Chris Matthews, who used to be on MSNBC on a show called “Hardball” that was softball when it came to questioning Democrats and Leftists (I repeat myself), made a statement about how President Obama should have been treated by then-presidential challenger Mitt Romney in their second debate. It was the fact that Romney challenged the President that led Matthews to go Gestapo on him:
I don’t think he understands the Constitution of the United States… He’s the president of the United States. You don’t say, “you’ll get your chance.”
The President is an elected official. He’s supposed to be bound by the limitations of the Constitution. The freedoms that are listed in the First Amendment — religion, press, speech, assembly, and political criticism — were put there so the people would be protected by our Caesar, the Constitution. All government officials are bound by the oath they took to uphold the Constitution. It is “the law of the land,” not them. If these oath takers are not living up to their oath, then it is the duty of the people to challenge them with speech, press, assembly, and petition. The state governments wanted these rights spelled out to ensure that they would never live under a king who believed that being king legitimized his power to squelch political opposition.
God and Government
With a fresh new look, more images, an extensive subject and scripture index, and an updated bibliography, God and Government is ready to prepare a whole new generation to take on the political and religious battles confronting Christians today. May it be used in a new awakening of Christians in America—not just to inform minds, but to stimulate action and secure a better tomorrow for our posterity.Buy Now
In some nations, criticism of the leadership can lead to severe punishment. Try criticizing the government in North Korea or Thailand. In Thailand, to criticize, insult, the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent is punishable by up to 15 years in prison for each offense. China has many speech restrictions to protect the government from political challenges:
References to democracy, the free Tibet movement, Taiwan as an independent country, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Arab Spring, certain religious organizations, and anything questioning the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China are banned from use in public and blocked on the Internet.
When my wife and I spent 10 days in China, we noticed that our group was sometimes followed by civil officials. At one gathering, the government had a photographer taking pictures. They were looking for anything that we said, or our translators said, that could be construed as being critical of the Chinese government.
When German anti-Nazi theologian and pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) used his pulpit to expose Adolf Hitler’s radical politics, “He knew every word spoken was reported by Nazi spies and secret agents.” Leo Stein describes in his book I Was in Hell with Niemoeller how the Gestapo gathered evidence against Niemoeller:
Now, the charge against Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically. But in none of his sermons did Pastor Niemoeller exhort his congregation to overthrow the Nazi regime. He merely raised his voice against some of the Nazi policies, particularly the policy directed against the Church. He had even refrained from criticizing the Nazi government itself or any of its personnel. Under the former government his sermons would have been construed only as an exercise of the right of free speech. Now, however, written laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of the judges.
In a June 27, 1937 sermon, Niemoeller made it clear to those in attendance had a sacred duty to speak out on the evils of the Nazi regime no matter what the consequences: “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.”
A few days later, Niemoeller was arrested. His crime? “Abuse of the pulpit.”
Matthews wasn’t the only one who took offense to the debate exchange between former President Obama and Mitt Romney. Actor Mark Hamill, of Star Wars fame and the voice of the Joker in the animated Batman series, “appeared on CurrentTV’s ‘The Young Turks’ and said that while he really does want an open forum, Romney was ‘harassing’ the President. He concluded that when Romney was pressing the President to detail certain statistics that it was ‘bullying of the highest degree.’” No, it was a First Amendment right.
Elected officials are not kings with a divine right to rule. They are just like us. There is no kingly pedigree granting them extra-constitutional privileges. They are required to answer for their actions. Pressuring a president to answer in a debate format is a perfect way to get to the truth when the media refuse to vet the most powerful man in the world.
Christians need to learn this lesson as well. Government officials are not constitutionally immune to being challenged for their policies. Jesus said, “render under Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 12:40). Even presidents must do so since the Constitution is our “Caesar.”
God or Caesar?
These essays make clear that radically biblical Christians who take the commands of Christ with utmost seriousness often have become subversive in the eyes of the state for one main reason: a Christian’s highest loyalty is always to God rather than to a mere secular order and he lives by values often at odds with those of the state.Buy Now
Basil Miller, Martin Niemoeller: Hero of the Concentration Camp, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 112.
Leo Stein, I Was in Hell with Niemoeller (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), 175.
Quoted in William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 239.