Mark Shea: Beyond Trump — the duties of a Christian citizen, Part I

US President Donald Trump meets with county sheriffs during a listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, 7 February 2017. Pope Francis’ recent statements calling for a welcoming attitude to refugees and migrants hit a nerve on social media at a time when Trump has begun stricter border enforcement. Photo: CNS

So the deed is done. Donald Trump, the most unworthy and dangerous human being ever to occupy the White House is now the 45th President of my country. It’s as good a time as any to discuss the duties of a Christian citizen since, like it or not, the odds are fair to middling that Down Under, you guys will eventually have somebody hold the reins of state that you don’t want either. Who knows? Maybe you already do (I know nothing of politics in Oz since I’m an ignorant American while you guys undoubtedly know all about ours since my country, for good or ill, hogs the global media with our political psychodrama).

Given what I write above, one could be excused for thinking that I’m in despair over the outcome of the election. But that’s not true. Alarmed. Fearful. Sceptical. Angry. These are accurate. But despair is a sin, and four years (eight at the most) is small beer in the grand scheme of eternity. It’s even a short time in the history of the Church. So, sure, Trump is terrible and radically unqualified for office and deeply corrupt, stunningly ignorant, and as narcissistic and impulsive as a five year old. But then, so was the guy Paul was writing about when he penned his thoughts on Christian citizenship in Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Ro 13:1–10)

There are several things worth noting about this. First, what comes through here as in all of the New Testament is how little the early Christians had invested in the glory of Caesar. Both as a Jew who has watched his people be trampled by Rome and as a Christian who knows that the only contribution Rome made to the story of Jesus is the words “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate”, Paul speaks of his relationship to the state in terms of duty (not love) due to a thing that (more or less) maintains the common good. To be sure, human beings (including Nero, the psychopathic Caesar of whom Paul writes) are due our prayers and love in the hope of their eternal salvation. But the state is due merely taxes, honour and legal obedience. Of which more next time.

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