State’s Rights is not a term I’ve heard in politics in a while. Sure, its all over the History books (especially Civil War), but politics?  The very concept is almost anathema to the modern American mind.  “What, let an individual State decide how they (the residents of that State) feel about an issue?  Absurd!”  Yet our Constitution US Constitution Article 1

clearly says, “The powers not delegated to the United States [ie, the Federal government]  by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (Amendment 10)  In other words, State’s rights is a concept MANDATED by our Constitution.  It prevents a new king.

This is even more evident when we look at the early seeds of liberty that were planted by the Founders in the Declaration of Independence.  declaration of independence

I have often asserted that there is an intentional theological tone to the Declaration of Independence.  I believe that this theological tone is there mainly to justify State’s Rights.  The justification is needed because Paul wrote that we should obey authority because it was established by God. The big question that the Founders faced was thus, “How do we justify revolution against tyranny, without committing the sin of disobedience to an authority established by God?” Enter the Declaration’s declaration that authority is given to the people to choose a ruler.

The theological declaration is quickly moved past and often overlooked.  But it is plainly obvious when we read.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”  Paul’s observation that government should be obeyed is plain, “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Romans 13:5)” 

But, the Declarations theological twist is that God gave the power of governance to the people.  Thus, a government which is not just is more easily explained as people abrogating their consent: they have failed to do their duty by establishing a government that secures their rights, especially the unalienable ones.  The power of governance in God’s creation is of vital consequense.  If we, the people, have that power of governance, then sin is suffering tyrany.  If the power of governance is the ruler’s, then we sin if we overthrow tyrany.

The model of the right of governance came out of the Roman Empire’s paradigm for governance and passed through the Middle Ages as Feudalism.  That model was established as

 God –> Ruler –> People.

A problem with this model stems from that old adage, “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  This was born out as a tendency to make rulers people to be served. The king/czar/ceaser/etc.  demanded loyalty, fealty, and tribute.  This practice was in direct contrast to the model Jesus gave to us.  In His model, servant leadership, the ruler is a servant of the people, not a lord over them.   (As a quick side note, what does this mean about our view of Jesus?  How does it affect our Christology?  This precept I believe could spark some healthy debate! ie, is Jesus your Lord or your Butler? Hmmm?  He told Peter that He MUST be allowed to serve or that Peter had no part with Him.  Again, hmmm?)

Jesus model IS drastically different from the reality that comes from Rome’s model.  When we think like Him, the ruler should work for the people.  We call it “servant leadership”.  This new paradigm, or at least new to us even 2000 years later,  is a new power flow

God –> People –> Ruler.

When we look at servant leadership this way, we get some interesting ripple effects.  One of these ripples is that it is no longer a sin but a divine duty to overthrow anyone who is a ruler and not a servant.  Suffering under a despot becomes a sin of ommision, a sin of failure to act when God demands action.  Revolution becomes a Biblical mandate when the power shifts away from the people to the king/president/dictator.

The Founders clearly did not want this shift in power.  Look at our early history as a nation.  George Washington fought the temptation to be King George I of America so that the people would maintain power.  In 1834, the Supreme Court took the first step toward shifting power away from the States with their decision in Gibbons v. Ogden.  The Civil War further restricted State’s rights as, despite the common misconception, it was the driving issue for the Confederate States in their secession.  Finally, the Great Depression gave the Federal government great power to save the states from a financial nightmare.  In other words, we’ve spent the last 200+ years working to take power away from the people and give it to the central, Federal government.

This raises a major question for us as Americans.  Does this mean we are violating our own national theological base?  Does this mean we are violating God’s will? 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” 

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