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Political Involvement According to 1 Peter

Peter exhorts his readers to “be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to a king as supreme or to governors as those he commissions to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13-14). But what does this mean for today? Specifically, what does this mean for our roles and responsibilities in the political arena of the U.S.?

It is always important to begin with what this text meant for its original readers. In this case, it is extremely important to note the difference between the Roman Empire and twenty-first-century America. For example, it was not permissible for first-century Christians to voice opposition to the Emperor or the local governor. Such vocal protest could result in physical persecution or even death. Furthermore, first-century Christians did not have the opportunity to vote in regular elections, so they could not protest by voting against the incumbent. So the “human institutions” of Peter’s day are very different from our own. As a result, some of the applications of this text may be different from Peter’s applications.

That being said, there remains a timeless biblical principle of submission in this text. That is, in all cultures and at all times, Christians are to be characterized by submission to the human institutions of government. But what does it mean to submit? Scot McKnight suggest that submission means “to order oneself under, or according to, a given relationship.”  Another way of saying it might be: obey the rules of your land.  I think there are a couple of implications for this:

Christians should be the most law-abiding citizens in the land.  Do you speed?  Do you litter?  Do you burn CDs on to your iPod that you didn’t purchase?  Each of these acts is illegal and, therefore, is sin.  Peter claims that submission to authorities is “God’s will” (1 Peter 2:15) for the purpose of silencing criticisms against Christianity.  So, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like the law (who likes to pay taxes?), it is your responsibility as a citizen and, more importantly, as a Christian, to abide by the law.

I know that the first criticism will be this: “what if the laws cause me to violate God’s Word…should I still obey?”  The answer is no, of course.  Peter makes it clear that our primary allegiance is to God.  In fact, our obedience is “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13).  So if you find yourself in a situation such as China that mandates abortion, you have an obligation to disobey.  However, I would argue that you won’t find too many daily situations like this in America.  So this objection is correct, but use it appropriately!

Second, respect your authorities.  Not only do our governmental authorities deserve our submission, they deserve our respect (“honor” in 1 Peter 2:17).  This is difficult to do in an election year when tempers flare over candidates.  But remember, all of the candidates are created in the image of God and deserve to be treated as image-bearers!

Although we are to submit to and respect our government officials, this does not mean we cannot speak out.  This is one significant difference between Peter’s day and ours.  Peter’s readers could not vote and could not protest the emperor.  That was a death wish.  But in America, our laws actually allow us to protest, speak out, etc., etc.  Therefore, it is both legal and respectful to be fully engaged in the dialogue of the day and to promote your cause.  So do not equate “submission” with “silence.”  That is not true in our context.  But remember, our voices must always be within the bounds of the law and respectful.

So get engaged in every legal and respectful way imaginable!!

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