For any of you who heard this morning’s NPR segment, “Christians Debate: Was Jesus for Small Government?” allow me to apologize in advance. Because I would have anticipated a report bearing this title to actually be interested in what Jesus might have said about government. Instead, Barbara Bradley Hagerty introduced us to a string of delusional schizophrenics who have mistaken the 1950s (or 1840s) for first century, Roman-occupied Palestine. For it is there, if anywhere, that you will find something approximating Jesus’ views on government.
To be sure, the most honest (but still delusional) of Ms. Bradly Hagerty’s sources acknowledge that the saying attributed to Jesus—“render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”—does not argue for the end of government, but only its limitation to a policing role. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren, for example, divines that “God intends the government to have a minimal role in society.”
“The primary purpose of government is to keep the peace, protect the citizens, provide opportunity,” Warren said. “And when we start getting into all kinds of other things, I think we invite greater control. And I’m fundamentally about freedom.”
That was the delusional Pastor Warren chiming in at the end there. For how else are we to understand an authority who mistakes his own voice for that of Jesus? “I’m fundamentally about freedom.” So was Jesus. But, whereas Jesus was “about” charging his followers to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, house the homeless, comfort the sorrowful, and befriend the friendless, the delusional Pastor Warren channels Friedrich von Hayek, mistaking the radical Austrian economist and his Kantian philosophy of freedom for Jesus’ radical emancipatory promise.
At least Representative Paul Ryan acknowledges (sort of) the historical ground for his delusions. Roman Catholic Radical Orthodoxy took its point of departure from the Catholic Church’s response to the European revolutions of 1848-49. These revolutions, which, in retrospect, were anything but radical, demanded nothing more than an all-male franchise and constitutional republican principles. The Catholic Church was inflamed that mere mortals would attempt to usurp the authority of the divinely-appointed monarchs of Europe and upend the traditional social order.
[Ryan] told Christian Broadcasting Network last week that it was his Catholic faith that helped shape the budget plan. In his view, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity suggests the government should have little role in helping the poor.
“Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities — through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community — that’s how we advance the common good.”
While not a direct acknowledgment, Rep. Ryan is here referencing the belief, widely held among nineteenth century Roman Catholics, that when the un-baptized or un-converted take social justice into their own hands, they invariably pervert social justice into its opposite, “salvation by works,” apart from the Church and its instruments of grace (the sacraments) and apart from Christ.
Far more delusional, however, is the use to which these misanthropists put Romans 13:1-7, a passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. It is delusional because it seeks to ascribe governmental moderation to the (until modern times) most interventionist, all-encompassing, empire history had ever seen: the Roman Empire. But that is not all. The “governing power” [ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις] whom Paul praised in this passage—a power that is “of God,” “ordained of God” [αἱ δὲ οὖσαι ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγµέναι εἰσίν], who is “not a terror to good works” [θέλεις δὲ µὴ φοβεῖσθαι τὴν ἐξουσίαν], the “minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” and “God’s minister” [οὐ γὰρ εἰκῇ τὴν µάχαιραν φορεῖ· θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστιν]—this “governing power” when Paul wrote was none other than Nero, among the most notorious, immoral, and lecherous leaders ever to claim the divine title “Augustus.”
So, why do we pay taxes to this mere mortal who sent thousands of Jews and barbarians to their death, who had sex with his mother, and who considered himself a god? “To keep the peace, protect the citizens, provide opportunity,” says Pastor Warren, who evidently never took a serious New Testament course in his entire life.
We obey this pagan, secularist, profligate Emperor, his court, and his administration because they are “God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.”
Presumably, then, if the Apostle Paul had nothing but praise for Nero’s overreaching governmental authority and power, Rep. Ryan, Pastor Warren, and the rest of these delusional schizophrenics would likewise have nothing but praise for big government.
But, no. Nero’s power was monarchic, not republican. It was demagogic, not democratic. And it is here that Rep. Ryan’s and Pastor Warren’s real objections lie. For a government by the people, of the people, and for the people cannot help but prove a terrible affront to Ryan’s and Warren’s deity. Born in the conflict between labor and capital, public and crown, in the nineteenth century—and then reborn in mid-twentieth century Cold War America—this deity is the exact opposite of Jesus; he is, in fact, the modern day Caesar Augustus, who would have this Jesus put to death, again and again and again.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (Matthew 25:44-46).
Christians Debate: Was Jesus For Small Government? : NPR