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July 11, 2020 - Pastor Message

08/09/2020

“Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:1317).

Continuing our series on the big problems of our time, this week we will reflect on the issue of respect for civil authority. Respect for civil authority, including politicians, police, and even the law itself, is at its lowest point today since probably the late 1960’s and the Vietnam era. The gross abuse of authority by some has unfortunately cast a cloud of suspicion over all public figures, and, when people do not trust civil authorities, they do not respect them. This situation essentially cripples public life, leading to the violence and chaos that have become such terrifyingly regular features in our communities today.

A free society such as ours cannot remain free when people do not respect civil authority. In such a situation, either the authorities will crack down and impose their authority by force and fear, or they will step aside, abdicate their responsibility, and let the mob take over with their own force and fear. We have seen both of these take place in our country in recent weeks. We have even seen calls to defund or abolish the police. None of this is acceptable. We need to find a way to restore healthy respect for civil authority.

Respect for civil authority is very much a part of our faith and tradition as disciples of Christ. Recall that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the ancient prophecy, because Mary and Joseph respected and obeyed the call of civil authorities to report there for the census. When challenged on the question of taxes to the Roman government, Jesus uttered his famous saying, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17). Jesus offered no resistance when brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, for his trial and condemnation but acknowledged Pilate’s authority as being part of God’s plan (John 19:11). St. Paul, a Roman citizen, respected civil authority and exercised his right to a trial before the emperor, leading to his travel and witness all the way from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 25:1012). We could also point to the countless martyrs who followed Paul in dying for their faith at the hands of civil authorities, never offering even a hint of resistance.

These, and countless examples like them, show that respect for civil authority has been a part of our Christian faith from the very beginning, even when that authority is corrupt. That doesn’t mean that we don’t seek to correct public corruption and abuse, whether it is by politicians, police, or others. It is a question of methods. As Christians, we strive to do this best by standing up for the truth without violence while continuing to respect authority, as we saw in the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. Civil Rights activists refused to comply with unjust laws, but they always respected authorities who were tasked with enforcing those laws. Eventually, their heroic, nonviolent witness won the day and resulted in the changing of those unjust laws. Let their witness be our guide as we confront injustice today, always doing so while respecting civil authority.

“Be subject to every human institution for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good. For it is the will of God that by doing good you may silence the ignorance of foolish people. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. Give honor to all, love the community, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:1317).

Continuing our series on the big problems of our time, this week we will reflect on the issue of respect for civil authority. Respect for civil authority, including politicians, police, and even the law itself, is at its lowest point today since probably the late 1960’s and the Vietnam era. The gross abuse of authority by some has unfortunately cast a cloud of suspicion over all public figures, and, when people do not trust civil authorities, they do not respect them. This situation essentially cripples public life, leading to the violence and chaos that have become such terrifyingly regular features in our communities today.

A free society such as ours cannot remain free when people do not respect civil authority. In such a situation, either the authorities will crack down and impose their authority by force and fear, or they will step aside, abdicate their responsibility, and let the mob take over with their own force and fear. We have seen both of these take place in our country in recent weeks. We have even seen calls to defund or abolish the police. None of this is acceptable. We need to find a way to restore healthy respect for civil authority.

Respect for civil authority is very much a part of our faith and tradition as disciples of Christ. Recall that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the ancient prophecy, because Mary and Joseph respected and obeyed the call of civil authorities to report there for the census. When challenged on the question of taxes to the Roman government, Jesus uttered his famous saying, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17). Jesus offered no resistance when brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, for his trial and condemnation but acknowledged Pilate’s authority as being part of God’s plan (John 19:11). St. Paul, a Roman citizen, respected civil authority and exercised his right to a trial before the emperor, leading to his travel and witness all the way from Jerusalem to Rome (Acts 25:1012). We could also point to the countless martyrs who followed Paul in dying for their faith at the hands of civil authorities, never offering even a hint of resistance.

These, and countless examples like them, show that respect for civil authority has been a part of our Christian faith from the very beginning, even when that authority is corrupt. That doesn’t mean that we don’t seek to correct public corruption and abuse, whether it is by politicians, police, or others. It is a question of methods. As Christians, we strive to do this best by standing up for the truth without violence while continuing to respect authority, as we saw in the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. Civil Rights activists refused to comply with unjust laws, but they always respected authorities who were tasked with enforcing those laws. Eventually, their heroic, nonviolent witness won the day and resulted in the changing of those unjust laws. Let their witness be our guide as we confront injustice today, always doing so while respecting civil authority.

Fr. Marc Stockton

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