Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Should Christians Love Their Country?


In Romans 13:7-8, toward the end of the classic New Testament text on Christians' obligations toward governing authorities, the Apostle Paul writes,

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We often stop reading at verse 7 and don't read verse 8 because many of our Bibles place a subtitle there, as if a new section is beginning. But given Paul's repeated and intentional use of the verb 'to owe' it is obvious that this [separating the verses] is a mistake. What Paul is telling us is that we owe taxes, revenue, respect, honor, and obedience precisely because this is what love demands. Indeed, if love did not call us to fulfill these obligations, we would not owe them at all. Paul is teaching us to view our obligations toward government and (as Holst seems willing to extend the scope of the passage) country as the expression of Christian love appropriate to this context. Even as we serve our country, in other words, we demonstrate the love of Christ.

Why does this matter? Insofar as America is turning increasingly away from the heritage of Christendom, and insofar as we do experience moral decline, our temptation as Christians will be to withhold our love for our country. One sees this all the time in the bitter reactions of some conservative Christians to President Obama. Because we have often confused our nationalistic patriotism for Christian love, then, when we believe we have lost the reason for our nationalistic patriotism, it will fall away with nothing but bitterness to replace it. The appropriate response here is not to jettison love, however, but to form our love according to the commandment of Christ.


  1. I think the challenge is in determining whom we owe. Does any demand by force require a moral obligation to pay? What are the parameters to define a source of financial obligation?
    If force, then we're subject to endless "taxation" from every thug with a gun that shows up at our door.

    1. No, not every "thug".

      I don't have an easy answer to your question. Admittedly, there are things not to love. That was the case, too, in the empire where Jesus said "render unto Caeser ..." and where Paul said "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities."

      But "country" is more than just the "governing authorities". It is where our home is, where our families grow up, and we share a common heritage and a common experience with the people around us. In very many ways, there are people around us who are like the one who "fell among robbers" and who in every sense of the word are our "neighbor" (Luke 10:25-37).

      Especially here in the US it is impossible to extricate the one from the other, the "governing authorities" from the rest of it. The government is still comprised of "we the people", even though "the people" have no real moorings any more, it seems.

      However, as Tuininga writes earlier in the article, citing a piece by Rick Phillips, one of the best reasons for Christians "to love their country" is to assure that "political and cultural engagement is saturated with the virtues of Christ", something that "is very much needed in our time".

      The "love for country" he is talking about is "agape", "the form of love that is ... prominent in the New Testament. This kind of love emphasizes a regard or concern for an other's well-being that is not necessarily deserved; indeed, it appears most prominently when precisely the opposite is deserved. This is the sort of love that is in view when scripture declares that 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ...' (John 3:16)."

      This "love" needs not exhibit itself in a blind patriotism. "Christians are under no obligation to be patriotic in the sense that this term is usually understood (i.e., with reference to the pageantry, symbolism, and myth of America)." I'm with Tuininga when he also states firmly, "I am no advocate of the culture war mindset".

      We are in every instance to love the sinners while not loving the sin. That's a hard position to be in, but it's a package deal.

    2. Hi John, Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      I think my particular interest was probably beyond the scope of the intent of the original article you were referencing. But it did trigger some issues I have been trying to work through in order to develop some sort of coherent system of belief regarding obligation to government.

      I would like to know what the defining parameters are to a body of authority I am bound to obey. It's easy to tell me to obey my government, but what is a government? In the case of the US, is it the Constitution (both State and Federal)? Is it the elected officials (despite their abandonment of the Constitution)? Is it anyone that sets themselves up as a government over a pre-existing government (such as when a colony revolts against their own government and forms their own, or when someone breaks into my house at gunpoint and announces their new appointment as my King)?

      Are you aware of any books or articles that attempt to tackle these sort of questions?

    3. Hi Nomosian -- The concept is to limit the powers of any one government. In that respect, the Federalist papers would have some good thoughts. (I've not read all of them, but a select few).

      Magna Carta was an agreement among the King of England and the Lords to the effect that the Kings needed the assistance of the Lords if they were to get anything done. The King couldn't just give orders -- he had to solicit the agreement (and money and men) of his landowners that an effort that was going to require taxation (i.e., a war) was also going to need to be in everyone's best interest. Such a concept led to the parliamentary system.

      Marsiglio de Padua was an early writer (d. 1343) who started saying things like "the evangelic Scripture does not command that anyone be compelled by temporal pain or punishment to observe the commandments of divine law". Also "only the whole body of citizens, or the weightier part thereof, is the human legislator". "The decretals or decrees of the Roman or any other pontiffs, collectively or distributively, made without the human legislator, bind no one to temporal pain or punishment".

      William of Ockham also was a vocal medieval opponent of the papacy. In fact, during his lifetime, and later, "conciliarism" (the notion that the church should be ruled by a council rather than a pope), was very prominent during the 14th and 15th centuries.

      Oddly enough, Darryl Hart has a pretty good article up about "conciliarism" as it led to some of the constitutional republics (beginning with the American revolution).


      If you search the archives here -- there is a Google search under the "popular posts" in the right-hand column -- and look up keywords like "tax" or "government" and you'll likely come up with some good things.

      I've not read terribly deeply into any of this, really just enough to understand the broad contours of it.

      I think any government is going to have "power", even the dinky local governments. We have a creek between us and the road; next to the road, there is some natural vegetation that grows tall. We like it tall, because it gives us privacy. But not long ago, we got a letter from the borough that we needed to cut those down or we'd be hauled before the local magistrate and fined a great deal of money for breaking some local ordinance.

      My thought is that the more sensible Christian people there are who are being "we the people", the more the onerous powers of government will be limited. But that's a tall order in our day.