Let any who doubt the lamentable state of theological education among Christians in America consider this fact: Right now, we are having a discussion about whether or not Donald Trump is authorized, by God, to destroy North Korea. That is what Pastor Robert Jeffress recently said. When it comes to punishing “evildoers” like Kim Jong Un, the Bible gives the president—I quote!—“authority to do whatever.”
Why? Because Paul said so in Romans 13! To sum up the important bits, Paul told the Christians living in Rome that the governing authorities have been appointed by God. They are God’s servants, God’s ministers, and the administrators of God’s judgment. Therefore, according to Rev. Jeffress, if the man who lacks the self-control not to launch a barrage of tweets against his perceived enemies, were to launch a nuclear strike at the people of North Korea, it would all be part of God’s plan.
To wax polemical for just a moment, this is one of the key weaknesses of Evangelical ways of reading the Bible in general. A naive concept of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) lends itself to selective interpretation. (I am Eastern Orthodox, if it matters.) Still, one need not acknowledge Holy Writ as part of a living tradition to know that, when it comes to the Bible, context is everything. Yes, in Romans Paul calls the governing authorities God’s servants. But not much later, in the book of Revelation, John depicts the governing authorities as the pimps of the “Whore of Babylon.” What changed between the books of Romans and Revelations? Nero. Once Rome started killing Christians, Christians stopped thinking of Rome as the de facto minister of God’s justice. Whether or not Rome administrated God’s justice depended on whether or not its leaders judged justly. Often, they did not. Often, so later writers would depict, the governing authorities were the instruments of Satan, the slaughterers of the innocent.
Call me crazy, but I think the children of North Korea would count as innocent.
Furthermore, every letter an apostle has written in the New Testament is situational. It was written to its audience, not to us. Paul did not have Donald Trump in mind when he wrote Romans 13. Sometimes what Paul says is applicable to us. Other times it is not. In Romans 13, Paul is clearly talking to Christians in a particular church about their particular need to obey the people who have authority over them. Romans 13 means, at the most, that we should obey the law, respect our governors, and enthusiastically pay our taxes (one presumes Jeffress glosses over that part). Romans 13 most certainly does not mean that whatever a governing authority does is okay. Honestly, one wonder what Jeffress would have done in Hitler’s Germany!
Pastor Jeffress is part of a dying breed. He is an “old guard” Evangelical leader, men (and pretty much always men) who, since the 1980s, have been taken advantage of so much by the Republican Party that they have developed a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. What started with the promise of a mutually advantageous political alliance has, over the decades, delivered Republican majorities, but the promised “return” to Christian values never happened. It’s been nearly 40 years since Evangelicals first hitched their carts to the GOP elephant, and all they have gained is… nothing actually. There are still abortions. Still drugs. Still sexual promiscuity. But the church, particularly the Evangelical church, has lost all credibility and more and more of its young people. Yet time and again Christian authorities like Jeffress are more than willing to slaughter their Lord in the little children that we bomb for the sake of putative political advantage.
Christian leaders like Jeffress have, over the decades of this codependent relationship with the GOP, gained a remarkable capacity to blind themselves to their own lack of moral integrity and theological consistency. Case in point, Barack Obama was most definitely not the minister of God back in 2012 when Jeffress said he was “paving the way” for the Antichrist. Yes my friends, according to Jeffress, gay marriage will bring on the End of Days, but nuclear holocaust is totes okay.
Speaking of inconsistency, according to Jeffress’s logic, Kim Jong Un is also appointed by God and thus just as justified to fire nukes at us as we are at him.
Such reasoning would be asinine to the point of laughable were its consequences not so damned frightening! Here we have a president—a man who likes firing stuff; a man with possible Freudian compensatory issues with access to great big missiles; a man whose own staff cannot keep him from pushing the “tweet” button on his smartphone—getting theological feedback that whatever he does is the work of God!?
God help us all!