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Romans 13 and democracy

In Romans 13 we are told to “be subject to the governmental authorities” (v. 1) and that they are “God’s servant for good” (v. 4).  In that culture the governmental authority was the emperor and those delegated by the emperor.

In a democracy the locus of governmental authority is quite different.  The sovereignty rests in each individual.  That is the source of authority to which we are to subject ourselves.  The actual and concrete carrying out of this power is transferred to representative governmental leaders.  They are functionaries who have no special meaning of their own; they are representative of the power of the people (cf. Stephen Mott, A Christian Perspective on Political Thought [1993], p.155). 

This has significant implications for our actions.  Professor Richard Mouw, Christian ethicist and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, points out the implications of the power of the governmental leaders being derived from the populace, the primary locus of God-given authority.  Our subjection to governmental authority includes participation in the process of debating and electing those leaders and reviewing, criticizing, and challenging current policies and procedures.  Subjection to government includes the duty of being involved in that type of participation (Political Evangelism [1973], p. 55).

Since every person has the human right of this political participation, our subjection to democratic political authority means we have to work with people who are different from us in their theological beliefs.  This participation is focused on seeing that government is a servant of God for good, expressed publicly in social justice.  An effective tool of participation for justice is  community organizing, which will include the diversity required in democracy.

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