. By casting a hook into the sea and catching the first available fish, Peter may find therein sufficient money to satisfy the tax man. Thus Jesus demonstrates His contempt at the claims of Rome while at the same time proving that God is the source of our provision. 

Whatever duty there may be for the Christian to support the mechanism of the state seems to be tied to the moral legitimacy of the state and, in that context, it is subject to certain constraints and limitations. One might conclude that if the civil government were totally lacking in moral authority, it would be totally undeserving of our support. Further, the Christian should ponder whether Scripture provides guidance for our proper role in restoring to government the moral legitimacy that God has ordained civil governments should possess.
Before leaving the subject of taxes altogether, it is fitting to use another confrontation between Jesus and the civil authorities. In Matthew 22:16-21, Jesus is confronted directly by the Herodians. Although little is known about this group of men, they seemed to have attributes of both a political party and a religious sect. They were opposed to the Pharisees as to submission to Rome but firmly united with them as against Jesus. They were certain that the question they posed to Jesus could not be answered without provoking either the Jews or the Romans and either end would serve their nefarious purposes. If Jesus answered that the tax was due to Rome, then He would be admitting subservience to Caesar. If He answered that taxes were not due to Rome, He would be guilty of sedition, a capital offense.

The Herodians start by praising Jesus and complimenting Him as one who "[teacheth] the way of God in truth...[and] regardest not the person of men." Then they pop the famous question about whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. "But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, ‘why tempt me you hypocrites?’" (verse 18) Then Jesus does something that it entirely unforseen by the Herodians; He asks if one of them has a coin. This is a tricky move because if they are even carrying a Roman coin, it places them in the "enemy camp" (ideologically speaking.) If a man claimed to be against the Roman government, he would not acknowledge the authority of Rome by carrying their money. 

Before thinking, one of them produced a coin which Jesus took and held up for all to see. (Jesus always had a crowd around!) He made the famous inquiry about whose name and superscription (image) was on the coin. The answer to both questions was "Caesar’s". Jesus said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s." (vs 21) Jesus identified both the basis and the limitations of Caesar’s legitimate claim to ownership. If it has his name on it, it must be his; if it does not, he has (probably) no legitimate claim to it. Further, in a classic double entendre, Jesus denied the authority of Rome in a way that is clear to His listeners but in a context which will not stand up in court. (In fact, a few weeks later, the Pharisees try to use this episode to reinforce the accusation of sedition on Jesus when He is taken before Pilot.)

Sanhedrin v. Jesus of Nazareth (33 A.D.)
Jesus not only gave little acknowledgment to the civil authority of Rome, He also did not acknowledge the illegitimate authority of the Jewish Ecclesiastical leadership, the Sanhedrin. Jesus is found throughout the New Testament arguing with their Doctrine and taking issue with their formalism and legalism. In particular, the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin is representative of their antagonism and His disregard for their presumptions.
Before being taken before Pilate (Roman Civil Government), Jesus is tried in a Jewish Ecclesiastical Court of the High Priests (seventy religious "elites") who make up the Sanhedrin. This court was the final authority on matters religious and no Orthodox Jew would contemplate a confrontation with them.
In Matthew 26:63 when Jesus is before the Sanhedrin, and again before Pilate in ch 27: 12-14, He says nothing to their direct examination. According to Hebrew Law (basis for our own legal principles) Jesus had a right against self-incrimination and His answer to their improper questions would have condemned Him no matter how he answered. His refusal to answer them at all suggests at least two things. First, He does not acknowledge their authority over Him, and second, He is beating them at their own legal con game. His refusal to answer denied them the "evidence" which they needed to obtain a conviction, and it was entirely lawful for Him to refuse to incriminate Himself. Only when the High Priest violates the law himself by commanding Jesus under Oath (vs. 63) to incriminate Himself on the religious allegation of being the Christ does Jesus answer them. 

Read the entire 23rd chapter of Matthew for a glimpse into what Jesus thought about the Scribes and Pharisees. At least fifteen times Jesus calls them hypocrites, thieves, vipers, fools, blind men, murderers, etc. One almost gets the impression that He didn’t think very highly of them! This is hardly the language of one who is teaching His followers to "give honor where honor is due" unless one concludes that these leaders were not due any honor. Remember, within the meaning of mishpat there is no distinction between civil and ecclesiastical authority. There is only one authority, regardless of its delegation to artificially created entities.
A passage of scripture often quoted for the purpose of establishing a duty on the part of Christians to obey civil government is 1 Pe 2:13-14. Peter writes, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as they are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well." This seems to suggest, on its face, that every ordinance of man is worthy of strict obedience regardless of whether it is issued at the highest levels of government (the king, as supreme) or at intermediate levels (the governor, acting on behalf of the king). The reader is reminded that the author of this passage is the same Peter who, in Acts 4:19 defied the Jewish leaders. Either he has changed his mind since then, or he is making a distinction between obedience to religious leaders as opposed to civil leaders, or there is something else needed to render this passage doctrinally consistent with the rest of the Bible. I am persuaded that the latter position is true.

In Romans chapter 13, verse 2, the Greek word for "ordinance" is diatage` which most nearly means "institution" or "instrumentality". This would comport most closely with the idea that God has ordained the System of civil government (although not the precise form) through which a society is ordered. In 1Pe 2:13, the Greek word is ktisis which most nearly means (in this context) "the foundation principle." If this verse is to be understood as consistent with Ro 13:2, then Peter has instructed his audience to submit to the basic principles of the law so that Christ will be glorified (". . .for the Lord’s sake"). The word translated as "supreme" in the Greek is huperecho which implies a haughtiness or self- reverence rather than one having legitimate authority. Thus, it would seem a reasonable interpretation that a "good" law (one which flows out the legitimate operation of civil authority) must be obeyed even if it is commanded by a leader who is not operating within his legitimate office. This is quite different than mandating absolute obedience to unrighteous rulers.

It is unclear to whom the pronoun "him" is referring following the mention of governors but the context suggests strongly that the governor is acting on the orders of the king rather than God. The phrase ". . . as they are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" is the same limiting language on government in general as seen in Ro 13: 2 but it would be hard to justify the same application in 1 Pe 2:14 given the different Greek words used. The phrasing of the passage seems to be deliberately obscure, as if a double meaning were intended (like Jesus speaking on taxes in Mt 22:21 or Jesus’ comment to Pilate in Jn 19:11) but it is not impossible to reconcile this passage with the others. Verse 12 introduces the subject by exhorting the saints to be an example of good works to the Gentiles by obeying, insofar as possible, the questionable laws of a questionable magistrate (verses 13 & 14) so as to silence the narrow-minded judgment of "foolish men" (verse 15). Because of the precise usage of the Greek words in this context, it does not seem plausible that Peter is arguing for submission by Christians to every ordinance; only to those whose foundation principles are rooted in legitimate authority, for how is Christ glorified by obedience to immoral or unjust laws?

It is the hope of the author that this essay has provoked some deeper thought on the issues of civil authority and the moral legitimacy of governments. Civil disobedience is not always a prudent course of action (we are exhorted not to use our liberty as a cloak of maliciousness in 1Pe 2:16 or let it become a stumblingblock to the weak in 1Cor 8:9) but neither is it a forbidden action if, and when, it becomes necessary. When is it necessary? The Spirit of Truth will guide us into the truth when we allow ourselves to become vessels of the truth. (Eze. 36:27; Jn 14:17, 26; 1Jn 2:27) The battles we fight are spiritual in nature and the weapons formed against us are spiritual weapons. Civil disobedience is not open warfare, although if, and when, Christians might take up weapons is another subject for discussion. God works with imperfect tools to accomplish His perfect will. Our Great Commission calls for us to reach souls for Christ and then permit the ordained civil authority to do what God has set it up to do. We may not perform the one and neglect the other. A truism often repeated is that "good laws do not make good people, but good people make good laws!" When Christians are active in evangelism, politics, business, education, military, and civic action, we will see dramatic changes in the way the public trust is administered. We MUST be active in those areas or we will be in danger of wasting our inheritance.
John A. Sterling 

Note * This article is presented with the intent of providing some explanation and understanding of the Christian World-view that forms the theological foundation for American Government.  Another article will look at the changes in American law and government as a result of widespread rejection of Christian principles.

© 1999-2001, Law and Liberty Foundation Legal Disclaimer
Russel Kirk, The Roots of American Order, Regnery Gateway, Washington D.C., 1991, pg 14.
  Roots of federal constitutional theory are traced to the Hebrew word berith (used 387 times in the Old Testament) translated variously as covenant, league, treaty, and ordinance. It is a crucial term in the Bible. The message conveyed is that covenants are solemn vows and there is no stronger language used to describe a mutually binding agreement. Reformers in the 12th Century and later questioned the use of the word "testament" as an accurate replacement for "Covenant" because it conveyed a different meaning. Translating Greek to Latin was made more difficult in that regional differences of word meaning did not necessarily translate. Also, Palestinian Greek had a different meaning than "Greek" Greek. The early Catholic church rejected Jerome’s Old testament version (Hebrew to Latin) because Testamentuem is consistent with top-down (authoritarian) rule where the correct translations (pactum and foedus) of Jerome would have changed the church political system from hierarchical to a Covenant-based republican type of government. Not until the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther- 1500’s) was the original meaning of these Latin terms correctly understood and applied again.  
Notes from Professor Gary Amos’ Constitutional Law class at Regent University, 1996
Letter to Gregory VII in January, 1076, from King Henry IV. This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Source Book is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
John I: Concession of England to the Pope, 1213.  From the Internet Medieval Source Book.
E.C. Wines, The Roots of the American Republic, The Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1997, pg 74.
Id. pg 76