It’s fascinating (one might say disturbing) to see how each person’s political context shapes his or her understanding of Romans 13. Christians living in North Korea or Burma tend to read Romans 13 differently than Americans do. Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and other “Christian” dictators have celebrated the passage as their divine ticket to execute justice on whomever they deemed enemies of the state. Not more than a generation ago, Romans 13 was hailed as the charter for apartheid in South Africa. American Christian leaders did the same during the years of slavery and segregation. If the state mandates that blacks can’t drink from the same water fountain as whites, it very well has the divine right to do so, according to certain interpretations Romans 13.
Most people today would see such a view of Romans 13 as going a bit too far. But only a bit. Theologian and scholar Wayne Grudem, for instance, says that the “sword in the hand of good government is God’s designated weapon to defeat evildoers” and goes on to apply this to America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The assumption, of course, is that America is good and Iraq and Afghanistan are bad. Maybe they are, but who gets to determine who is good and who is bad? Were it flipped around and Romans 13 was used to validate Afghanistan’s invasion of America as punishment for horrific drone strikes on civilians or wholesale slaughter of women and children in, for instance, southern Kandahar or Haditha, most Americans would see this as a misreading of Romans 13. But I digress.
Even though Romans 13 has been taken to empower Christians to kill their enemy, or praise the government, or vindicate the just war tradition, there is nothing in this passage that commands Christians to use their guns to confront evil. Nothing. Here’s why.