By David Ferrell
Recent events in Washington have led to an increase in political discussion among the brethren. Like everyone else, I have watched the “Washington Mess” with disgust. As the impeachment drama unfolded, I began to examine the Scriptures concerning what our attitude should be toward government in general, and toward President Clinton in particular.
Any student of history recognizes that the government of Rome in the first century was at least as corrupt and morally bankrupt as any government we have seen in modern times. I point this out, not to excuse President Clinton’s behavior, but in order to examine the attitude of Jesus and his apostles toward a corrupt civil government.
I cannot find a single passage of Scripture where Jesus encouraged his followers to affect change by influencing their government. His only comment concerning our relationship to the government involved the payment of taxes and occurs in Matthew 22:21, where he says, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”
We have two examples of conflict with government that, on the surface, conflict with each other. During his arrest, illegal trial, and execution Jesus refused to fight and did not allow his disciples to do so. He meekly submitted to every- thing they did to him, even though he must have understood better than anyone else the extent of the injustice done him. His attitude speaks volumes about the extent to which we are to submit to government, even when it is acting wrongfully.
The other example appears in Acts 4, when Peter and John defied the authorities who were trying to stop them from obeying the command to spread the gospel. What is the difference? I believe that the difference is that Jesus was in a position to which he could submit without sin (even though he would lose his life), while Peter and John could not submit without sinning. Note that Peter and John meekly submitted to the punishment for their disobedience.
Therefore the principle for us is that we must tolerate government regulation and rule until and unless government tries to force us to sin. For example, if a law says that we must stop preaching against homosexuality, we must disobey, but pay whatever penalty is assessed.
Our Attitude Toward Bill Clinton
First, we need to distinguish between Bill Clinton as a human being, and Bill Clinton, President of the United States. Because I am confident that few of us hold any personal animosity for the President, I will spend little time concerning our attitude toward him as an individual. It is sufficient to say that, as Christians, it is our obligation to pray that Mr. Clinton will come to a knowledge of the truth and be converted. Until this occurs, he stands guilty before God of all his sins, even if he were to transform himself into a model husband and model President.
It is in his second role, as President and leader of our government, that Mr. Clinton poses a somewhat new problem. I know of no other President who has engendered such strong emotions among us. Even the election of President Reagan in 1980 prompted little comment, even though he was divorced and married to woman who was also divorced. But now, we are hearing more and more comment, some of it very bitter. This is wrong.
Romans 13 clearly teaches that we must honor and respect Bill Clinton as President. Some may argue that Romans 13 could not possibly apply to President Clinton, given his immoral character. However, in Romans 13, Paul was hardly speaking of Washington or Lincoln. Paul was speaking to Christians who lived under the thumb of the Roman Emperors; men who crucified Christians by the thousands and used their decaying bodies as torches to light public streets in Rome; and who murdered their own relatives to make safe their thrones; and who indulged themselves in every form of sexual licentiousness, including open homosexuality. There can be no credible argument that Bill Clinton (or any other public official) is so corrupt that Romans 13 should not apply to Christians today.
Can a Christian urge the ouster of President Clinton? Given our form of government, there is probably nothing wrong with an individual Christian believing and advocating any political view that isn’t sinful in itself. But we need to be very careful about keeping our private political opinions away from our worship services and Bible classes.
Not since the civil war have we experienced a time when so many Bible classes, written articles, and even sermons concern themselves with the political topics of the day. Certainly, abortion, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and such like must be opposed, even though they also happen to be topics of political debate in our country. But some brethren are publicly advancing the idea that all Christians must profess and adhere to “conservative” political philosophy in order to be faithful. Nowhere does the Bible teach such a doctrine. Did Jesus go to the cross in order to make of us Republicans, Democrats, or Libertarians? It should be obvious that one need not even be an American to be a Christian.
In conclusion, as individuals, Christians have the right to be politically active if they choose. We can support, and even campaign for the party or candidate of our choice. But when the “wrong guy” wins, we should be content. We must not rail against the men who hold official power, for such is sinful. As a group, Christians are not at liberty to be politically active. Teaching our opinions about current political controversies has no place in our public worship assemblies and Bible classes and ought not be tolerated, any more than we would allow a political candidate to hustle votes from the Lord’s pulpit. Our public assembly should be focused upon building each other up and converting the world to Christ, not upon politics.