Everyone should submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established....
- Romans 13:1
Whats a Christian to do? Keep yourself unspotted from the world, says the Apostle James (1:27). And in his letters to the early Christians, Paul often urged them not to live as those whose minds were on earthly things because, Our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:19-21).
But in what sounds like a Biblical contradiction, Jesus told His followers to Render unto Caesar (the state) the things that are Caesars, and unto God the things that are Gods (Luke 20:25). Though the question Jesus answered in this incident concerns taxes owed to an earthly state by those who believed they were citizens of a heavenly kingdom, the church continues to use this argument when advising Christians to practice responsible citizenship at their second address, wherever on earth they live.
As Jesus knew, and we experience today, theres no limit to what some people will do to keep from paying taxes: Move their business to another jurisdiction, falsify deductions on their tax returns or, as the owner of a local chain of service stations recently tried to do, refuse to pay the bill. Usually these perpetrators have an assortment of reasons to justify their actions: Our leaders are corrupt, the government wastes our tax money anyway, or with all the money they have to work with they certainly dont need mine.
Christians, even thoughtful Christ-ians, indulge in some justification for disobeying earthly law, too. I once knew a (literal) Christian soldier who robbed the bank where his wife worked, ostensibly to show how lax their security was. The jury concluded that no security force could monitor where his wife kept her keys, and reassigned him to a secure prison at Fort Leavenworth.
But on a related matter, if thoughtful, tax-paying Christians cant find a candidate who meets their unspotted standards for public office, is it against the law not to vote?
Georgia citizens today, whether they choose to vote or not, can be thankful they didnt live here when the state began. According to the constitution of 1777, only white males who were at least 21 years of age, and owned a minimum of 50 acres of land or had a skilled trade, could vote - but if they didnt vote, they paid a hefty fine. It would be another 21 years before a new constitution abolished the fine, and more than a century before all men, women, and skin colors - in the country as well as Georgia - could vote, whatever their worth or profession.
Its often said that you cant legislate morality, nor did the answer Jesus gave about taxes refer directly to the law. But the Bible has a lot to say about our responsibility to the government, primarily because government was Gods idea, not mans.
The first mention of government in the Bible occurs in the Book of Exodus, not long after Moses and the Israelites had left Egypt for a land of their own. As former slaves, the people had no experience in governing, and as a single leader, Moses had too much to do.
Moses, his father-in-law said, What you are doing is not good the work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone (Exodus 18:17-18). Moses followed that advice, selecting capable leaders, and setting up a system of responsibility over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, much like our representative form of government today (Exodus 18:16-26).
The New Testament writers repeated the advice given to Moses: Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, Paul said (Titus 3:1); and from the Apostle Peter, Submit yourselves for the Lords sake to every authority instituted among men for it is Gods will. (II Peter 13-15).
Thankfully, in this country those rulers and authorities are elected by us. Voting, even for thoughtful, tax-paying, citizens of another kingdom in addition to this one, is the right thing to do.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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