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A few years ago I was in a conversation with a National Guard member. Ok, it was an argument, but before I continue please know I respect people who serve our country. My father was in Viet Nam and his father was in World War II. My grandpa often talked about his brother Ole who was in the battle for Iwo Jima. He claimed to be one of the soldiers lifting the flag, you know, the one memorialized in the statue. He complained he never got credit, but honestly, no one believed it was him. I share this to show that I come from a family of soldiers, so while I have not been in the military, I was raised by a family who took pride in serving their country. The argument had to do with responsibility, pay grade, chain of command, and whether it is a solider’s duty to think about what they’re doing, or just obey orders. This person was upset that I believe a soldier has the responsibility to think critically, and not just follow orders. To do that is to surrender responsibility, which is to cease being a human being. I understand everyone can’t be in charge, but being a foot solider or a beat cop doesn’t mean leaving moral responsibility behind.

Which brings me to the catastrophe taking place at our southern border. For the past week the Trump administration has talked about the rule of law as if these laws are not arbitrary, as if borders are an eternal degree from God before the foundation of the earth. 500 years ago these arbitrary lines in the dirt and water didn’t exist. Yet, the administration treats them as if they are eternally unchangeable. This shouldn’t be surprising given their use of Romans 13 to justify their actions.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities have been instituted by God.” Taken out of context, it supports the administrations actions. But in context, the passage suggests something else. In Romans 12 Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Paul does not want violent revolution, but he also does not want passive compliance. How else do we make sense of his death at the hands of the very governing authorities he references in Romans 13? He didn’t resist, but he didn’t comply either.

The misuse of Romans 13 by this administration makes sense in the context of a speech Vice President Pence recently gave to military graduates. He said this:

Submit yourselves, as the saying goes, to the authorities that have been placed above you. Trust your superiors, trust your orders, and you’ll serve and lead well.

I truly believe that among the most important qualities of leadership — whether it’s in the armed forces or any other endeavor — are humility, orientation to authority, and self-control. And I encourage you to cultivate these qualities as leaders in increasing measure every day from this day forward.

With humility, consider others to be more important than yourselves. Be servant leaders. Approach every challenge as a learner and a listener first. In multiple counselors there is wisdom, and the best decisions by the best leaders come from counsel and collaboration.

Next is orientation to authority. Nothing I have to explain to those of you sitting before me today. Follow the chain of command without exception. Submit yourselves, as the saying goes, to the authorities that have been placed above you. Trust your superiors, trust your orders, and you’ll serve and lead well.

“Follow the chain of command without exception”. “Obey your governing authorities”. This is how we end up with families torn apart, and no one, not even the president, willing to take responsibility. This is how otherwise good, responsible, people end up supporting destructive policies. Paul’s command that subverts every other is the command to love—love God and love neighbor. This means taking responsibility for our actions, and for the humanity of our neighbors near and far. At times, this means questioning those in authority, and questioning laws and procedures. I’m not against the military, and I’m not opposed to law enforcement. However, I believe soldiers and border agents should do their work the best they can as responsible moral agents.

Life might be easier if we follow the chain of command without exception, but I’m not sure it’s Christian.

Jason Lief

Jason Lief teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. He served as editor of Reformed Journal for many years and was one of the original bloggers on the RJ blog. You can find more of his writing at


  • Bruce Garner says:

    So well said. There is also the aspect of Paul telling people to obey secular authorities as a way to help insure their own lives. Anything else might be viewed as insurrection and subject to imprisonment and./or execution. Paul’s words provided “cover” and flowed well with his previous advice. It was all part of the context of the story.

    We seem to have a long history of taking Scripture out of context and usually to support a particular issue. Sadly, the issue is too often one that oppresses or marginalizes other people, other children of God. Scripture only truly makes sense when kept within two aspects of context. One is the context of the culture and time when it first became an oral narrative to subsequently be committed to writing. The other context is that of the complete narrative of which it is a part.

    The culture of thousands of years ago is extraordinarily different than our own. Scientific information was minimal. The simplest example was the belief that the earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe with all else revolving around it. The concepts of bacteria and virus as the cause of illness was unknown. Human physiology, psychology, and the seemingly unending information that would come along about us as human beings was unknown. Trying to overlay now with then is pure folly. Doctors do not cure by casting out demons!

    The narrative, the complete narrative, of events of the time were described in terms understood first by the ones who described those events and subsequently by those who recorded them in terms that made sense to them. That does not mean those same terms carry the same meaning today if they are even part of the vocabulary. Nor does it mean that the authors of the stories we read were wrong. They just described things as they understood them from their own perspectives. Using the narrative in parts rather than as a whole made no more sense then than it does now. The simplest example might even be John 3:16 taken alone. Yes, God did love the world to the extent that God did send the source of salvation to its people. Yet the next verse is rarely a part of the quotation: God did this not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. The two verses, the two concepts must be taken together as a more complete narrative for the true value to be seen. Otherwise, the first part is subject to misuse as a verbal stick with which to beat people over the head.

  • Fred Mueller says:

    I hope that our AG and others who agree with him will not celebrate the Fourth of July this year. Our country rebelled against the rule of law of our sovereigns. They did not follow Paul’s advice. You can’t have it both ways. William Tyndale wrote, “Our teaching is that of Christ, to obey the civil powers and leave all vengeance to God. What then is the duty of the Christian in this terror? He must disobey ungodly commands but he must not resist by force…true believers ill stand firm and suffer every penalty for Christ’s sake.” In our rebellion against our rulers, we Americans violated the highest Christian teaching, killing others to overthrow their authority over us. So I hope Mr. Sessions and company will use Independence Day this year as a time to repent of what the thirteen colonies did in violating the Bible.

  • George E says:

    “To do [just follow orders] is to surrender responsibility, which is to cease being a human being.”

    A few weeks ago, another blogger on here was outraged that Trump had referred the MS13 gang members as animals, not humans. Now we read Mr. Lief saying that soldiers (and apparently police and government employees) who follow orders they don’t agree with have ceased to be humans.

    What reaction can we expect to Mr. Lief’s comment?

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