It was 239 years ago when a group of ragtag second-class “citizens” staged a bloody revolt against what was, at the time, the world’s most powerful empire. When the dust settled a new nation was born, one based on liberty.
Sadly, today we find ourselves at a tipping point, arguably near the end of America’s long decline. As sure as human nature lends itself to sin, we can be certain our government will continue its march toward tyranny and despotism. That because governments, by their very nature, tend to accumulate power and encroach upon individual liberty in the process.
Currently, the en vogue interpretation of Romans 13 supposedly requires Christians to “submit” to even tyrannical governments unless they pass an edict prohibiting a very narrowly defined list of “violations of God’s Law” like reading the Bible or praying. However, the absurdity of that interpretation lies in the fact that, were it not for good people’s resistance to tyranny throughout history, freedom literally wouldn’t exist.
It was Thomas Jefferson himself who said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
While we Christians pray most of all for a peaceful revolution of liberty, and with God’s help that’s certainly possible, it would be naïve to completely discount the possibility of something else, however remote it may seem at present.
Using the Bible and history as our guide, how and under what circumstances would a revolution against a tyrannical government be successful?
With Much Prayer
Man may conduct his affairs like he is accountable to nobody, but the truth is, God is the one really in control.
“For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” Psalms 22:28
The Bible makes it clear that God sets up kings and brings them down for His own purposes. Although we may not fully understand those purposes, we can be certain that God often uses people to accomplish His will on earth.
Given that Romans 13 does generally require Christians to submit to lawful governmental authority, any deviation from this principle should be surrounded and enfolded with much prayer and supplication. If God isn’t in it, it will not succeed.
When Lives Are at Stake
Most of us would agree that governments which kill innocents should be resisted. Resistance can start with simple, non-violent acts such as hiding a Jew from hunting Nazis or leading an escaped slave to freedom and eventually balloon to acts of legitimate self-defense.
The founders of our nation truly believed their actions were justified in order to protect the people under their care, as evidenced by these words from our Declaration of Independence:
“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”
When Injustice Reigns
The Bible says governments are not to be a “terror to good conduct, but to bad,” an “avenger” to carry out God’s judgment on wrongdoers. When governments enact laws that reward the guilty, punish the innocent, and generally go against the basic instincts of “justice” ingrained in the majority of God-fearing folk, it’s time to consider replacing said government.
Another pertinent quote from our Declaration speaks to the heart of our founders for real justice:
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”
It was wrong to require citizens to quarter troops with no reimbursement; it’s wrong when governments make criminals of everyone by passing so many laws nobody can possibly keep track; and it’s especially wrong when governments criminalize the natural, God-given right to self-defense. When injustice becomes the norm instead of the exception, it’s time for a change.
[sharequote align=”center”]When injustice becomes the norm instead of the exception, it’s time for a change.[/sharequote]
With The People’s Support
Many people still believe the myth that only a third of American colonists supported revolution. In actuality, that is far from the case. If most of the population had been happy under British rule, there is absolutely no way the rebels would have won. In truth, the vast majority of the people supported not just the revolution, but the change in governance that eventually took place as a result of the victory.
For real change to take place, people’s hearts and minds must be changed. The way to do that is to engage them with truth and speak truth to power.
With Peace As The Goal
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi changed unjust laws, the hearts of the people, and indeed the course of entire nations using non-violent means to foster their revolutions. Indeed, the best revolutions take place at the ballot box. This should always be the goal.
Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)
However, while violence of any kind should never be the desired outcome, avoiding it, particularly in self-defense, may not always be “possible.” Our Founders certainly believed they were defending their homes and families against an invading British force they had previously tried to separate peacefully from.
Under Lawful Government
Our Founders weren’t anarchists. Indeed, it was important to them that lawful governance by and for the people be established prior to separation from Britain. The genius of the system of checks and balances they established, from the three branches to the individual states, lies in the fact that resistance to tyranny needn’t take place unlawfully. When the people of a state say “no” to an over-reaching federal government through their state governments, they are truly exercising the Founders’ vision.
Prepared to Accept the Consequences of Failure
Benjamin Franklin, the man who said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately,” clearly understood that not all revolutions, even the supposedly “righteous” ones, are successful.
The freedom-inspired Hungarian Revolution of 1956, after some initial success, was eventually and mercilessly crushed by an invading Soviet army. Spartacus and Nat Turner both led slave revolts with varying degrees of success, the consequences of which were violent and untimely deaths for themselves and their followers. On the flip side, even many successful revolutions could hardly be defined as righteous or Biblical in any way – the various murderous Communist revolutions of the last century being prime examples.
So, it’s quite possible that a population could find all the above pieces in place and have every right and justification to defend themselves against a tyrannical and oppressive government, yet still end up dead or in prison. Rebellion to tyrants may be obedience to God, as both Jefferson and Franklin believed, but God may not reward even just efforts with victory. One must be prepared, as our Founders were, to accept that possibility.
The Founders of our nation risked their lives, liberty, and fortunes to give a free nation to their posterity. We often think of them as giants among mortals, but in truth they were just as afraid as any of us would be in a similar situation. And yet I’m thankful God rewarded their efforts because, really for the first time in history, mankind was able to know real, true freedom. When that freedom is finally lost completely, maybe some will remember what it looked like.
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