This week, amongst the fire and brimstone rhetoric of President Trump, came an unusual endorsement of his approach. Pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers, released a statement claiming that Trump has the moral authority to “Take out” Kim Jong Un.
“When it comes to how we should deal with evildoers, 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”, the pastor says.
He also has the scripture to back him up.
Romans 13, which was commonly cited passage in the age of the Devine Right of Kings, is often read to mean that rulers have the endorsement of God by virtue of being in power, or that all state authority ultimately comes from God. The idea being that if God really didn’t want somebody in power, he could easily see to their removal.
Some evangelicals, such as Jeffress, go further. They see it as evidence of God’s use of political leaders to achieve his goals, and the unlimited legitimacy of those governments to carry out his will.
“That gives the government … the authority to do whatever…to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jong Un,” says Jeffress.
However, Professor Amy Black, at Wheaton College, points out that Romans 13 could also be used to say that Kim Jong Un is also covered by that Divine Endorsement. Such is the difficulty of using such a bible verse.
But, what about “Love thy Neighbor” and all that? Are we even talking about the same God?
Romans 13 was written by St. Paul. A man whose influence on the Christian religion is massive, but not without detractors. For his part, Christ was once heard to declare: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Similarly, Romans 12 echoes with “Do not repay evil for evil”. Jeffress, however, makes the point that these sections apply only to practicing Christians, not the state. Saying that he does not want the President to embody the Sermon on the Mount.
In some ways, Jeffress’s beliefs are reflections of the God of the Old Testament. One who participates semi-regularly in human affairs to advance the good, often dramatically. This conception of the Christian God is often considered violent, interventionist, jealous, and quite willing to kill millions.
This is opposed to the conception of God advanced in the Gospels. Which, taken as a whole, depict God as being loving, compassionate, and forgiving to a greater extent than in the Old Testament. This God is also much more willing to let the chips fall where they may in the present world and sort issues out in the next, leading Christ to suggest not acting immorally even in the face of Death.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Jeffress’s interpretation of Romans 12 and 13, and how this means a Christian individual is separated from a Christian leader in ethical obligations, is reflective of Machiavelli. In the Prince, Machiavelli showed us how a what makes a virtuous Christian would make a poor statesman, and how we should not mix the two. This stands opposed to the idealist worldview of many Christians and voters who want their leader to at least attempt to emulate a saint.
What kind of God would be able to support the President of the United States using atomic weapons?
That is the key question. Is it the God of the New Testament? Who wishes for us to forgive at all times and never strike back? Or would it be the God of the Old? Who saw fit to end the world by flooding? More pragmatically, would either one of these Gods be able to suffer a world leader who was not in league with them?