Monday, January 3, 2011

Romans 13 & Civil Justice

A recent article from CNN brought the issue of an African president failing to step down after losing elections in a country long exposed to instability and upheaval: Ivory Coast. President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede victory to his opponent despite the European Union, the African Union, the U.S., and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recognizing his opponent as the victor. His opponent, Alassane Ouattara, is holed up in a hotel with U.N. Peacekeepers. President Gbagbo wants a recount and had himself sworn in again to continue as president.

The country has been a place of conflict for many years, and from 2002 to 2007 it was in a state of civil war. The increasing tensions in Ivory Coast is making renewed violent conflict a real possibility. Members of the ECOWAS have offered Gbagbo safe haven if he will step down peacefully, but they have publicly announced their willingness to use military force to effect his removal from power.

The Bible teaches in Romans 13:1-5,

“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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one 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. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”

This passage is not an easy one to accept. We may not like paying taxes. We may not want to respect copyright law. We may not like immigration policy. True, there are times when we must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), but it takes true biblical discernment to know when and how to apply that principle.

One thing we should remember here as it relates to the situation in the Ivory Coast is that no sovereign nation is subject to another. The Ivory Coast does not have to depose Gbagbo just because a great number of international bodies have advocated it do so. However, Gbagbo must step down for a very different reason rooted in this passage: everybody is subject to the governing authorities. That includes the president of a nation because he has not been granted absolute power and is subject to the laws that govern his country. The passage is clear when it says, “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

It is fully within each nation’s sovereign right to determine how and when it will use its military forces, but every nation should realize it will be held accountable to God for those actions. A nation has every right to support another with its military to enforce the other nation's laws when requested or when necessary due to a miscarriage of justice by national leadership. Unless Mr. Gbagbo wants to incur judgment in the form of his forced removal, he’d best submit himself to his nation’s laws as is good and fitting according to Scripture.

We too should submit ourselves to the laws of our nation, even if that means personal loss, so that the name of Christ will not be put to shame on our account. 1 Peter 2:13-15 says,

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

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