Jesus, the Government, and *Christianity Today*
Yesterday, December 19, 2019, the influential evangelical publication Christianity Today published an op-ed simply titled, "Trump Should Be Removed From Office." They concluded, as their faith led them, that "unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered the administration morally unable to lead." This surprised a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, but it might not have surprised Christ. The government of Christ's day was a complex, tiered system of Roman rule carried out by local Jewish sects. The most familiar of these were Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Samaritans. Each of them had their own rigid ideas of which laws should be followed, and how the Jewish world should run. They were like a combination of today's Christian denominations and today's political parties. At one point or another, Jesus spoke out against nearly all of them. Sometimes Christ's protests were nonviolent, such as riding a donkey into Jerusalem as an act of prophetic resistance (Mt. 21:1-11; cf. Mk. 11:1-11, Lk. 19:29-44, Jn 12:12-19). Sometimes Christ's protests came in the form of whips and overturned tables (Jn. 2:13-16; cf. Mt. 21:12-13). But always they came, every time Christ saw "unsavory dealings and immoral acts" by those in power.
Growing up "fundamentalist" (the predecessors of those who call themselves "evangelical" now) I was taught to blindly accept the will of those in power. I remember hearing "Render unto Caesar" (Mt. 22:21) over and over again. But this was Christ's response to a specific question about whether or not we should pay the government taxes. When it comes to corrupt government, Christ commands a very different approach.
In his 1992 book, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, theologian and activist Walter Wink finds a roadmap for non violent resistance spelled out in Christ's famous Sermon on the Mount. The trick is that to read it, you have to first understand the laws of Jesus' time. In this sermon, Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Mt. 5:38-42, NRSV).