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Stacy Davis's essay, "Are U.S. Politicians God's Servants?: Romans 13:1-7 and Political Rhetoric" brought to mind two examples of the relevance of Romans 13 to our current political situation.

1. Just after 9/11, Gerald B. Kieschnick, President of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, met with George W. Bush and said, according to an LCMS press release in which Kieschnick reported on the meeting: "'You not only have a civil calling, but a divine calling,' and I read from Romans 13, especially verse 4." He also told Bush "that God has given 'the government official in authority' the responsibility to protect and defend its citizens." In citing Romans 13:4, Kieschnick undoubtedly meant to emphasize only that Bush (one assumed) would be hunting down the terrorists responsible for the attacks; still, given the NSA spying program and the Patriot Act, his use of the verse, which singles out internal, rather than external, threats to government, may have been prophetic. In any case, Kieschnick's citation from Romans 13 amounted to a massive (the LCMS boasts over 2.5 million members) political endorsement of Bush as America's divinely appointed leader.

2. Another, more ominous example is that of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who, in a speech reprinted in the journal First Things (May 2002), argued that "the core of [Paul's message in Romans 13] is that government — however you want to limit that concept — derives its moral authority from God." He goes on to argue that this has been the consensus view in the West for nearly 2000 years, until Freud, Marx and the "secular humanists" came along and started to spoil everyone's fun. Of course he's entirely wrong about this, as interpretations of Romans' view of government power have been fraught with anxiety nearly since the beginning. And anxieties have been stoked precisely over the issue of how one limits the "concept" of government, it being a given generally that one must do so if one wishes to avoid reading in Romans a Pauline endorsement of tyranny.

Since then, as Davis notes, others (including Representative Mark Souder of Indiana and Terry Eastland at The Weekly Standard ) have also invoked Romans 13:1-7 in support of President Bush's divinely empowered authority to govern. Davis argues early on in her piece that Romans 13:1-7 played no role at all in shaping voters' perspectives in 2004. This is welcome news, and perhaps confirms something we all intuitively know: that the religious element in the American electorate is always more complex than the media likes to assume. Unfortunately, what may matter more than voter perspectives is the religious sentiment of our political leadership.

Jay Twomey, Department of English and Comparative Literature, University of Cincinnati, Ohio

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Citation: , " In Response to the Davis article," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Feb 2006]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=501

 
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