If Daniel Could Serve a Pagan King, Why Can’t Old School Presbyterians vote for Bill Clinton?

Kevin DeYoung offers some perspective for Alabama voters (though he never mentions Roy Moore):

9. Am I casting my vote for someone who will damage the reputation of Christ and may harm the cause of Christ in the world? While it is often good to vote for other Christians, we have to consider how someone conducts himself in public as a representative of Christian convictions, ethics, and character.

10. Am I willing to consider that thoughtful Christians may answer some of these questions differently than I would? I certainly have my opinions about how these questions might apply in specific instances, but more than a particular vote, I want to encourage Christians to think critically and strategically about their civic participation. There is more to consider than majorities for our side and defeat for theirs.

I am glad he follows point 9 with point 10 because Daniel, the prophet, would have had a hard time answering the ninth question. Not only could Daniel not vote, but he served a King who worshiped and served false gods. Sure, Daniel resisted the king in some ways, but he also excelled in pagan learning (and so distinguished himself for public service):

17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. 18 At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. 20 And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.

If not obeying the first table of the law is a big deal — and we’re not simply talking about images of Christ — how could a faithful believer excel in pagan literature and wisdom (which by Neo-Calvinist standards had to be worse than public schools) and then also serve a king whose cult involved idolatry?

I get it, Daniel did eventually disobey, which is music to the socially righteous warriors ears (thanks to one of our Southern correspondents):

We might hide our motives or blanket them in a veil we call authority or expertise. We will always become like the things we worship. Daniel writes about three men who stood in bold ambivalence to the foolishness of a conqueror king, because he was not their true king. They knew who they worshipped, and the more they lived like Him the closer they came to His presence.

Resist!

But that perspective on Daniel entirely misses the prophet’s assimilation to a regime tainted throughout by blasphemy and idolatry. Again, if 1789 affected all of European society, imagine the intersectionality of Babylonian gods and society. What did Daniel do? He cooperated as much as possible.

Don’t resist!

Honor (even the pagan megalomaniac)!

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

In which case, the lesson is that as long as a Christian does not worship the senator, create statues of him for worship, pray to the senator, hand out the senator’s voting guide on Sunday, still honors his parents while working or voting for the senator, is not the senator’s hit-man, doesn’t lust after the senator’s wife, doesn’t embezzle for the senator, doesn’t lie to or for the senator, and doesn’t envy the senator, or his wife, or servants, or property, the a Christian can vote for the senator.

But if you want to be a pietist about it and consider primarily what a vote says (all) about you, then chances are you have the makings for being an Anabaptist.

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#NeverNebuchadnezzar

Have those who oppose Trump ever considered Jeremiah’s instructions to the people of God, namely, to submit to the rule of a pagan king?

“‘“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the LORD, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the LORD.”’” (Jeremiah 27:8-11 ESV)

Wouldn’t that sort of Word of God prompt you to consider revising this?

Note that I didn’t say that Trump definitely is an existential threat. I don’t know that; nobody does. Hitler only rose to power because enough people believed that he wasn’t such a threat. There is no way of predicting in advance just how bad a President Trump would be. But if you’re an evangelical leader, this sets up a version of Pascal’s wager for you. If Trump turns out to be embarrassing but not all that bad, then your pride will suffer a bit, and you’ll have to say you were wrong to support Hillary. You’ll try to be wiser in the next election.

But if Trump turns out to be the “extinction-level event” that Sullivan predicts, and you fail to do everything in your power to stop him, then you will join a long line of evangelical leaders who have been on the wrong side of history – and judged harshly for it – at critical moments ranging from slavery to Jim Crow to abortion (in the early days of that debate). Your witness for Christ – our witness – will be diluted because we didn’t do everything we could to prevent this catastrophe. And there won’t be a next election to get it right.

Isn’t it possible that a politician could be God’s judgment on a nation’s churches (not that any of us has that kind of word from God)? And isn’t it possible that God’s plans go on even when his people and prophets go into exile as part of divine judgment?

That’s not a reason to support Trump the way Jeremiah endorsed Nebuchadnezzar. But it is a reason to be cautious as a minister of God’s word when talking about magistrates.

Why the Bible Cuts Both Ways — two-edged sword and all that

Peter Leithart’s comments on Eran Shalev’s American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War reminded me of what I learned from Sunday’s sermon (a week ago) from II Chronicles 36, the culmination of Judah’s fall from grace, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the beginning of the people of God’s status as refugees (which continues). This narrative includes the hard-to-spin wrinkle of Zedekiah, Judah’s king, rebelling against a pagan and foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar, a figure whom the Israelites would normally have regarded as a tyrant and against whom legitimately rebelled. But when Zedekiah doesn’t submit to Nebuchadnezzar, the writer likens Judah’s king to Pharoah — the stiffnecked oppressor who held the Israelites in slavery:

Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. He did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. He also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear by God. He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD, the God of Israel. All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36:11-14 ESV)

This is the sort of narrative that folks like John of Salisbury or Thomas Aquinas may have cited to show that tyranny was not always bad. Well, to be precise, it was bad in the sense of not being the way things were supposed to be. But not bad in the sense that this was a form of rule that God was using to punish his people.

And yet, the American colonists, led by Calvinists as we keep hearing, never stopped to consider whether King George was their Nebuchadnezzar, the Lord’s appointed ruler to mete out punishment for disobedience and infidelity. According to Leithart (following Shalev):

During the Revolution, writers and preachers turned to the historical books of the Hebrew Bible to fill out ancient Roman analyses of political corruption. George III was Rehoboam, Solomon’s son whose high taxes divided Israel, or Ahab, who seized the vineyard of innocent Naboth. The charges against King George were sometimes moderated by reference to the book of Esther: The hapless king was manipulated by Haman-like advisors who turned him against the children of the land of the Virgin. Patriots were Mordecais or Maccabees, while loyalists were “sons of Meroz,” a Hebrew town cursed because its inhabitants refused to follow Deborah and Barak into battle. Colonial writers saw links with Roman history: Washington was Cincinnatus. But Washington was also Gideon, the judge who delivered Israel and very deliberately refused an offer of kingship.

Of course, the American rebels didn’t have a prophet to tell them what to think about King George the way that Zedekiah had Jeremiah to whisper advice or shout warning. And that’s the point. Without divine revelation, how do you interpret any ruler or set of events (or culture or city or television series) as in accord with or against divine will? (And when will the students of American politics who seem to enjoy pointing out the biblical context for political debates also point out that such appeals to holy writ could very well be wrong and an abuse of Scripture?)