The 'Higher Powers': Martial Law vs. Christian Responsibility


It is one thing to know something intellectually, and quite another to see it suddenly happen before your eyes. I experienced such a moment in 2005, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when I watched (via the Internet) as police officers went door-to-door in New Orleans neighborhoods, forced law-abiding citizens into the streets, cuffed them, and then searched their homes for firearms before leaving them bewildered and helpless. There were no warrants involved. No probable cause was mentioned. No charges of wrong-doing were filed. Intimidation and brute force were the order of the day. And as much as I wish I could believe otherwise, I'm afraid that what we saw in New Orleans is merely a preview of coming attractions.

Since September 11, 2001, the federal government has been busily advancing preparations for the day when it might impose martial law throughout the United States, thus presenting us with the specter of the sort of thuggery we witnessed in New Orleans being carried out all across this "land of the free." A quasi-legal apparatus has already been put into place for this, via such legislation as the PATRIOT Act, the John Warner Defense Authorization Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the National Security and Homeland Security Directive. But legislation, although important in creating the illusion of legitimacy, is only one of the two boots with which the authoritarian state tramples freedom; the other is propaganda, and it is even more essential than force because it allows the state to conquer by stealth, and thus with a minimum of effort.

The state that employs only force to achieve its aims will rule only as long as it can subdue the people; but if it can successfully use propaganda, it can rule indefinitely because the people will subdue themselves. Propaganda deludes the slave into seeing his servitude as sacrifice, even as an honor. It transforms political prisoners into the enemies of the people, turns massacres into purgings, makes partisanism look like saintly perseverance, sells torture as retribution, portrays dissent as sabotage, and masks aggression in the guise of crusading. As Adolf Hitler observed in Mein Kampf, "By an able and persistent use of propaganda heaven itself can be presented to the people as if it were hell and, vice versa, the most miserable kind of life can be presented as if it were paradise.”

And of all the varied forms of propaganda, religious propaganda is by far the most effective; for, it provides fallible men with the sanction of heaven, which must not be resisted nor even questioned. Our government is well aware of this and, from all indications, is ready to use religious propaganda in order to help pacify the American population in the event that martial law is declared.

For years, rumors circulated to the effect that the U.S. government would use members of the clergy in efforts to pacify Americans should martial law ever be declared. Many scoffed at the idea, calling it so much conspiracy theory nonsense. Then, in 2007, KSLA Channel 12 in Shreveport, Louisiana, reported that, following Hurricane Katrina, "clergy response teams" were utilized to assist the government with public relations (click here to watch the video). According to the story, such teams will likely be used in future emergency situations, with an emphasis on their potential role in a martial law scenario. Here's a quote from the story:

Such clergy response teams would walk a tight-rope during martial law between the demands of the government on the one side, versus the wishes of the public on the other. "In a lot of cases, these clergy would already be known in the neighborhoods in which they're helping to diffuse that situation," assured Sandy Davis. He serves as the director of the Caddo-Bossier Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

A member of one such clergy response team, Dr. Durell Tuberville, was interviewed by KSLA, and stated that Christians have a responsibility to obey the government, no matter what. "The government's established by the Lord," said Tuberville. "That's what we believe in the Christian faith. That's what's stated in the scripture."

As a Christian myself, I understand where people like Dr. Tuberville are coming from. I remember my ninth-grade Government teacher telling our class (Christian school, mind you) that Soviet citizens had no right to defy their government because, no matter how oppressive the Soviet State was, it was "ordained by God" (when asked about whether the American patriots were right to rebel against England, however, he equivocated). This reasoning is based on several passages of scripture, but particularly on the following remarks made by the Apostle Paul in Romans, chapter 13 (as the KSLA news story pointed out):

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.

With these things in mind, I'd like to take some time to examine the issue of how Christians should react to the prospect of martial law in America.

Government officials are not the highest "authorities" in America

The first thing I would like to point out to people like Dr. Tuberville, who think Christians should obey government officials no matter what because they are "the higher powers," is that there is another, yet higher power to which even such officials are beholden: the Constitution of the United States.

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land. Article VI, Section 1.

It is from the Constitution that our elected officials, both federal and state, derive their office and legitimate powers. Their powers are delegated, not inherent; concrete, not elastic, and, as clearly set forth by the 9th and 10th Amendments, they are limited to the specific areas of authority that the Constitution either grants to the Union or denies to the states. Further, our elected officials are "bound by oath or affirmation" to support the Constitution and its provisions, including the limitations placed upon their own powers:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution… (Article VI, Section 3).

Thus, in taking up the powers and responsibilities of political office, our elected officials are also agreeing to place themselves under the law. This is one of the foundational ideas of the American political system: the concept that everyone is under law and equal in its eyes. For this reason, if government officials violate the Constitution, their actions are illegal and void of authority, and they are no better than common criminals. It is absolutely critical that Christians understand this when they contemplate their relationship to the government. Our elected officials are not the source of their own power; rather, they are representatives who have been entrusted with the authority of the American people as defined in the United States Constitution. If they violate that trust, they are as much criminals as the guy who robs your local 7-11 store; they just dress better, make other people use the guns, and almost never go to jail.

Martial Law is Unconstitutional and, therefore, Illegal

The Constitution does not directly address martial law; however, it does contain a provision that clearly makes martial law impossible. Consider Article IV, Section IV:

The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion; and on application of the legislature, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) against domestic violence.

Republican government is civil, representative government; martial law is military rule. Since the former is specifically guaranteed here, the latter is necessarily precluded. This provision, which our government officials are sworn to support as being part of the supreme law of the land, makes martial law unconstitutional and thus illegal. The moment that martial law is declared, the federal government will have stepped outside of its sphere of lawful powers. In fact, in a very real way it will have conducted a revolution, as it will have overthrown the legitimate government of the Constitution by force of arms.

The President is Commander in Chief, not Dictator in Chief

The "war powers" of the President are a woefully misunderstood aspect of constitutional law, thanks primarily to the success of Abraham Lincoln's war and further developments under those who inherited his theory of government. Said theory boils down to the idea that, technically, anything the government does in order to "safe-guard" the country (really its own power) is constitutional.

The Constitution itself differs with that idea. It describes the "war powers" of the President in Article II, Section II, where we read:

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States.

That's it. That is the sum total of all the Constitution has to say about the war powers of the President. Everything else that has developed since the adoption of the Constitution where such powers are concerned, from "peace-keeping" missions to covert operations, is extra-constitutional (and largely a perversion of the war powers the Constitution grants to Congress in Article I). Indeed, the military powers that presidents exercise today would have seemed kingly to our country's founders. Under the American system, presidents were to be limited chief executives, not self-empowering monarchs who could overthrow the rights of the people or commit the country's military to action for any reason whatsoever. The history of centuries of blood-letting under the crowned heads of Europe had taught Americans better than to trust such powers in the hands of one individual. They forgot that lesson rather quickly once they were free to determine their own affairs, but that initial understanding is enshrined in the Constitution's language to this day, and the reasoning behind it is still just as sound.

The Commander in Chief clause, read as it is plainly written, gives the President authority to act as a sort of commanding general of all U.S. armed forces in their constitutional role of providing for the common defense. It makes him a unifying military leader, capable of coordinating the country's defenses in order to repel an aggressor; it does not make him a dictator, nor does it authorize him to use the military offensively or for law enforcement purposes. Note that the authority granted in Article II, Section II is military, not civilian, and that it does not release the President from his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution, nor does it revoke the right of the states to a republican form of government.

In response, some will undoubtedly argue that we now face dangers that our country's founders could not have envisioned, and, for that reason, certain things must change. But the founders provided us with a means of changing the Constitution in the face of new circumstances or new wishes on the part of the people. We call this provision the "Amendment Process" (see Article V). So why is it that our leaders are not using this legitimate, constitutional tool, if indeed they believe that they require additional powers in order to meet modern challenges, and if indeed their motives are pure? Defenders of the Bush administration and its congressional allies (particularly Christians seeking to invoke Romans 13) should give serious thought to this question.

Consider that nearly seven years have elapsed since the September 11, 2001 attacks, and yet, in all that time, in spite of all the powers that Bush and Congress have usurped, they have not once prepared or even suggested a constitutional amendment to legitimize any of it. And the reason for this? Quite simply, they don't believe they need to legitimize their actions. They do not recognize any authority above themselves, neither the Constitution of the United States nor the people who elected them.

Beware Government Agents quoting Scripture

The common perception of propaganda is that it is the art of telling lies, but in fact lies are only part of the picture. No, the true master of propaganda is skilled not only in telling outright lies, but also in employing distortion and half-truth.

For an example of this, consider Romans 13 again. The standard snake oil sold by the Dr. Tuberville's of the world (unwittingly or not), where this passage is concerned, is that government is the "higher power" and must be obeyed in all things. This is what you're likely to hear when a clergy response team member shows up on your doorstep, flanked by national guardsmen and demanding that you hand over your firearms, supplies, and/or valuables, or that you accompany them to Hotel Halliburton. Yet, as we have already seen, the Constitution, not the government, is the highest "power" in the United States of America, and those who act outside of it are criminals.

Note also that the Apostle Paul was arguing that Christians should support the "higher powers" because government is ordained by God to be "an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." "Rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior," Paul tells us, "but for evil," after which he admonishes us to be "in subjection not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake." So what then of a government which, instead of punishing evil, actually practices evil itself? Can Paul have been suggesting that Christians should view the evil actions of a lawless power as somehow bearing the approval of God? Can a Christian either condone or submit to evil doings "for conscience' sake"? Is it possible to do good by sanctioning, submitting to, or participating in evil? As Paul himself was fond of saying, "God forbid!"

When in Rome?

At this point, some might argue that the Roman Empire was evil in many ways, and that if Paul informed Christians that they needed to be in subjection to such a regime, surely today's Christians have no excuse for resisting the will of the U.S. government, constitutional questions aside. And while I would agree that Rome was certainly a ruthless and brutal government, there are three important things that should be kept in view here:

1) Rome did not rule under a supreme Constitution such as we have.

2) While Paul instructed Christians to recognize Roman rule, he never once suggested that they should sanction or participate in Roman brutality. Indeed, the Bible contains a number of passages that instruct us to aid the oppressed (not to aid in their oppression):

Proverbs 24:10-12: "If you are slack [weak, feeble] in the day of distress, your strength is limited. Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold {them} back. If you say, “See, we did not know this,” Does He not consider {it} who weighs the hearts? And does He not know {it} who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?"

Isaiah 1:16-17: "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow."

Jeremiah 21:12: "O house of David, thus says the LORD: u2018Administer justice every morning; And deliver the {person} who has been robbed from the power of {his} oppressor, that My wrath may not go forth like fire and burn with none to extinguish {it,} because of the evil of their deeds.'"

Jeremiah 22:2-3: "Thus says the LORD, u2018Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of {his} oppressor. Also do not mistreat {or} do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.'"

The above passages make it clear that no one who claims to fear God should have anything to do with oppressing the innocent; but, rather, they should actively "reprove" those who do such things and "deliver" those who are being victimized. Genesis 14 tells the story of how Abraham attacked and overcame a group of kings who had taken his nephew, Lot, captive; and, in Job 29, we're told that, among the good deeds Job was known for, he "delivered the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper," and "broke the jaws of the wicked and snatched the prey from his teeth." The Bible refers to both Abraham and Job as "righteous" and "upright." Further, in I Timothy 5:8, the Apostle Paul, who wrote Romans 13, remarks: "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Surely "providing" for one's own involves protecting them from those who would do them harm.

3) Two recorded instances from the Apostle Paul's own life demonstrate that a Christian need not submit to injustice simply because it is perpetrated by agents of the state. Both examples come to us from the book of Acts.

The first is recorded in Acts 22, where Roman authorities questioned Paul in relation to his part in a riot that had just taken place in Jerusalem. Not satisfied with his answers, the Roman "chief captain" ordered that Paul be subjected to a bit of enhanced interrogation, 1st Century style (they were going to scourge him while questioning him further). Now, Paul was a Roman citizen, and under Roman law it was illegal to scourge a citizen. Paul pointed this out to his captors in Acts 22:23, and was spared the torture in favor of a trial.

The second example comes from Acts 25. Paul, who was then under trial before Porcius Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, saw that the governor was probably not going to give him a fair trial, and so he invoked the supreme right of a Roman citizen: he appealed to Caesar himself in hope of justice. He did this respectfully, but resolutely.

Clearly, the Apostle Paul had no problem with questioning authorities or appealing to the law in his defense, and I see no biblical reason why modern Christians are under obligation to act any differently. The Constitution is our supreme law, our supreme authority; we have every right to appeal to its provisions and to demand that those provisions be respected and not overthrown.


In summary, be aware of the fact that our government has already begun using religious propaganda to get its way, and that it fully intends to do so again. Beware those who would preach to you concerning how you should obey them as authorities over you, if they refuse to obey the authority over them. Beware those who talk about the law if they themselves are law-breakers. Beware those who would speak to you of "duty," if they themselves have broken their oaths and violated the trusts of their offices. Contrary to the propaganda you're likely to hear in the event of a martial law situation, neither Romans 13, nor any other passage of scripture, can be twisted to the effect of forcing Christians to buckle under to, participate in, or otherwise sanction, illegal actions or outright atrocities committed by the state.

You who are members of the clergy: could you go door-to-door telling people that God wants them to turn in their guns (or fuel, or food, or gold) and to leave themselves bereft and helpless because the state says so? You who are members of the military or law enforcement agencies: could you force yourselves on, or actually fire on, otherwise law-abiding American citizens who might only be trying to defend themselves, their property and their families against those who have decided to toss the law out like yesterday's garbage? Could you justly take part in unjust actions? How many of history's wars and other atrocities could have taken place had those ordered to carry them out simply said "No."? Could Rome have enslaved and tortured millions of people without the consent of its soldiers? Could any of the tyrants of the past have plundered their citizens had they been forced to wield the sword by themselves? Could a single Southern farm have been burned had Northerners not consented to Lincoln's rampage? Could Stalin or Mao have murdered tens of millions of their own countrymen without the assistance of their "Peoples'" armies? Make no mistake, if the United States government ever decides to oppress its own people, for whatever reason, it will not be the President or members of Congress, or the Joint Chiefs who go around intimidating people, kicking in doors, muzzling protest, dividing families, jailing and/or torturing dissenters or carrying off property. It will be you. They will expect you to do these things for them. The question is: can you live with it? And even more importantly: can you answer to God for it?

II Corinthians 5:10 — "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (Note — I see no exceptions granted here for those "acting under orders").

Finally, don't wait for the crisis to come before you act. The day martial law is declared is not the time to begin doing something about it. That time is now, today, before it happens. Start by familiarizing yourself with passages of scripture such as those I've listed above; and always consider what the Bible says for itself, not how others would interpret it to their own advantage. Familiarize yourself with the Constitution, with relevant legislation and presidential executive orders, and with the history of martial law situations and military occupations both here in the U.S. and in other countries. Share what you learn with your friends and family. Consider joining up with groups like Ron Paul's new Campaign for Liberty, where you can work for change alongside other concerned Americans. Never forget that an intimate knowledge of truth is the best defense against the lies, distortions and half-truths of the propagandists.

July 5, 2008