THREAD: My Christian upbringing seemed to see Rom 13 as God's first and last word concerning what the state is FOR. Ignoring the questions a/b the limits of submission to evil rulers, we seemed to hear Paul saying the gov't is there primarily to wield the sword to keep the peace
This often appeared as a major plank in arguments about the role of government... what is the government good for? what can IT do? Wield the sword... both internally (as in Rom 13), and through the military (unlike Rom 13, at least explicitly) Retributive justice=gov'ts role.
What strikes me now is just how indefensible that is as an account of the BIBLE's view of the "purpose" or "role" of government/state. The OT introduces us to a whole host of political structures (tribal system, monarchy, post-exilic setting, etc), and frankly...
...doesn't seem all that interested in picking one of those systems as a once-for-all political structure.

But in EVERY ONE of those structures, CARE FOR THE POOR emerges as ONE OF, if not THE primary task of the government. Village judges reminded to defend the poor...
...Nehemiah, working as the governor in the post-exilic community (Neh 5), hustling to figure out how to care for the poor under the shadow of the Persian empire....

... the entire ideology of the ideal king in Psa 72...
Psalm 82's depiction of God in the divine council casting down the very gods of the nations for failing to give "justice to the weak and the orphan"...

Lemuel's mother's advocacy that her royal son avoid indulgence and instead speak up for the rights of the poor....
If there is a single consistent activity that the OT advocates for as the "role of government," what would it be if not care for the poor, defense of the widow and orphan and immigrant? Would not any reader shaped by the OT and arriving at Rom 13 have to decide that...
...Paul was either speaking to ONE aspect of the government's role, or including in his brief description of the government all sorts of other activities associated with defending and lifting up the heads of the poor but that we tend to screen out?
None of this, by the way, is an argument that the Bible gives us a direct blueprint for government, NOR that the Bible just is pro big centralized state power. That would be another complete misreading of the OT, with its frequent suspicion of royal power, and its frankly...
...brilliant tendency to balance the local and the national, as in Deut 14:27-29's provision of the world's first essentially "tax funded" social safety net, but then gathers those resources not in the central sanctuary, but the local village gates. So nothing I'm saying...
...answers all the really sharp, important questions raised around pluralism, "sphere sovereignty," subsidiarity, etc, etc, etc.

But what I AM saying is that there is absolutely zero room for Christians to point to Romans 13 and say, "Look, we've got a clear depiction of...
...what gov't is good for, what state power is good for, and care for the poor is somebody or some other institution's business." That kind of hard and fast line is completely indefensible, and indeed the thrust of biblical teaching points in a different direction.
Scripture gives us tremendous resources for imagining how to pursue the common good in a society that is pluralistic both in terms of worldview and in terms of the diversity of social, institutional, and communal forms. But we miss all that when we accept naive, oversimplified
caricatures of our own sacred text's teaching.

And when we ask WHY do we embrace caricatures of our own sacred text's teaching, it seems like the only two answers, both of them terrible, are that either a) we don't KNOW what's in this book we claim to care so much a/b, or...
b) it's counter to our own social, economic, and political SELF-INTEREST to wrestle seriously with the parts of Scripture that undermine our assumptions about the world, and not least political economy.
Either way, it's depressing. And given just how toxic our CURRENT political conversation/climate is, the pressure to ignore Scripture's invitation to wrestle with the complexity is immense.

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