This article first appeared on Beliefnet in July of 2001.
Give me liberty or give me death. Or give me something else. Staying alive, but under the rule of another nation? Yeah, that sounds all right, too.
Scandalous thoughts, especially this time of year. I'm a conservative Christian, born an American, born into the idea of faith intertwined with freedom. But I've been thinking over something I read recently. During the Jewish rebellion against Rome in the first century, religious leaders were the last to join the cause. They worked for peace and opposed revolution because, as one historian put it, "Roman rule presented no serious threat to Jewish religion." In other words, overthrowing an oppressive government wasn't a requisite of the faith.
This was a startling idea to me. But as I looked in my Bible concordance, I saw that the terms "freedom" and "liberty" are much rarer than I had thought and usually refer to freedom from sin or the Law. Political freedom is not presumed to be an unmixed good. Self-governance could lead to carelessness with the faith, while life under oppression could bear spiritual fruit.
Yes, the Revolutionary War and the teachings of Jesus: They go together like a cake and a bowling ball.
Perhaps the Jewish priests' resistance to war against Rome was mere pragmatism; as it turned out, the rebellion was suicidal and Jerusalem was destroyed.
But Jesus, speaking at the same time, took it further. He taught his followers radical detachment from earthly power: "My kingdom is not of this world." He taught them not just to endure but to love their enemies.
America under the control of England, Israel under the control of Rome--how do they stack up? On one side, we see Patriots mowing down rows of Redcoat soldiers; on the other, we hear Jesus saying we should obey a Roman soldier and even offer to carry his pack a second mile (Matthew 5:41). On one side, Patriots are tossing tea into the harbor in defiance of British taxes; on the other, Jesus miraculously produces a coin to pay his Roman taxes (Matthew 17:27).