One of the things that often frustrates me is the people who pose questions with the perceived goal of looking for an excuse to be disloyal. They come up with all sorts of hypothetical situations, asking if, under these certain circumstances, would rebellion be justified? My usual answer is “no” as, for me, the fundamental basis of loyalty to monarchs is simple, being based on religious conviction. “My son, fear the Lord and the King: and have nothing to do with detractors (rebels)”, Proverbs 24:21. That’s simple enough and good enough for me. Without doing intensive research, I was unable to come up with any Scriptural justification for rebellion. Throughout the Bible, it doesn’t happen much, the most prominent rebellion that comes to mind is that of the Maccabees which was a rebellion against a foreign conqueror, the Seleucid Empire which was one of the successor states of the “world” dominion of Alexander the Great. In the Christian era, people were told to “render unto Caesar”, to “fear God and honor the Emperor” and to obey “not only the good and the gentle but also the harsh”. And, as we know from history, even in the worst periods of immorality and even persecution, there were no massive Christian rebellions. On the contrary, Christians were sent to their deaths protesting their loyalty with the usual phrase, “Hail Caesar, Emperor of Rome, we who are about to die salute you”.
This has occupied my thoughts as of late because of a growing concern that the time may be approaching (or even near upon us), in my country at least, where the issue becomes pressing as to whether one can morally pay taxes and submit to a government that is doing immoral things. Certainly, one can imagine that when Jesus Christ said, “render unto Caesar” that some of that money was going to further causes the audience being addressed would have considered immoral. The Caesar at that time was the Emperor Tiberius who went rather off the deep-end morally at the end of his life, according to most accounts, but even at best we can imagine that tax money would be spent on things like sponsoring pagan Roman temples which the Jewish leaders Jesus was addressing would have surely denounced as idolatry. Yet, the command was to pay your taxes and be loyal to the Emperor. Does this apply to us today in the same way? It seems to me that an answer might be dependent on whether you live in a republic or not or even as to what sort of monarchy you live in. Pondering the issue has made me wonder (not much, because the answer seems obvious) whether or not people realize how morally hazardous a republic can be. When considering what the difference would be between the people, taxes, laws and overall situation of those in the time of Christ versus those here and now the answer I came up with has, at its heart, the issue of sovereignty.
This is an opinion piece and others may disagree, but these are simply my thoughts for your consideration. It seems to me that one reason for the lack of rebellions or authorization for rebellions in the old days (very old days) is because people were not expected to sit in judgment of their superiors. For the Jews of the Old Testament, God was in charge and God picked who would be king over them. They were to be loyal to that King who was responsible to God for his actions and if he acted wrongly or misruled his people it was God that would deal with him. This was basically stated in the covenant God made with King David, establishing his “divine right” to rule God’s people. God said that if the descendants of King David ruled badly, He would punish them but that their divine right would never be taken away for the sake of King David, the man after God’s own heart. The people were to obey so long as the authorities did not demand them to act contrary to the law of God and even then, as we see in cases such as that of Daniel, the response was disobedience but not disloyalty or rebellion. God was considered to be the master of kings and princes and the one who directed the fate of the nations. So, when Israel and Judah were conquered by the Romans, they considered that was the will of God and as their king submitted so too did they. Basically, how the Emperor behaved was God’s problem to deal with and not their’s.
That may sound flippant but the underlying point is extremely serious because today is not at all the same in most republics and even some monarchies. The point is that, in the past, when the government did something wrong, the King and the King alone was responsible to God for it. Today, where I live and probably a majority of those reading this as well, it is “we” who are responsible when the government does something wrong and the reason is sovereignty. Let us take the example of the United States, a republic familiar to all. Before independence, King George III was the sovereign, holding sovereignty over what would become the original United States of America. Although one could substitute the word “Parliament” after 1688, according to the letter of the law, George III was King “by the Grace of God”. Parliament passed laws in the name of the King, who gave assent or vetoed them as he pleased (though George III never vetoed anything as most know) and he reigned by God’s grace because it was God who made him the sovereign of England, Scotland and Ireland and all their dependencies. Then, along comes the American War for Independence and the birth of the United States of America; a federal republic. Instead of an hereditary monarch, the United States would have a President, chosen by the Electoral College through the democratic process because the people said, in so many words, ‘we will have the leader we choose, not the leader God chooses for us’. But was the President then the sovereign of the United States? Perish the thought!
The President is certainly not the sovereign of America as it was stated very clearly from the outset that the United States was to be based on the principle of “popular sovereignty”. That means everyone is king which is the same thing as saying there is no king at all. Sovereignty is claimed by the collective and invested in the public at large as “we, the people”. Did anyone then or does anyone now realize what a truly terrible responsibility that represents? This is why, for example, if one were to commit a crime or, excuse me, if one were to be *unjustly accused* of committing a crime (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) north of the border in Her Britannic Majesty’s Dominion of Canada your case would be referred to as “The Crown versus Stickyfingers McGuilty” whereas in these United States, under the same circumstances, it would be, in federal cases, “The People of the United States versus Shiftyeyes O’Liar” because the sovereign is the basis of law and authority and in Canada that is Her Majesty the Queen, which is to say, “The Crown” of Canada while in the United States there is no sovereign but the collective sovereignty of “the people”. How many people recognize the moral ramifications of this? Likewise, in Britain, laws are enacted in the name of the Queen whereas in the United States, with popular sovereignty, they are enacted in the name of “the people”. Can everyone see the important difference and what this means?
In a country based on traditional authority, in which the monarch is sovereign, as was universally the case in the old days, this meant that if a bad law was enacted the sole responsibility fell on the shoulders of the monarch. However, by trying to take power into our own hands and claiming popular sovereignty, sticking with the illustration of America, it means that everyone is tainted, so to speak, by a bad law because everything that is done and every law that is passed is done so in the name of and by the authority of “we, the people”. This holds true even in the case of money and taxes. What did Jesus Christ first ask about the coin when questioned on paying taxes? He asked, who was pictured on that coin and the answer was, of course, Caesar as the profile of the Emperor appeared on all coins just as, again to bring it forward, the profile of Queen Elizabeth II appears on all the coins in a country like Canada. So, He said, “render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar”. Was this based solely on cosmetics? I don’t think so and such a thing could not be applied to the United States wherein coins feature the profiles of presidents long dead like Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington and Kennedy. We could hardly ‘render unto’ these men who are no longer alive, nor would it be right to do so because none of them were sovereigns.
The underlying point is that the currency Christ held up was a Roman coin backed by the authority of the Emperor. In the United States, the power to issue currency is reserved to the Congress, the representatives of, again, “we, the people”. That is then combined with the fact that the power of the purse is reserved to the people’s elected representatives and that means that the general public is, to some degree, responsible for all that is done with it. Power and responsibility is, after all, a two-way street even if it may be comfortable to ignore the fact. By demanding that, “we, the people” should all be sovereign, that we should all collectively hold power and authority, we are then all collectively responsible for all that comes as a result of this. What is more revealing, at least to me, is that everyone seems to realize this when it is convenient to their cause. For example, many people, certainly in America, will have heard of the anti-war campaign “Not In My Name”. It was a very widely used slogan in the opposition to the Iraq War and has been used by numerous causes around the world, most of them of very leftist origins. These same people, however, claim to be totally oblivious to this concept when traditional Christians oppose “gay marriage”. Most Christians don’t give a toss what people get up to in the privacy of their own homes but what they do object to is the idea of the government, acting in their name, saying something in law which they believe is untrue. Thanks to collective sovereignty, it is forcing traditional Christians to make liars of themselves.
This hardly seems fair to those who did everything possible to stop perceived wrongs done by their government. They may have voted, participated in debates, perhaps even held public protests but, fair or not, “we” asked for this situation. In fact, “we” demanded it and shed blood to achieve it. To make matters even more unfair, it is not as though “the people” actually rule, ever have or ever will but the people went along, the people participated or at least submitted to this and the political leaders of the revolutions of the world made it sound so empowering when they said, “We will hold power, but it will be in your name” because there is no higher power than “the people”. This grand sounding ideal, however, was actually a sort of suicide pact which enables all to be tainted by the actions of 51% of their number, sometimes even less. If we are going to say that power comes from the people and not from God then it is the people who are responsible to God for all that their fellow members of the collective do. In a traditional monarchy, if the King misruled, the King would die and go to Hell. With popular sovereignty, everyone risks being dragged down to the infernal regions by the most politically successful. We used to have a monarch to blame. Now, we have only ourselves.