Romans 13 and the U.S. Revolution Clause

On January 6, 2021 a group of protesters broke into the United States capitol building. Some on Facebook, including pastors in the LCMS, spoke out against this act. Certainly, men are entitled to their political opinions; this post handles only the theology of the act, not its political implications. This is being written as the events are still occurring, but I will not be surprised if discussion of Romans 13 is brought into theology conversations very soon for good reason.

In the NKJV, Romans 13:1-7 is titled “Submit to Government.” This is a fitting title for the passage.

1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

Romans 13:1-7 (NKJV)

Philip Melanchthon handles the topic of government in the final chapter of his Theological Commonplaces. He writes the following:

Diligently consider that the orders [of worldly authority] unite all human groups and that they are arranged for the knowledge of God, good customs, peace and unity, law, judgement, and punishment. Persons such as lords and office-holders should maintain such laws, judgment, and punishment; and subjects, who by their obedience exercise morality, should not shatter the peace. This is called politica societas, or politics….

Christians are not bound to the laws of Moses, except when they are the same as natural laws. Christians may use reasonable laws…. By “reasonable laws” I mean those which are in accord with the natural [sense of] right [Recht] that God has created in men so that we honor virtue and punish vice. This rule St. Paul also sets forth in Romans 13….

Deliberate disobedience against worldly authority, and against true or reasonable laws, is deadly sin, sin which God punishes with eternal damnation if we obstinately continue in it. Faith in God cannot be present in one’s heart at the same time as a design to act contrary to the open commandment of God.

Loci Communes (1555), Of Worldly Authority

With this passage in mind, it is hard to imagine how any revolt against government can be properly conducted without violating a Biblical command. I would contend that it is generally true that revolt violates Romans 13 and its interpretation by Melanchthon; however, U.S. law is anything but a general example on this subject. I should clarify that I am not condoning or condemning any particular action on current events in this post; I am only giving a take on the theology surrounding the events. With this stated, I believe that it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish the U.S. Congress, given the right conditions, and that this action is not a violation of Romans 13.

In U.S. law (among other states), there are generally documents accepted as “organic law,” a law, or system of laws, that form the foundation of a government. The U.S. Constitution would be an example of organic law accepted by the entire federal government. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel handles United States Codes, among which are the organic laws. The organic laws can be found in the U.S. Codes Front Matter, Organic Laws. Among these documents is The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration of Independence contains what is sometimes called a “revolution clause.” This is a statement that gives citizens conditions under which a revolution is permissible; the intent of such a clause is to prevent tyranny. The famous clause follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The Declaration of Independence

This passage is considered United States law, with an important caveat– the executive and judicial branches do not accept The Declaration of Independence as organic law. It is only accepted as such by the legislative branch, IE Congress. It is, thus, legal to revolt against the established congress if the proper conditions are met, namely when it is destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe these conditions are currently met by the Congress. The Congress approves budgets which fund organizations such as Planned Parenthood, destroying life. The Congress approves legislation that limits constitutional rights of freedom, such as section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows for the censorship of speech through private organizations that receive government funding (such as Google). The Congress approves legislation that infringes on the pursuit of happiness (which refers to property rights) in passing restrictions to fire arm ownership guaranteed in the second amendment. These are a handful of examples of many.

Given the revolution clause and the met preconditions, my position is that a revolt against Congress is legal under US law and thus not a violation of Romans 13.

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