Thursday, March 11, 2010

Romans 13, Afrikaner Calvinism And The Kairos Document

If you haven't read all about my blogging woes read this first: TheoPoetic Musings: Stupid Blogger Messed Up My Post::John Calvin's View Of Romans 13 In Libertarian, Neo-Orthodox And Baptist Thought Part 1.

It's irritating because my mild cerebral palsy makes it hard enough just to type everything out though I manage---let alone the time it takes to look everything up. Typing with tremors makes my arms get tired easily so I get worn out just by the very act of typing---but here I blog I cannot do otherwise. Anyways recouping my loss I decided to go in a different direction and re-post the main ideas of my former two posts as several sections of short and brief posts as to make sure all the information gets posted this time---even if the exact wording and flow has changed this go round.

Moving on to my Post Proper:
Afrikaner Calvinism is, according to theory, a unique cultural development that combined the Calvinist religion with the political aspirations of the white Afrikaans speaking people of South Africa.
Though there were theological aspects of Afrikaner Calvinism, it was mainly a stream of Social Calvinism mixed with racism, nationalism, theocracy and separatism. The political climate in which these ideas arose was the product of an unseparated Church and State. These views led these so-called Christians to accept the unChristian position of Apartheid much like Southern Baptists in the US supported slavery.

So that's one grouping of Christians in South Africa during the time of Apartheid who had a very Theocratic understanding of Romans 13 as they literally believed that God ordained their racism---God had ordained Apartheid. On the one hand you had the Afrikaner Calvinists who used Calvinism to their own glory and as a means to their own ends contrary to Calvin's views. Let it be noted now that Calvinism as one movement in the whole of Christian tradition in it's truest sense is about glorifying God and following Christ not humanity as is the whole of Christianity. So if Christ God's Word in the Scriptures is attested to being God's Love for us---how can God ordain nationalistic racism? Is hatred and theo-political divisionism truly of God? Can a State built on separatism and racism let alone any government be Christian in any sense of the word?

On the other hand you had a very different grouping of Christians---a group of predominantly black South African theologians of different traditions within the whole of Christian tradition who came together to answer these questions. Utilizing the Reformed tradition of resisting the State and a different understanding of Romans 13---their answer is summarized in The Kairos Document:
The Kairos Document (KD) is a theological statement issued in 1985 by a group of black South African theologians based predominantly in the black townships of Soweto, South Africa. The statement challenged the churches' response to what the authors saw as the vicious policies of the Apartheid state under the State of Emergency declared on 21 July 1985. The KD evoked strong reactions and furious debates not only in South Africa, but world-wide.

The KD is a prime example of contextual theology and liberation theology in South Africa, and has served as an example for attempted, similarly critical writing at decisive moments in several other countries and contexts (Latin America, Europe, Zimbabwe, India, etc.).

One of the main points of The Kairos Document relates directly to Romans 13 as summarized here:
Chapter Two: Critique of State Theology
'State theology' is defined as, "the theological justification of the status quo with its racism, capitalism and totalitarianism... It does [this] by misusing theological concepts and biblical texts for its own political purposes" (p. 3). The government, as well as parts of the church, are accused of using state theology. Four examples are discussed.

[edit] Romans 13:1-7
"'State Theology' assumes that in this text Paul is presenting us with the absolute and definitive Christian doctrine about the State ... and absolute and universal principle ... The falseness of this assumption has been pointed out by many biblical scholars" (p. 4). Reference is made to Käsemann's Commentary on Romans, as well as Cullmann's The State in the New Testament.

The KD authors insist that texts must be understood in their context: within a particular writing (here: Romans); within the Bible as a whole; and within the particular historical context (here: Paul and the community in Rome). Note that, "In the rest of the Bible, God does not demand obedience to oppressive rulers ... Rom 13:1-7 cannot contradict all of this" (p. 4).

The letter known as the Biblical book Romans was sent to an early Christian community in Rome that could be characterized as 'antinomian' or 'enthusiast.' Roman Christians thought that "because Jesus ... was their Lord and King," every authority should be obeyed. Paul was arguing against such an understanding; that is, he is "not addressing the issue of a just or unjust State." Attention is drawn to Rom 13:4 ("the State is there for your benefit"): "That is the kind of State that must be obeyed." The question of an unjust government is not addressed in Rom 13 but, for example, in Revelation 13 (p. 5).

The full statement is worded as such:
2.1 Romans 13:1-7

The misuse of this famous text is not confined to the present government in South Africa. Throughout the history of Christianity totalitarian regimes have tried to legitimize an attitude of blind obedience and absolute servility towards the state by quoting this text. The well-known theologian Oscar Cullman, pointed this out thirty years ago:

As soon as Christians, out of loyalty to the gospel of Jesus, offer resistance to a State's totalitarian claim, the representatives of the State or their collaborationist theological advisers are accustomed to appeal to this saying of Paul, as if Christians are here commended to endorse and thus to abet all the crimes of a totalitarian State. ( The State in the New Testament, SCM 1957 p 56.)

But what then is the meaning of Rom 13:1-7 and why is the use made of it by 'State Theology' unjustifiable from a biblical point of view?

'State Theology' assumes that in this text Paul is presenting us with the absolute and definitive Christian doctrine about the State, in other words an absolute and universal principle that is equally valid for all times and in all circumstances. The falseness of this assumption has been pointed out by numerous biblical scholars (see, for example, E Kasemann, Commentary on Romans, SCM, p 354-7; 0 Cullmann, The State in the New Testament, SCM, p 55-7).

What has been overlooked here is one of the most fundamental of all principles of biblical interpretation: every text must be interpreted in its context. To abstract a text from its context and to interpret it in the abstract is to distort the meaning of God's Word. Moreover the context here is not only the chapters and verses that precede and succeed this particular text nor is it even limited to the total context of the Bible. The context includes also the circumstances in which Paul's statement was made. Paul was writing to a particular Christian community in Rome, a community that had its own particular problems in relation to the State at that time and in those circumstances. That is part of the context of our text.

Many authors have drawn attention to the fact that in the rest of the Bible God does not demand obedience to oppressive rulers. Examples can be given ranging from Pharaoh to Pilate and through into Apostolic times. The Jews and later the Christians did not believe that their imperial overlords, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks or the Romans, had some kind of divine right to rule them and oppress them. These empires were the beasts described in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelations. God allowed them to rule for a while but he did not approve of what they did. It was not God's will. His will was the freedom and liberation of Israel. Rom 13:1-7 cannot be contradicting all of this.

But most revealing of all is the circumstances of the Roman Christians to whom Paul was writing. They were not revolutionaries. They were not trying to overthrow the State. They were not calling for a change of government. They were, what has been called, 'antinomians' or 'enthusiasts' and their belief was that Christians, and only Christians, were exonerated from obeying any State at all, any government or political authority at all, because Jesus alone was their Lord and King. This is of course heretical and Paul is compelled to point out to these Christians that before the second coming of Christ there will always be some kind of State, some kind of secular government and that Christians are not exonerated from subjection to some kind of political authority.

Paul is simply not addressing the issue of a just or unjust State or the need to change one government for another. He is simply establishing the fact that there will be some kind of secular authority and that Christians as such are not exonerated from subjection to secular laws and authorities. He does not say anything at all about what they should do when the State becomes unjust and oppressive. That is another question.

Consequently those who try to find answers to the very different questions and problems of our time in the text of Rom 13:1-7 are doing a great disservice to Paul. The use that 'State Theology' makes of this text tells us more about the political options of 'those who construct this theology than it does about the meaning of God's Word in this text. As one biblical scholar puts it: "The primary concern is to justify the interests of the State and the text is pressed into its service without respect for the context and the intention of Paul."

If we wish to search the Bible for guidance in a situation where the State that is supposed to be "the servant of God" (Romans 13:16) betrays that calling and begins to serve Satan instead, then we can study chapter 13 of the Book of Revelations. Here the Roman State becomes the servant of the dragon (the devil) and takes on the appearance of a horrible beast. Its days are numbered because God will not permit his unfaithful servant to reign forever.

Next I'll post on Romans 13, Hitler, the Nazis and the Confessing Church...

1 comment:

James F. McGrath said...

The Communists in Romania also knew and quoted Romans 13 in the pre-1989 era.