Can We Criticise A Government We Submit To?

by | Aug 24, 2016 | Politics In The Bible | 0 comments

We need to build a strong foundation on which to Rebuild The Wall. We’re examining Scriptures which are commonly misused to justify social silence. Some people naively insist that Christians can’t say something is wrong or immoral, simply because Jesus said, “Judge not.” They are unaware that He went on to say we can and must use good judgement to tell the difference between right and wrong, and to properly identify people by their “fruits”. The world calls this bigotry, hate, discrimination. Jesus calls this wisdom and Truth.

Other people interpret Paul’s exhortation to pray for those in authority as an insurmountable obstacle to criticising those same people. They are also unaware that Jesus must have prayed for the same social leaders he viciously criticised for their policies and their character, and in so doing set the example for the Church to also be spiritually and publicly involved in social policy.

Submit to Government

Another misused Scripture is found in the book of Romans, chapter 13.

“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
– Romans 13:1-7

The basic argument offered against political activism from this Scripture passage is that we can’t criticise governments we’re submitted to.

However, unless you live in a dictatorship, your government encourages (or requires) you to participate in democracy by at least voting, and makes political activism legal for all. Australia even has compulsory voting. Most Western nations invest much money and effort trying to get more people to vote, valuing a greater quality of representation in the resulting outcome (at least theoretically).

It is therefore honouring and cooperative with that authority to participate in its elections. No one tells us how we must vote. No one is watching us vote, making sure it’s for them. To be sure, this does happen in some third world nations with corrupt government or dictators, a pretense of democracy, but not here in Australia or most other Western nations. The clear intention of a secret ballot is to get your true opinion of who should form government and which policies are best for your society.

Political participation is loving our neighbour, which is fulfillment of the law.

Submitting to authority in a democracy like ours requires offering your opinion and to influence the outcome, at least by having a vote. This isn’t drawing a long bow at all. If you need to vote, you need to have an opinion. If you need to form an opinion, you need to think critically and therefore debate and consider other arguments. You also need to be encouraged to offer and consider arguments for or against ideas and individuals being offered for the health of society. If you refuse to think and speak critically about politics, you not only reduce the quality of your vote but you actually fail to submit fully to the government’s desire for the most representative democracy possible.

If you think I’m being a bit dramatic, have a look at the degradation of family values in Western society since the Church and Christians started keeping their opinions to themselves and being more concerned about offending people than helping people. The homosexual lobby has organised and actively influenced and changed the fabric of society, while we’ve largely bought the lie that we can somehow influence for good with silence.

Love Does No Harm

But consider this. Romans 13 continues the teaching on submission to authority with teaching on loving our neighbour.

“Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
– Romans 13:10

Is it loving to not warn of the dangers of immorality? No, it’s hateful. Is it loving to stay silent while innocent babies are slaughtered in Australian clinics by their tens of thousands every year? No, it’s hateful. It harms our neighbours when the Church, Christians, stay silent on issues of public policy. Therefore political participation is loving our neighbour, which is fulfillment of the law.

Let’s examine a recent example of a Christian who “failed” to submit to authority, as some would wrongly interpret Romans 13.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Dr. King is well known as the leader of the American Civil Rights movement from 1955 to 1968. Remarkable progress was made towards equality, and deeply entrenched social immorality was confronted.

His political leadership saw major accomplishments:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in transport was unconstitutional (1955).
  • Congress passed the Civil Rights Act ending legalised racial segregation in hiring, public accommodation, education or transportation (1964).
  • Congress passed the Voting Rights Act which removed all barriers to voting for African-Americans (1965).


Other notable achievements in his political life were:

  • He was the most important social leader of the modern American Civil Rights movement from 1957 to 1968.
  • He became the youngest person ever at 35 years old to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • He is the only non-president to have a national holiday dedicated in his honour.
  • He is the only non-president memorialised on the Great Mall in Washington D.C.

But especially relevant to you and I is the fact that his father, grandfather, and great grandfather were ministers, and he followed in that rich family legacy of faith as a minister with a doctorate in systematic theology. Atlanta’s Morehouse College President encouraged him to view Christianity as a spiritual force for progressive social change².

Did Dr. King need God to forgive him for not submitting to the governing authorities as instructed in Romans 13 and for encouraging others to follow his example? Again, no. I believe his Christianity and the very nature of Christ were most brilliantly demonstrated in his willingness to be inconvenienced in his concern for his neighbour and his nation.


I have heard it said that we the Church should be known for what we stand for, and not for what we stand against – “like Jesus”.

This cute phrase tickles the ears, but rings hollow when compared to Jesus’ ministry and Church history. On the contrary, these men were indeed very Christ-like in their opposition to injustice, the exploitation of the poor and oppression of the disenfranchised.

The world would be a far worse place if it were not for great Christians like these, and their many politically organised brothers and sisters in Christ, refusing to believe they couldn’t judge right from wrong, criticise leaders, or challenge the status quo where it conflicted with the Kingdom of God.

Truth is by nature divisive, discriminatory, and exclusive. It divides between right and wrong, discriminates between good and bad, and excludes that which is not true. Truth is not hate, but love. This is beneficial, and ignorance of Truth is harmful.

“Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
– Romans 13:10

The prophetic voice of the Church is equally loving and political. So what does loving our neighbour look like? Love is the active and ongoing participation with Truth in social, community, and national solutions.

No one can do this alone. William Wilberforce didn’t. Dietrich Boenhoffer had to. Martin Luther King didn’t. History bears witness to the difference a speaking and a silent Church has made.

We are the Church. We have the voices that must be raised, the feet that must make a stand, and the Spirit of Truth that our society needs. This is love, and this fulfills the highest law.