Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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: 1-4 (ESV)
It is so disheartening to watch Christians, well intended or otherwise, misuse the Bible to prop up their own political or personal views of societal occurrences. The Bible is the final revealed will of God unto His people. It is not meant to be weaponized against those very people to cull them into carnal submission. The above link is to an article found on Charisma Magazine's website, so I guess I should expect that it would promote people who either do not understand the Bible or do not care about abusing it. That the man who wrote this article, John Burton, is proud to list himself as a Director of one of IHOP's primary internships reveals that I really should not be surprised. The International House of Prayer is a notorious cesspool of new age Christianity, false signs and lying wonders, and the New Apostolic Reformation's dominionist agenda including the heretical Seven Mountains Mandate. This teaching is that Christians must conquer the seven cultural mountains of this world in order to facilitate the second coming of Jesus Christ. One of those mountains is government and as such, the NAR crowd is very much lock step with the Republican Party in this country, even though they could care less about the cause of Christ and the Gospel.
This brings us to last week's big societal conversation, Dr. David Dao. This was the man who was forcibly dragged off the United Airlines flight so they could seat some of their own employees. In the process of this forcible removal, he suffered the loss of two front teeth. Right away the blogosphere blew up. Outrage on social media exploded from people shocked and disgusted by the way this 69 year old doctor was treated. Not surprisingly, the other side soon exploded as well. Now let me be clear. As Christians we are entitled to have our opinion as much as the next guy. The issue is when that opinion becomes unchristian in its message and delivery or if we try to misuse the Bible to pretend God is saying what we are saying. John Burton crossed both lines. Let us reason together.
Burton starts off the article by setting up what is known as false equivalencies. He tells about how one of his recent flights was delayed due to a fake bomb threat and the second he oddly never discusses what was wrong. The inference is simply well "stuff happens." Except that is not really the point is it? A potential bomb threat is simply not comparable to a company dragging someone down the aisle of an airplane to make room for one of their own employees. I understand why Burton tries this at the start. David Dao's situation is incredibly painful to watch so Burton is trying to "normalize" it. The effort was painfully transparent however. Burton now makes his premise known:
David Dao should have obeyed the directive to walk off the plane. I have to admit, I am disturbed at the number of Christians who are knee-jerk reacting against United Airlines and in favor of the unruly passenger. While the police may have possibly employed regrettable actions, the airline was acting within their rights, just as they do many times a day in similar situations. -- John Burton
Let's dispel some of the subterfuge Burton is laying on us here. David Dao was not "an unruly passenger." He was a correctly booked, boarded, and behaving passenger who was offered an incentive to leave, which he refused. The airline then tried to bully him into leaving and he stood his ground and said no. Then he was dragged from his seat like we were in some authoritarian third world dictatorship and thrown off so an employee could take his seat. All to have people like John Burton then try and label him "unruly." You can side with the company. You have that right. You do not have the right to lie, and in this instance bear false witness, in order to prop up your side. Burton is also being dishonest by referring to the people who dragged him off the plane as "police." They were in fact most definitely NOT police. They are the unarmed aviation police. They carry no weight of the government as they are employees of the airport. Burton is trying desperately to set up the bible twisting he is about to engage in:
Submission to authority is an elementary level truth for believers. David Dao and every one of the nearly 1 billion air travelers in the United States agree to very clear, non-negotiable terms when they buy their ticket. The Contract of Carriage allows airlines to remove and rebook passengers. Complaining, refusing to comply and rejecting the directives of our authorities is ungodly behavior. Period. David may or may not be a believer, but Christians, you should know better.
Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may be blameless and harmless, sons of God, without fault, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15). -- John Burton
Let us again deal with those pesky little facts. David Dao does not appear to be a believer. So throwing the Bible at him doesn't make any sense. Secondly, the only argument that people like John Burton has is the contract argument. You know, the fine details written in legalese that no one, including John Burton, ever reads. However, I am relatively certain that the contract does not call for the removal of your two front teeth should you not adhere to the contract stipulations. The real problem however is in abusing the Bible to pretend that Chicago Airport Rent-a-Cops are who God was writing about when He had Paul write his letter to the Romans. They are not "authorities" beloved. They are employees. Let us deal with the Scriptural issues.
The Philippians verses do indeed instruct Christians to do things without murmuring and disputing. To not bring disrepute, if you will, to the name you now bear. One could argue that writing an article as a Christian leader, taking clear sides against a whole swath of the unbelieving world is exactly what Paul is trying to get at here. Siding with the corporation over the human being while proudly displaying your mantle of Christianity hits a lot closer to this passage than a 69 year old unbeliever who just wanted to go home. To be honest though, even if Dao was Christian these verses would not apply. I suppose if David Dao was shouting that he was a Christian as he was being pummeled into submission maybe that would get it closer but as it stands now, this is not a good usage of these verses. Even if he had been completely obedient, no one would have had a clue about if he was a Christian or not.
The other major point here is that Burton's assertion that submission to authorities is an elementary truth is a juvenile statement that does not understand the gravity contained within these verses. He so misunderstands them that he assigns corporate authorities the same privileges as governmental ones. The point God was making here is not that we have to obey anyone who gives us a directive based upon a corporate policy and to think so is ludicrous. The key verses today contain the majority of the context Burton is overlooking. Are we now subject to the authority of an airline? Did God "institute" the Chicago Airline Police? By refusing to give up a seat we rightly paid for and was boarded for so that an employee can take our seat are we incurring the wrath of God and His judgment? Are these aviation police servants of God and avengers carrying out God's wrath on wrongdoers? Heck, David Dao was not even a wrongdoer in this scenario! The answer to all of these questions is obviously no. The Airline police do not even carry guns, let alone "the sword."
Then there are the deeper questions Christians still grapple with today regarding these verses. What about ungodly authority? Under the simplistic reading of John Burton, the colonists were wrong for rebelling against England. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was wrong for conspiring against Hitler. What about Paul refusing to obey the various authorities in the Book of Acts? What about Peter refusing to obey the Sanhedrin in preaching the Gospel? What about the three Hebrew boys refusing the direct order of King Nebuchadnezzar? To read Romans 13 and declare definitively that all refusal of authority is ungodly is patently false and silly. I suppose then that Mr. Burton supports abortion since that is the law of the land and the governing authority on that issue? So one could then make the argument that the line is drawn for behaviors that run contrary to Scripture. The Hebrew boys knew they could not bow down to other gods so they rightly refused. Peter knew the Gospel took precedent over the whims of man. Baked into that rationale however is standing up to what you know is wrong and runs contrary to God. Bonhoeffer knew that Hitler was wrong. The colonists knew that the King was wrong. While the scale is certainly much smaller, the airline was wrong. If your only argument is that they placed in their contract the right to be wrong, you have no argument at all. Either way, Romans 13 is not as simple as Mr. Burton is portraying it to be.