Love God and Pass the Pie
Thinking through the Thanksgiving Resistance
In light of the Governor’s (now densely hypocritical) limiting of holiday festivities, Christians throughout California (and in many other states) have a decision to make: whether or not to gather with loved ones next week.
The decision, for Christians, is not straightforward. We must consider how to “build a parapet” (Deut. 22:8) - in other words, how to prepare in advance for a known danger and take precautions. One must consider the risks, and those involved, especially in his immediate family. Let’s call this the “wise love” part.
But there is another question - simply of whether gathering would be sin. After all, the government said so, right? Romans 13, right?
Yes, and no. Indeed, the governor is the top governing authority in every state. And regardless of my governor’s thick hypocrisy on the matter - like we tell our kids - another’s log in the eye does not justify one in mine. What to do?
For folks in my county, clarity came this week in the form of an announcement by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones that his office will not be responding to any complaints regarding masks, occupancy, etc., related to the state’s orders. On the one hand, he does not denounce those orders. On the other, he and his officers are not enforcing them.
Where does that leave me and the turkey and the extended fam? Thankfully, our Christian forefathers thought this through a long time ago. At the beginning of the Reformation, in 1530, there were a number of situations where the governing authorities responded to the new movement abusively and murderously. The question became, “How do we obey Romans 13, while at the same time not allowing ourselves, you know, to be ravaged and slaughtered?”
Enter what became known as the doctrine of the lesser magistrate. While there is more to it than what can be said here, the doctrine essentially says that us common folk have the right to resist governing authorities’ abuses if a lesser magistrate - a lower governing authority, like a sheriff or mayor - presides over or permits, even implicitly, that resistance. That way, those resisting are still under a governing authority, and the resistance will not itself turn into chaos and anarchy.
We’ve had enough of that on our streets this year, thank you. Christians reject every kind of rioting, looting and violence in the name of social change, no matter how bad it gets. But we do use every kind of channel that God gives us to effect good change.1 And praise God, in this republic, we have many channels. One is a lesser magistrate with backbone enough to draw a line and give cover to his people’s groans. Another is the ability to petition officials for redress: you might send a note to thank yours, or to ask yours for help and cover, right now. Or to express displeasure, if you hate this entire line of thinking. God gave the channel; use it.
Regardless, if you want to gather with family next week, and you’ve “built your parapet”, give thanks if God has provided you a magistrate that allows you to pass the “submitting to governing authorities” test. If you have this, and if your conscience is clear on all other points, you’re free to follow Augustine’s proverb: love God and do what you want.
And save me some pie.
To read more, check out Glenn Sunshine’s book “Slaying Leviathan”. ↩︎