“Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1)
Paul discusses the proper disposition of Christians toward those in authority at the beginning of Chapter 13 in his letter to the Romans. He elaborates on a principle established by Jesus, who told his followers to “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21). The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the duties of Catholics to the political community:
“It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.” (CCC, 2239)
“Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country.” (CCC, 2240)
“Loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community.” (CCC, 2238)
“The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, ‘that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way’ (1 Timothy 2:2).” (CCC, 2240)
Note that the command to submit to governmental authorities is not absolute. Jesus was killed by the Jewish and Roman authorities for proclaiming the Truth, and Paul himself was imprisoned and ultimately beheaded by the Romans for following Christ in defiance of Roman law. In the 20th Century, Miguel Pro, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein and Oscar Romero were just a few of the Catholics who were martyred for speaking out against civil injustice. In our own day, Cardinal Joseph Zen and Jimmy Lai, both imprisoned in Hong Kong, are two examples of Catholics facing governmental persecution for witnessing to the Gospel. There are many others.
The Catechism states that “the citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community.” (CCC, 2242)
Our default mode should be to obedience to civil authorities, but always mindful that our ultimate allegiance is to God, and prepared to resist civic authorities when the situation requires.
Lastly, I didn’t intend to address specific political issues in this post, but I would be negligent if I failed to mention that the bishops of my state of Ohio have asked the faithful for prayers and fasting to defeat a pro-abortion constitutional amendment that may be on the November ballot. You can read the bishops’ statement here. They are recommending the following prayer:
“God our loving Father, grant wisdom to those who govern us, compassion and courage to those who work to defend human life, and safety and care to every human being. For you alone who formed us in our mothers’ wombs, and who call us home to heaven, are God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Image: Romans 13:7 (downloaded from dailyverses.net).