I’m Roman Catholic and because of that, I try to stay away from commentary upon the doings of Protestant clergy. Heaven knows, right now I have to use a lot of mental energy to stay Catholic. But as an adult convert from a Methodo-Baptist upbringing and because of the influence the Evangelical movement has within the GOP and conservatism, I find myself unable to completely ignore everything because the antics of a few Protestant clergy rapidly attach to all conservatives and Republicans.
I couldn’t pick Robert Jeffress out of a two-man lineup but from the way he’s quoted it is fair to say that he rates as a “significant” voice among Evangelicals, and in my view he’s just missed a great opportunity to shut up.
Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, one of President Trump’s evangelical advisers who preached the morning of his inauguration, has released a statement saying the president has the moral authority to take out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”
Jeffress refers, of course, to that son-of-render-unto-Caesar, Romans 13 (quoting here from the NABRE):
1 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. 2 Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, 4 for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to be subject not only because of the wrath but also because of conscience. 6 This is why you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
Let me make several observations.
I don’t doubt that Donald Trump has a special duty to protect America by virtue of his being president and the Oath he took in January. I think a better description of the president and his duties as commander-in-chief are Ezekiel’s watchman whose own blood is forfeit if his people are caught unaware. Be that as it may, I shy away from imbuing any politician with Divine Right. Let’s face it, we shouldn’t trust any man who would actively try to rule us. We should hope to find a Cincinnatus not a Caesar.
Aside from my personal queasiness, the statement just doesn’t travel well. It should be non-controversial to say the president has Biblical authority to protect his nation. But it isn’t. In a society that is best described as neo-pagan because of its estrangement from Christianity, the injection of religion into a serious war-and-peace decision serves to discredit the underlying national security reasons and move it one step closer to handling snakes and speaking in tongues. Beyond that, implying that God has given Trump a hunting license for Kim Jong Un is unseemly. Just War doctrine should inform the choice to go to war and while its tenets are subject to a range of interpretations it should feature into any religious discussion of war/no-war, plus Romans should not be read as recognizing an elected president as some sort of Mafia don who can whack rivals because God said he can.
I especially don’t like the stirring of religion into the reasoning to go to war or its conduct. Harnessing religion to warfare isn’t a good thing. “Gott Mit Uns” was on the belt buckles of World War I Prussian soldiers and on those of the World War II Reichsheer. There should always be a voice for peace and if that voice is not Christian clergy there will be no credible voice for not starting a war. Christian clergy need to be the slave whispering memento homo in Caesar’s ear, not cheerleading or minimizing the seriousness of war.