Scratchpad: Romans 13.1-7 through the lens of the Kairos Document

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This is another classwork assignment. It is meant to be short and sweet and too the point. I find that these exercises should be valuable to pastors and ministers in that it forces people to think outside their box. You know, the least asked question in the known universe – ‘What if I am wrong?’


For this exercise, I will be examining Romans 13.1-7 through the lens, primarily, of Apartheid South Africa and the response as contained in the Kairos Document.

In 2006, Winsome Munro wrote that this passage was particularly important in the discussion over Apartheid because as time progressed, the biblical basis for such a social structure was erased. There was nothing left for groups, such as the white Dutch Reformed Church and other various other fundamentalist groups (as Munro pointed it, these groups were connected to the American Religious Right), to turn too except for Romans 13.1-7 which said, plainly, that the duty of the Citizen is to be completely subject to the Will of the State. It was in this atmosphere that the Kairos Document of 1985-1986 was created which helped to give a religious foundation to the struggles against extreme oppression at the bottom of the African continent.

They set about first by passively acknowledging Paul’s validity to speak as a Christian Apostle, something many seem to have a developing problem with today. They go on, with notes to recognizable scholarship, to show that the State Theology often drawn from Romans 13.1-7 is little more than a ‘collaborationist theological’ position entertained by the Christians in power, mixing with that of the State, against the Christians not in power. We find examples of this in the New Testament with the Sadducees collaborating with Rome against other Jewish sects. With Paul being a Pharisee, and no doubt seeing members of his sect (both former and future) suffering at the hands of this collaboration, I would be hard-pressed to understand Romans 13.1-7 as an appeasement treatise to encourage collaboration. Often times we forget that while the overarching revelation of Scripture is equally valid, often times, the localized issues which first caused the letter must be examined within context. This context, then, is what the authors of the Document, sought to clarify so as to give a voice to their oppressed brothers and sisters. The authors then use the entirety of Holy Writ to show that at very few times did God ever require absolute obedience but often times, we find Prophets (Daniel and Revelation) encouraging their respective communities to non-violently resist.  Their argument, then, comes down to the fact that Paul was merely acknowledging that there will always be a secular authority and that Christians are not ‘exonerated from subjection to secular laws and authorities.’ There is more to be said here, more to be examined, and more context to be developed, but as a full work-up of the Kairos Document, nor the full spectrum of African views on Romans 13.1-7, is called for, I know turn my attention to interacting with this interpretation, even in muted form.

It is of my opinion that the practical theology which undergirds this interpretation is both reasonable and takes into account the full spectrum of the Text. They call not for regime change, nor for a violent overthrow, but passive resistance against recognized, and I would assume well-grounded in biblical concepts of the such, injustice. In the first eight years of this millennium, Americans were told that a literal interpretation of Romans 13.1-7 was the only applicable understanding. Yet, for the past three years the many on the extreme American Religious Right has turned to what can only be called African Theology to challenge, and to require others to challenge, what many assume to be an African-born President. I would be as equally hard-pressed as I was before to believe that authors of the Kairos Document would have accepted such a ‘tossing of too and fro’ on this doctrinal wind. What they experienced caused them to reexamine Romans 13.1-7 because they saw the misuse of it. They did not forsake their belief in God nor questioned the validity of Paul as an Apostle, but instead sought to find the right understanding believing that Scripture was right, even against the wrong interpretation. They re-examined traditional interpretations because they had hit a proverbial wall which had caused untold oppression. It would be my contention that interpretations need to be reexamined periodically before such a wall is hit, because this reoccurrence throughout Christian (and secular) history has left an untold number of casualties on the road to the New Creation. These causalities will continue to haunt the Church who often times insist that the interpretation over and above the Scripture is what is inerrant. The authors of the Kairos Document saw the need to reexamine and put forth a biblical response. If only we could easily, without bloodshed (literal or proverbial) do the same to many of the issues which we see arising today before once again the Church hits a wall.

Ironie dramatique dans la mise en intrigue de l’empire en Romains 13, 1-7; Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses March 1, 2006 35: 39-63

This mimics the connection between certain American Religious Right groups and the ‘kill the gays’ movement in Uganda (Source: Author’s Blog)

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