Because of the holiday today, I have decided to forego a post on my normal Monday series and offer some thoughts on the meaning of July 4th. I have always been thankful for my country and its heritage, but for many years, I would have to say that I was rather ambivalent about the actions of our founding fathers. I was glad to be in a position to reap benefits of the American Revolution, but I was unclear on whether the resistance of the American colonies to the authority of King George III was morally justified. Today I hold the conviction that their actions were not only justified, but praiseworthy.
If Scripture clearly demands submission to governing authorities (and it does; see Rom. 13:1-7), how can I say such a thing? Here I would appeal to Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrate. Human government is a complex reality with multiple levels. If an agent of government at one level oppresses those under his authority, the lesser magistrates under him have a duty to resist his oppression in order to fulfill their responsibility to protect those under their own spheres of authority. Resistance and–if need be–revolution, therefore, should normally take place within the structure of an existing governing authority standing against the tyrannical actions of another governing authority. In this way, multiple levels of government can help hold one another in check. The lesser magistrates who are placed into such an unfortunate position must be men and women of courage who are prepared to suffer for upholding their responsibility to protect their citizens.
This is precisely what happened in the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was not the action of an angry mob. It was a document ratified by representatives of the governments of the original thirteen colonies. The lesser magistrates of these colonies, in other words, chose to resist the tyrannical rule of King George III in order to protect their citizens from it. In doing so, of course, they put their lives and property on the line, which is why I said earlier that their act was not only morally justified, but even praiseworthy. It was, without a doubt, a deeply courageous act.
Americans today now live in a country that has fallen once more into oppression from a centralized authority. The executive office of our federal government has grown in power over the years to the point that we now have a President who effectively imposes legislation on his own and selectively modifies and enforces laws duly passed by Congress according to his own whim. Our Supreme Court has forfeited its legitimacy by staunchly defending “rights” that are nowhere named in our Constitution, even when that means curtailing rights that are explicitly mentioned in it. Congress itself has abandoned its constitutional responsibility to put checks and balances on these other two branches and has become a laughingstock. What has been the result?
- States cannot prevent women from obtaining abortions on demand, leaving the most vulnerable members of our society with no governmental protection and a death toll now over 50 million;
- Same-sex marriage has been judicially imposed on all fifty of our states;
- Public schools have been told they must allow boys to shower with girls or else face the loss of federal funds;
- Religious liberty is shrinking by the day, as the sexual revolution marches forward, demanding public conformity to its agenda or social marginalization;
- Healthcare is now largely run by an incompetent, inefficient, federal bureaucracy, sending costs skyrocketing and imposing numerous regulatory structures between doctors and patients;
- Our federal government is addicted to spending more money than it has and constantly committing itself to do more, leaving future generations with the burden of what is now $19 trillion and growing;
- Tax dollars continue to be directed to the demonic organization, Planned Parenthood, which not only has built its business on abortion, but has also recently been exposed as illegally trafficking in human body parts for profit, yet without any government sanctions to date;
- Corruption is so entrenched in the system that a woman who is under investigation by the FBI for endangering national security now has the best chance of being elected our next President; in fact, the recent private meeting between attorney general Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton is one more indication that there is collusion between the current administration and the Clintons, leaving the latter without any accountability to the law;
- I could go on and on and on.
Will we as a society continue to accept the gradual increase of tyranny that has swept over our society like the shadow of Sauron? Every single governor and state legislature in this country should be firmly telling this runaway federal government, “No! We will not submit to tyranny!” Our forefathers had the courage to say so to a king. How much more should we be saying it to a mere president?
That brings me to another issue that most Americans don’t seem to understand: the federal government does not outrank the governments of our fifty states. Constitutionally, the President does not hold more authority than a state governor. He is merely the executive officer of the federal government, which is a structure that unites our various states into one nation, much like a director of missions serves as the executive officer for an association of independent churches. The original states pre-existed the federal government and created it by ratifying the Constitution, the document that specifically defines and limits the powers of the federal government. Any fair reading of that document will reveal that it has long since ceased to have the restraining effect it was originally written to achieve. The federal government has simply grown by the force of its own will over the years because it has met with little resistance. It has basically bullied its way into every corner of our states, families, and lives. And our “lesser” (though not really lesser in the Constitutional sense) magistrates have utterly failed to protect us from it.
On this July 4th, we would do well to recover an understanding of true constitutional authority and the rights of states to resist the overreach of an out-of-control centralized government. The Convention of States project is one promising way forward, and my own state of Tennessee has already signed on. But there is much, much more that needs to be done, and we are looking primarily to our governors and state legislatures to lead the way. I fear that our generation lacks the same kind of courage that our founding fathers displayed in 1776 that would enable us to engage in principled resistance to tyranny. I hope I am wrong.