Can Someone School Me on Romans 13?

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Robert Jeffress, a follower of the Lamb of God¹ and a loving shepherd of His flock—and one of Donald Trump’s favorite pastors—is apparently pretty stoked at the idea of launching hellfire on North Korea:

When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.

The book of Romans, huh? It turns out that Jeffress is talking about 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….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.

I always learn something interesting when I ask about Bible passages, so let’s ask about this one. Its meaning seems pretty obvious: Paul is talking about obeying the civil authority under which you live. I, for example, am required to obey the laws of the city of Irvine, the state of California, and the United States of America. But I don’t have to obey the laws of, say, Brazil, because I don’t live there and they aren’t my “governing authority.”

Jeffress, however, is suggesting that this passage is not just about the power of a governing authority over those it governs, but also over anyone it thinks is evil. I’m sure this is ridiculous, but it often turns out there’s some arcane but longstanding theological debate behind this kind of thing. So school me. Is there an interesting story to tell here? Or is Jeffress just a lone crackpot?

¹And you know he’s for real because he’s called Islam “evil,” Catholicism “satanic,” and Mormonism “a cult.”

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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