Wednesday, January 11, 2023
It's Wednesday, January 11, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
So What Armed Rebellion? Theological Considerations of Rebellions Against Government
Well, there's a great deal of conversation in the United States about the second anniversary of the rebellion that took place in Washington, D.C. It's now referred to simply as January the 6th. Now, there's a lot of controversy in the United States about that event, but as I said at the time, the big issue is this: Once Christians recognize the legitimacy of a government, they have to treat the government as legitimate. If we decide that the government is illegitimate, then we have to take all the consequences and assume all the responsibility of deciding that a government is no longer legitimate.
Now, this takes us back to some of the most heated and important historical debates that led to what is called the American Revolution. That was especially a matter of concern for Christians, and everyone operating in that revolutionary era was operating out of what was basically at least the inherited framework of a Christian worldview. So the legitimacy of government is a huge issue and not just in the United States, because over the weekend, a vast demonstration broke out in Brasilia. That is, of course, the capital, what is now considered to be the modern capital of the nation of Brazil. By the end of the day on Monday of this week, something like 1,500 insurrectionists had been arrested.
By the way, Brasilia has only been the capital of Brazil since about 1960. It was intended to be a new, modern city, built entirely from scratch in order to demonstrate a new, modern future for the nation of Brazil. It was the presidential palace, in particular, that was targeted by these populist protestors, who much like those Americans who protested and then led an insurrection on January the 6th of 2021, these insurrectionists went after the presidential palace. And they expressed a similar outrage, claiming that the election had been false, that the results had been rigged, and that the former president, the conservative, Jair Bolsonaro, had been robbed of his legitimate claim upon a second term in office. And of course, the situation there in Brazil is all the more stark because the man who won the election was none other than the man often referred to as Lula, a former president of Brazil who has been a figure of great celebration on the far left in Latin America and beyond for quite a while now.
The headline report for the Wall Street Journal put the story this way: "Brazilian authorities detained about 1,500 supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro and removed Brasilia's federal district governor, a key Bolsonaro ally, from his post Monday, a day after protestors stormed government buildings in what officials said was an attempt to overthrow the country's newly elected president." The insurrection was described this way: "Protestors supporting Mr. Bolsonaro forced their way into the presidential palace, Congress, and Supreme Court in the capital on Sunday, many calling for military intervention to oust President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a standard-bearer of the Latin American left who took office a week ago."
Now, this is really an interesting story for any number of reasons. I'm speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and it turns out that Mr. Bolsonaro, the immediate former president of Brazil who's at the center of the story, is, at least for now, right down the street, having come to the United States two days before the inauguration of his successor and most recently being hospitalized because of ongoing abdominal complications from a near fatal stabbing attack that had taken place when he was running for his first term in office. So sometimes history is pretty close. In this case, it's down the street, so to speak.
Well, what we're looking at here is a bigger story with Christian worldview perspective, and it leads us to a consideration not only of what just took place in recent days in Brazil, but also of what took place on January the 6th in 2021 in Washington, D.C. It's a good opportunity for us to go back and think about some of these issues. Have they been highly politicized? Yes. Have they been often distorted through the lens of the liberal media? Yes. But what are the most basic issues? Well, here's where we need to think Christianly. We need to think in biblical terms, and we need to understand that if you are going to be involved in an insurrection against the government, what you are actually claiming is that the government is illegitimate or it has lost its legitimacy. In any event, you are not just claiming that the government has gone wrong or done wrong. You are claiming that the government is no longer a legitimate government. We need to understand that that is a colossal claim.
At this point, it might be good to remind ourselves what an insurrection is. An insurrection, at least in this context, is an attempt at some kind of revolution, an event to try to say that the government in place is not legitimate and some demands must be met in order for legitimacy to be sustained, or the government has to be replaced with another. That is in a crude form, and I say that because it was more like anarchy when you look at Washington, D.C., and the events of January the 6th. But nonetheless, you are looking at something like the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Now, I want to correct many leftist misrepresentations here. This was not a direct threat to the legitimacy nor to the stability of the United States government. It was farcical. That doesn't relieve any of the responsibility of the insurrectionists, but to claim that somehow democracy was just about at the breaking point in Washington, D.C., on January the 6th of 2021, that is a grotesque exaggeration. You were looking at what politically amounts to something like a freak show. But that is not to say we should not be theologically concerned.
At this point, we need to consider some really important theological and historical issues. And while we're thinking theologically, we need to think biblically. And the key biblical text of concern here is found in Paul's letter to the Romans. Now remember, this was being written to Christians, who even at the time were being persecuted by the government of the Roman Empire. Paul writes in Romans 13, beginning in verse one, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed. And those who resist will incur judgment, for rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore, one must be in subjection not only to avoid God's wrath, but also for the sake of conscience."
Now, at least upon an immediate reading of the text, we might think that what Paul is telling us is that Christians must obey and be submissive to every government under every condition at every time. But this is not what Paul meant because Paul tells us elsewhere, and it's demonstrated also in the historical record, that Paul preached the gospel over against even the command of Roman authorities that he not preach. And of course, there is ample biblical testimony to the fact that the Apostle Paul died, executed by the Roman government for the crime of preaching the Christian Gospel. So Paul can't be saying that it is the Christian's responsibility to obey every government and every government's law at every single moment, because the Apostle Paul himself was honored by the church for doing something very different.
So what was Paul saying? Well, first of all, he's talking about government, and he's talking about ruling authorities. In the first place, he's telling us that government itself is one of God's gifts and that government derives its authority from His own authority. Well, that's good for us to know, and that means government in general. But of course, we don't answer to or pay taxes to a government in general, but to a specific government. So what can that government require of us?
Well, it can require our money. Here's where you find an amazing consistency in Scripture because Jesus, in talking about the Christian's responsibility to pay taxes, you'll remember that He demanded to look at a coin and He asked, "Whose image is on it?" Well, it's Caesar's image. And Jesus said, "Then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Therefore, it is right to pay taxes. But at the same time, Jesus made very clear that when you look at the human being rather than a coin, you're not seeing the image of an emperor. You're seeing the image of God. And so when it comes to our responsibility to obey God, that may put us in conflict with the emperor, with Caesar. But Caesar can demand our money. He can demand, indeed, our service, but he cannot demand our souls.
Throughout Christian history, Christians have understood a responsibility to recognize the government and to obey the government, even if at times this leads to some very difficult situations where, in extenuating circumstances, such as a law forbidding the preaching of the gospel, Christians have to actually defy that very authority. And as we're looking at this, we need to recognize that there are huge historical questions that are unique to citizens, to Christians, in the United States of America. And that has to do with the legitimacy of our own Revolution, the American Revolution, begun most famously in 1776 and, of course, declared in what is known as the Declaration of Independence.
Many Christians have asked the question, and I discovered some years ago as I was asked this question recurringly at one specific time in the year, and particularly by a lot of boys, about eighth grade or so. Well, it turns out that the question that had been assigned was whether or not a Christian could see the American Revolution as legitimate in light of Romans 13. They had a choice of questions. It turned out a lot of boys, a lot of the students chose that question. So every year at one specific time, I got a lot of questions sent in about the legitimacy of the American Revolution. I finally figured out why.
Let me back up just a moment and say that we can understand situations in which a Christian believer obedient to Christ, and particularly submitted to the lordship of Christ and obedience to Christ, would have to bear the wrath of government. You think about Christians not only in the context of the Roman Empire, in which many of them met their deaths, but we also understand extenuating and excruciating circumstances, such as the plight of Christians in a place right now such as Communist China. The Chinese Communist Party is an officially atheist party, and it cracks down upon Christians and Christian churches. That's why underground churches have been, in the main, the central witness of Christianity in terms of congregational life there in China.
You're also looking at the fact that you have repression and persecution elsewhere. As you know, there are places right now, not only in China, but there are even more dangerous places, where to be a Christian and to preach the gospel is to risk losing your life and perhaps also the lives of your loved ones. Several years ago, I went halfway around the world, and I met with pastors who were able to get to that undisclosed location from one of the most dangerous nations on earth when it comes to being a Christian. I was absolutely astounded by their faithfulness and courage.
But let me get back to the issue of insurrection or revolution or a rebellion against government. According to a Christian understanding, a long-term Christian understanding based in Scripture, there may come a point when Christian believers, to be faithful to Christ, have to come to the conclusion that the government is illegitimate. But as I said, if you make that decision and you exercise actions consistent with that decision, you have to bear the consequences of that decision.
And as you're looking at January the 6th, 2021, in the United States, and as you are looking at the insurrection that took place this past weekend in Brasilia, neither one of them was really serious political or military actions. In both cases, they were pretty quickly put down by authorities. And in both cases, the people involved in them pretty quickly looked farcical, but they also look absolutely irresponsible. And the responsibility here that's most important is a Christian responsibility. It is not impossible, according to a biblical worldview, to come to a conclusion that one has to disobey the regime or the government. That may come by the compulsion to preach the gospel.
But at the same time, you also recognize that once you do that, you are the enemy of the regime. You are the enemy of the government, and that will come with consequences. Again, just ask Daniel or just ask the Apostle Paul.
Two Models of Revolutions in the Modern Age: What Conservatives Can Learn from the American and French Revolutions
By the way, let me get back to the American Revolution for a moment. If you look at revolutions in the modern age, the two most famous are the American Revolution and the French Revolution: the American Revolution toward the end of the 18th century, and the French Revolution, in terms of its most decisive stage, in the early years of the 19th century.
So what are we talking about? We're talking about two different models, and we're talking about revolutions with two very different results.
The American Revolution, by the way, at least in the minds of the Christians, and that included many Christian pastors at the time, it did not see itself as a revolution against rightful authority. That, they would've understood, was condemned by Scripture. Here we have a lot of evidence, by the way, because many of the preachers there in the colonies were thinking out loud as they were preaching about whether or not Christian citizens, whom King George III declared to be his citizens, were actually his citizens. One of the things we need to keep in mind is that these Christian principles actually had a great deal to do with the course of what is called the American Revolution.
In the years leading up to the Revolution, you need to understand that the Americans, by means of the Continental Congress and by other legal mechanisms, were actually making appeals to King George III to rule over them, to exercise his authority as king. Technically, the American colonists were not seeking, first of all, to become un-British or to revolt against King George III. They were asking, by means of remonstrances and other official statements, they were asking King George to save them from the threat of the British Parliament, taxation without representation. At this stage, the American colonists were asking the king for relief. They were basically saying, "See us as your subjects. And by the way, your subjects are represented in Parliament. And by the way, your subjects have the right to call upon you for relief against tyranny."
King George III did not respond in such a way to respect his colonists there in the United States or what later became known as the United States. So there arose a second or a next phase. And in this phase, the big question among Christians in the United States was whether or not George III was, in the sense of Romans 13, actually the ruler over them. If he wasn't exercising his rule, if he wasn't responding to them as subjects, then what sense did it make for them to recognize that a king thousands of miles away across a vast ocean was actually legitimately the ruler over them?
Or to put it another way, most of those colonists came to the conclusion that King George III was not the legitimate ruler, and his government was not the legitimate government. And thus, the argument at this stage among the majority of the Christians involved in the Continental Congress was not that some kind of revolt against a lawful king was authorized, but rather that, by his actions and by the geography, King George III was by no means the actual rightful ruler over them. And that led to what became known as the Revolution.
But the American Revolution, as we call it, it was a very conservative revolution, and the evidence of that is this. On the other side of the American Revolution, the American people basically put in place a continuity with what came before, even in terms of the structure of the British government. Of course, there were major modifications. But the fact is it was a reform and a continuation of the British model, not a rejection of it, right down to the fact that the separation of powers and a constitutional form of government was absolutely basic. All the rest flowed as a consequence.
On the other side, however, the French Revolution that came later was an extremely radical and, looking at the left-right distinction, it was a revolution of the left. It was an extremely liberal revolution. It was not just a demand for a new, actually accountable government, a government with legitimacy. Instead, it was an attempt at creating an entirely new revolutionary society redefining humanity. Just imagine that as a revolutionary aim, and seeking to put in place everything from a new calendar to a new system of morality. And by the way, the American Revolution was, in so many ways, fueled with a certain kind of passion that came from an historical continuity with Christianity. The French Revolution, in contrast, was explicitly atheistic, at one point commandeering the Notre Dame Cathedral and installing a statue of the so-called Goddess Reason as the object of worship, worshiping human reason and explicitly rejecting the God of the Bible.
So where does that leave us? All this consideration brings us back to Brasilia and Washington, D.C., 2001, 2023, and the recognition that it is not true that Christians are obligated to obey every law of every government in every place at every time. And that's made clear in both the Old Testament and the New. But at the same time, we are to understand that government is one of God's gifts, given to us after the fall for the restraint of human evil. And that's why, in Romans 13, we are told that the government rightly rewards the one who does right and rightly exercises punishment on those who do wrong.
But we do recognize that there are moments when the government is declared rightly to be illegitimate, and that leads to a political crisis. But we also need to recognize, in a Christian biblical worldview, that even as that moment may come, when we declare a government to be illegitimate, we must do so taking full responsibility for what we say and acting consistently with what we declare to be the illegitimacy of the government. To put it another way, it is not enough to engage in some kind of weekend rebellion that ends up looking farcical, in which you storm government buildings with no plan for a responsible government on the other side and making sure your Social Security check ends up in your bank. You actually aren't seriously declaring the government to be illegitimate at all. You are just airing your populist grievances.
And here's another key conservative insight. When you do that, you do not strengthen the conservative cause. You rather give ammunition to the liberal, progressivist cause. The images from Washington, D.C., and Brasilia in Brazil are not going to be shown over and over again for the pleasure of conservatives, but rather for the political purposes of liberals. Just think about that. That is one of the judgments upon such an activity.
Most Teenagers Have Seen Online Pornography: The Unprecedented Moral Challenges of Digital Technology
Well, just to add to your concerns for the week, let me mention to you a headline story that ran in yesterday's edition of the New York Times. Here's the headline: "Most teenagers have seen online porn, according to a report." Cecilia Kang's the reporter on this story, and she begins with these words, "The internet has transformed pornography, making it easier to view and share than in the days of Playboy magazine and late-night cable television. For teenagers," she writes, "that's created a deluge of sexually explicit photos and videos that has invaded their everyday lives." And she says, "This is according to a report released on Tuesday of this week by the group known as Common Sense Media." It's described as a nonprofit child advocacy group.
Now, I'm mentioning this not because you're likely to be shocked by the fact that this headline is true, the fact that study after study indicates that pornography has become so ubiquitous and generally available in the United States that if you have digital technology, then you have access one way or another to this entire deluge of modern pornography. And these days, by the way, that covers a landscape we're not even going to begin to describe. That's simply a reality. And one of the most chilling parts of this is that this report verifies previous research indicating that for many young people, initial exposure comes as early as prior to the age of 12, but on average by 12. And you're also looking at inordinate reports from some teenagers about how much pornography they view on a daily or weekly basis.
But all that is a significant moral alarm. It reminds us, in a Christian perspective, of a couple of things right away. One of them is the morality of technology. Every technology comes with certain moral challenges. And when it comes to the internet, yes, it can do fantastic things. It can be used for the preaching of the Gospel. It can be used to offer all kinds of Christian and theological and doctrinal truth, available by websites and internet sources virtually everywhere all the time. It can allow programs such as The Briefing. But on the other hand, that same technology can be an absolute pipeline of filth.
The other thing we need to keep in mind is the basic Christian worldview moral understanding that pornography is a grotesque distortion. Pornography, by the way, famously hard to define. One late former Justice of the Supreme Court, Potter Stewart, he said that he could not define pornography, but "I know it when I see it." Well, that's not an adequate definition. The Greek word behind pornography, and it's a word found repeatedly in the New Testament, is porneia. And that refers to something that elicits a wrongful desire. And that's the very essence of pornography, and that's why the Scripture condemns it. It is an illegitimate desire that is being incited. It does not lead one to a greater appreciation for a biblical understanding of sexuality and a biblical affirmation of marriage. It is intended and is quite diabolically successful at doing exactly the opposite.
But there's something else in this report that ought to have our attention, and that's the fact that there are those who are the champions of free speech, even if it comes at the expense of pornography being mainstreamed even to children. There are also those who say that it is not entirely a bad thing. Now, that's a bad thing in itself, but it's something we need to note. Why would someone make that argument? Well, let me go back to the New York Times, and just understand this is the context in which we live, "At the same time, 45%," that is of young people, "said that pornography provided helpful information about sex. LGBTQ teenagers, in particular, said it helped them discover more about their sexuality."
Then the Times offered this statement from a researcher in that area, Emily Rothman, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University. Speaking of pornography and the exposure of children and teenagers to pornography, she said this: "We have to be careful about saying all porn is good or bad. There is nuance here." Well, that tells you a great deal about the moral context of our age. Here you have a very serious child expert, according to the ways of the world, telling us that, yeah, pornography can be a bad thing. It can have all kinds of bad effects. And of course, it can be absolutely without moral justification, except for one thing: It does help to fuel the LGBTQ movement.
And as we will see on The Briefing tomorrow, there are those who want to use any means available, any means necessary, to go around parents, to go around the church, to go around rightful authorities in order to bring their own worldview to America's young people. And as we'll see tomorrow, young in this case means very young.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.