I think I want to respectfully disagree with Doug Wilson here. I understand him to be saying that if a candidate for elective office won that office through election fraud, that he would not really hold that office even if he was installed.
I don’t have any comment to make here about our last election. I just want to examine the claim as a hypothetical. However, I will use the concrete example of the office of the President of the United States in this discussion.
If a president is sworn in, he is our president. This does not cease to be true if he got himself recognized as the winner through ballot fraud. If we were able to eventually impeach him from office on the grounds that his supporters fraudulently rigged the election in his favor, we would be justified in doing so. But we would be impeaching the President of the United States, not merely evicting a trespasser from the Oval Office. An office ought not to be stolen, but if it is, then by definition the thief obtains possession of what he stole. Call him a robber-President if you like, but not a fake President. We would be factually incorrect if we claimed he was “not our president” before he was removed from office.
Romans 13 does not allow Christians to deny a ruler’s office because it was obtained by criminal or dishonest means. We’re told to submit to the civil magistrate. Violence was not an uncommon way for rulers to come to power. The rules of inheritance in dynasties could be bent or broken. Paul’s instruction assumes we all will be able to recognize the civil magistrate. Conveniently, he is the one who can hurt us or keep us safe. Staying loyal to a prince who had to flee the empire and being disloyal to the actual person who holds power over us is not a recognized option. “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” (Romans 13:3–4 ESV).
The Bible shows us that sometimes conflicts over who holds an office can demand the involvement of Christians who hold certain positions in society. Absalom’s attempt to usurp the throne of David involved others. Solomon had to deal not only with a half-brother but with his support network. Also, we should distinguish what happens after a ruler has been inaugurated and the power struggle that precedes that inauguration. But when God gave Israel over to wicked rulers, who took their office through criminal means, that didn’t make them fictional rulers. If God later allowed them to be overthrown, it was because they abused the office or committed other sins, not because they were imposters in that office.
One reason I came to this opinion so readily is because I have run into the claim that the income tax was never valid because the amendment never legally passed. It seems to me that making one’s obligation to submit to authority rest on distant historical questions destroys all hope of taking Paul’s and Peter’s instructions at face value. It makes you a rebel under the cover of hyper-legalism. Instead of taking a position that compels Christians to ignore political authority if it isn’t properly ratified (whether we are speaking of a President and election fraud or a law improperly ratified), you should submit as much as you can to “the law of the land.”
As much as I like stable systems that bloodlessly transfer power, I don’t think a breakdown (or unproven suspicion) allows Christians to claim the civil magistrate doesn’t exist. The person or persons who hold “the biggest gun” are the authority for now. That hasn’t changed with Republican or Democratic systems of choosing officers. Ignoring that “gun” is suicide, and suicide is a sin. It is not martyrdom.
I don’t see a problem with challenging stuff in court or even sometimes disobeying stuff that isn’t or is only marginally enforced. Nothing I have written even means that resisting is always wrong. But, again, you are resisting a real ruler, not a pretender.
If anyone thinks this is too hard, I suggest reading the story of Joseph as a political story of enduring oppression and more oppression until God reverses the situation. Read how he spoke to Potiphar’s wife about his situation in life as a kidnapped victim.
“Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:8–9 ESV).
By “this great wickedness,” Joseph could be referring to God’s prohibition of adultery. But his argument doesn’t require that. Rather, Joseph the abducted slave argues that his master has been generous to him by giving him such great responsibilities, so that it would be wrong to betray him.
Granted, Joseph didn’t always speak this way about his situation, after he was demoted to running Potiphar’s prison (Genesis 39:1; 40:3), when he had a chance to appeal to an authority for relief, he did so (40:14,15). But he did not treat Potiphar as a criminal and a receiver of “stolen goods” (i.e. a kidnapped slave).
If Christians find themselves illegally “kidnapped” (or some think they have been) by a fraudulent election, that is a chance to demonstrate we have learned the wisdom of Joseph.
The Apostle Paul has some general guidance to Christians that I think also has political implications:
“Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity)” (1 Corinthians 7:21 ESV corrected).
Christians have to navigate politics in an unbelieving society. That is hard enough without feeling an a priori obligation to deny the reality of the President of the United States just because he (as some might think) gained the office through criminal fraud. It is also difficult to prove the negative without begging the question in the minds of those who hold such suspicions. My argument is good news: No one has to bother about the issue. When it comes to our duty to “honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17 ESV), it simply doesn’t matter. We don’t even have to hold an opinion on the integrity of any election process.
Mark Horne is a member of the Civitas group, and holds an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. He is the Assistant Pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church in STL, and is the executive director of Logo Sapiens Communications and writes at www.SolomonSays.net. He is the author, most recently, of “Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men” from Athanasius Press.
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