Ok. I admit it. I receive the #FakePresident’s tweets. Most of them, of course, are so outrageous as not to deserve comment. But at 12:21 today, EST, he combined blasphemy with treason:
Astonishingly, the #FakePresident was not immediately consumed in a ball of fire. I guess that will come later.
First the blasphemy. Republics do not worship any god. Worship is how religious practitioners respond to divine grace. Republics are grounded in res publica, literally “the wealth we hold in common.” In his tweet, the #FakePresident is, in effect, presiding over a national liturgy: “We worship God.” Which is to say, on behalf of the political entity — the nation and its people — over which he is legally the President, he is calling us to worship: “We worship God.” But (1) the #FakePresident enjoys no apostolic authority to call us to worship; (2) the #FakePresident cannot invite worship from an entity — a Republic and its citizens — which, by definition, is incapable of worship; and (3) we must therefore infer either that the god to which the #FakePresident is calling us to worship is not God, but the Evil One, or that the service over which he is presiding is not sacred, but secular, or both. In either case he is guilty of blasphemy.
But, let us assume that, like all of his tweets, this tweet too is simply a public relations stunt; using the name of God in vain. In that case, every religious leader everywhere, from the most conservative to the most liberal, should feel obligated to reprimand the #FakePresident for his blasphemous conduct. Of course, since he would never place himself under diocesan discipline, no bishop is obligated to officially rebuke this reprobate. And, yet, I am sure God would welcome a sharp rebuke from any and all bishops of this blasphemer-in-chief.
But, of course, the #FakePresident’s tweet is also treasonous; not, of course, were the United States a divine monarchy and the President a divinely appointed monarch. We readily expect and attend to words uttered by Her Majesty, Queen of England. But the United States is a Republic. The nearest, therefore, it comes to religion is attested to in Romans, chapters 1, 2, and 13, where the Apostle Paul summarizes popular first century Stoic teaching on natural religion. When the author of the Declaration of Independence (a deist) and the framers of the US Constitution (Unitarians, Deists, and Anglicans, with a smattering of Presbyterians and Congregationalists) invoke “nature and nature’s God” they have nothing more in mind than the Apostle Paul’s summary. So what contains that summary?
It contains not one iota of scripture, for “they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness” (Rom. 2:15). While baptized Christians find God in Christ, a different standard holds for others: “For what can be know about God is plain to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he made” (Rom. 2:19-20). But, far from emancipating those who have this “natural” knowledge of God, this knowledge is sufficient only to condemn them (Rom. 2:20).
As for the #FakePresident’s government, here is what first century popular Stoicism teaches:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them — taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:1-7).
First, to which governing authorities is the Apostle referring to in his letter to the Romans? Yes. He is referring to Nero and to Nero’s bureaucracy. He is referring to Government, big “G,” in spades. He is referring to the pagan temples that Nero supports. He is referring to the imperial armies garrisoned across Afroeurasia. He is referring to the blood-thirsty Roman practice of completely eliminating any community that mounts resistance to Roman rule. Government, big “G.” Obey it.
Nevertheless, within the context of Stoic statecraft, the Apostle’s counsel made some sense. Creation is a tightly-woven fabric of threads — some precious, some common, but all necessary in the composition of the whole. All beings fit within this whole, from the dust beneath our feet to lower animals, to slaves, women, children, and men (the heads of households), and then those who govern many households, ascending upward to the highest celestial beings, and finally to Being itself: to God. In popular Stoic cosmology, it was incumbent upon every subordinate being to accurately identify and fulfill its purpose within the whole. Government, big “G,” is good. Nero is good. Notwithstanding the fact that he murdered his own mother, Nero is a servant of God within this popular Stoic scheme. Notwithstanding the fact that taxes are spent oppressing the Jews and supporting temple prostitution, secular Roman law is good.
Later, of course, after the collapse of Rome, Christian interpreters less familiar with popular Stoicism misrepresented Saint Paul’s counsel as though it referred to “Christian magistrates.” In 60 CE? Christian magistrates? I don’t think so. Saint Paul was referring to the full secular, pagan Roman bureaucracy.
Were Christians supposed to “worship” Nero? Of course not. But, even Saint Paul recognized that Nero’s whole legitimacy was grounded not in the Gospel, but in natural law. Paul will have other things to say about Roman imperial governance when he addresses the matter from the vantage point of the Gospel.
Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucifi ed the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:6-8).
Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor. 15:24-25).
So, yes. According to the Apostle, big “G” government will be destroyed at the end of the age. But, until that point Christians are obligated to obey not their “Christian magistrates,” but their secular, pagan rulers who govern not according to Scripture, but according to the “law written on their hearts,” in accordance to “natural law.”
This was the Deist faith of the framers of the US Constitution. This was the faith of Thomas Jefferson, author of the completely naturalized and secularized “Jefferson Bible.”
When the #FakePresident presides over his nationalist mass; when he ingenuously invites us to violate the Apostle’s counsel in Romans 13 and invites us, just as ingenuously, to violate our baptismal vows in 1 Corinthians 1-2; and, finally, when he invites us to commit treason against our Republic, he is worthy of a three-fold rebuke by every Church authority: every pastor, priest, bishop, and cardinal.