Christianity, Prayer, and Regime Change

I wanted to offer some thoughts on Christianity and the political concept of regime change. Sometimes American Christians pray for an end to persecution in other countries, or they pray for those countries to become democracies. It is not that American Christians are slimy imperialist bourgeoisie who need to be kicked back to the oppressive hellholes from whence they came–all Christians everywhere have their signature faults. Perhaps we American Christians have gotten used to the idea of our country winning wars and seeing religious freedom emerge.

After World War II, Christians in Germany were free from Nazi persecution. After the Cold War, Christians in Eastern Europe were free from Soviet persecution. Perhaps the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were also supposed to advance the cause of human rights, although Christians have been persecuted in both places after invasions effected regime change. The United States has long been involved in foreign conflicts; perhaps this habit of intervention floated over into the Christian mindset.

There are two Bible passages that I can think of that address how we are to regard governments: Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Timothy 2:1-6.  Romans tells us that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” and that we are to give them the respect due to them. 1 Timothy tells us that we are to pray for those in authority so that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” and that this “is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

When Christians pray for other countries, they ultimately pray that the people who live there might come to know Christ. Christians are to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). “As though . . . with them” is key to understanding how they are to “remember” them. Jesus tells those who are persecuted, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44); Christians are not to strike back when stricken, so correspondingly, they are not to take revenge for the sake of their fellows.

In Jeremiah 29, God tells the Israelites exiled to Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (verse 7). Babylon was the instrument of God’s wrath on the Israelites, and God promised later judgment against Babylon, but for the time being, the Jews were to seek its prosperity. Men such as Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo took high positions in the Babylonian and Persian empires and did not sabotage the welfare of the empires they served.

In sum, Christians, when you pray, pray for Christians to be able to “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” as 1 Timothy says, rather than for the government to be replaced; pray for God to change leaders’ hearts rather than to change leaders out. God changes out empires as easily as you change out old car parts, and God takes care of justice in his own time. See 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12.

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    • Stephen Hale
    • December 15th, 2010

    Surprised to find I like this. I have generally thought that Christianity, in its pursuit of justice, occasionally would pretty much support regime change. I’m not sure you’re ruling that idea out as much as trying to push thinking in a different direction. Well, I can support that, you’ve got some good thoughts here.

    A Couple questions:

    1)How does this interact with Just War Theory? Have you thought about that much yet?

    2)Regarding these sentences:
    “When Christians pray for other countries, they ultimately pray that the people who live there might come to know Christ. Christians are to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).

    I may be missing the obvious, but what do these two sentences have to do with one another? It seems like the 1st is almost an afterthought? I’m not trying to ride your writing, if it’s just a case of a misplaced sentence, I just assume I’m missing something you’re trying to say.

    Good thoughts!

    -Stephen

  1. Regarding question 2: Errors of composition are always a possibility. The main point of that section of the post was to demonstrate that Christians are working for something other than their own material good.

    In general, war is not good for the spread of the gospel. When you have peace and active trade, people can go wherever they like and say whatever they want to whoever they want.

    Regarding question 1: I think this post is largely for people working from the church or personal devotion perspectives. Just war theory is certainly a Christian theological concept (as in, Christian theologians have thought of it), and I need to give further thought to what it means for Christians to be in government or in government service. As I recall, there may have been Christian legionnaires serving Rome, and some of them were martyred.

    Perhaps Christians in the New Testament did not hold government positions, so they did not have to address ethical problems related to government service. I once read that Martin Luther pointed to Romans 13 as justification and even obligation for German princes to put down populist uprisings made in his name, because they were God’s instruments against evildoers.

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