In all the uproar over the recent election, some may have overlooked what the voting patterns told us about ourselves. Exit interviewers painted a picture of citizens of two different nations going to the polls. Large numbers of urban, secular, and single voters went for Gore, for economic reasons; while suburban, religious, and married voters went for Bush, largely for moral reasons.

Given the incredibly close vote, one thing is clear: Roughly half of all Americans are going to oppose the policies of the new president. And those with moral convictions are going to feel especially strong about it.

I've already heard some people say they want to leave the country, or they'll disavow their government. This raises an always crucial question: How do Christians live under a government whose policies we sharply disagree with -- even one whose positions we find morally offensive? The answer is surprisingly simple. Except in the most extraordinary circumstances, we're to live the same way we would under a government we do agree with.

In 1 Timothy, Christians are commanded to pray for those in authority. Why? Because, as Paul explains in Romans 13, government officials are God's servants to preserve order and administer justice in the public arena. Notice that Paul doesn't limit his description to good rulers. In fact, he wrote these words during the reign of Nero, one of the cruelest, most vicious Roman emperors.

Whether our rulers are good or bad, whether we agree or disagree with their policies, our duty is the same: to respect and pray for them. That doesn't preclude criticizing their policies, of course, but even criticism should flow from an attitude of prayer.

Now, respecting our leaders does not preclude disobeying the powers that be, but we may disobey only when to obey would mean disobedience to God. For example, in the Old Testament, Daniel refused to obey the king's command to worship idols. Christians were thrown to the lions in the first century, you'll recall, because they refused to say that Caesar -- not Jesus -- is Lord.

Clearly, civil disobedience must be chosen whenever civil magistrates frustrate our ability to obey God. However, when we take this course, we must do so without resorting to violence. And we must be prepared to bear the consequences that a wicked magistrate will mete out against us, as Peter and John told the Sanhedrin when they refused to stop preaching the gospel.

Some fifty years ago, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer did just that. He resisted the Nazi government, and was ultimately martyred.

So, yes, there are times when Christians must stand against an unjust regime. God ordains leaders, but they must act within the scope of the authority he has given them. If they repress religious freedom, or slaughter the innocent, or trample human rights, they're violating God's trust. They're failing to carry out their biblically ordained duty to preserve order and to promote justice. And then, they're no longer entitled to our allegiance.
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