A misinterpretation of scripture
In a Jan.3 op-ed (“Anti-Trump Christians, who do you want?”) in The News & Advance, columnist Cal Thomas added his name to the list of those who have defended Christian evangelical support for President Trump by quoting a verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:1), which in the translation he quoted calls for “everyone” to “submit” to “all” governing authority. Like others who have done the same, Thomas does so without any qualification or any consideration of context or of a broader scriptural and historical witness, including Paul’s own.
Does Thomas really mean to categorically condemn and reject the signers of our Declaration of Independence and the legitimacy of our nation’s founding by the revolutionary overthrow of King George III’s sovereignty (who incidentally made the same appeal to Paul’s letter as the justification for his authority and his subjects’ submission)?
Does Thomas really mean to categorically condemn and reject the highly regarded Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his participation in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler?
Does Thomas really mean to categorically condemn and reject the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists for their campaign of civil disobedience in pursuit of divinely given “inalienable rights,” inalienable rights systematically denied by governing authority?
What’s more, Christian tradition has always held that the Apostle Paul was executed by Rome for his refusal to sufficiently submit to its governing authority. Clearly, he himself did not believe that his words in that one verse in that one letter meant what Thomas would have us believe.
A better understanding of Paul would point to another verse in that same letter, where Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect (12:1).” For Paul, what is good and acceptable and perfect is a matter of discernment, transformation, and renewal, not the dogmatic, rote application of superficial, manipulative, self-serving readings of Scripture.