Electing “Ministers of God”

American Family Association radio host Bryan Fischer believes that “we are in fact choosing a minister when we select a president.”

In a recent column, Fischer uses Romans 13 as his prooftext for this assertion. Paul, writing to the Romans before his visit there, admonishes his readers to “be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God.”

Fischer uses this passage, along with verse 6, to prove that “One who holds public office is serving in a divinely ordained role, just as much as a pastor in the pulpit. The role of a statesman is every bit as sacred as that of a clergyman.”

Indeed, he goes on to use this assertion as a bludgeon against Newt Gingrich—without ever naming him. Following this “logic” that since all politicians are really members of the clergy, Fischer pulls out the requirements for a pastor in 1 Timothy to bolster his slam on Gingrich.

An elder, the apostle says, “must be the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:1). Since polygamy was illegal in the Roman empire, Paul is declaring that one qualification for pastoral ministry is that a man be still married to his first wife.

Given this biblical criteria, Fischer says he can “narrow the field by one” particular GOP presidential hopeful. (By his criteria, it should be noted, President Barack Obama has got some great biblical credibility already!)

What troubles me most about Fischer’s article is not his disqualification of Gingrich or the tortured prooftexting he uses to get there, but the utter disregard for that pesky thing called “context.” Romans 13 cannot properly be understood without reading Romans 12—and the rest of the book, for that matter.

When Paul penned his letter to the Romans he had not yet visited the city and he was watching his P’s and Q’s in this particular letter. The insertion of the admonition to obey the authorities was most likely put in there to ingratiate Paul to those same-said authorities. The rulers of Rome already believed they were “ministers of God,” so it’s not really a stretch for Paul to make such claims.

However, Roman Christians reading Paul’s words would not miss the absolute irony of the entire chapter—especially since they would have already read the part beforehand. In Chapter 12, Paul outlines the marks of a true Christian. Some of those characteristics include blessing those who persecute you, living in harmony with one another, not being haughty, but associating with the lowly, not repaying evil for evil and living peaceably with everyone.

So, in Chapter 13 it becomes glaringly obvious that though Paul may call current Roman leaders “ministers of God,” the god they serve is not the one revealed in the life of Jesus. While Paul’s advice is real—Roman Christians are subject to the authorities since they live in that society—the true point of this part of the letter is to help them recognize that they live in the tension of the “now” and “not yet.” God’s kingdom has not yet appeared, and it is certainly not seen in the administrations of earthly rulers—even if they believe they are agents of God.

If we are to take Paul’s qualifications at what makes someone a true “minister of God” seriously then there are far more pressing issues at hand for GOP candidates than having only one wife (or spouse, as the case may be). I dare say, none of the GOP hopefuls, with their support of war, reforms that would harm the poor and support of laws that would discriminate against certain segments of society, would even come close to qualifying.  They would, however, be great candidates for Roman rulers.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)