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Meditation 590
Whose Government Is It?

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In a recent column,[1] Billy Graham was asked whether a person had a responsibility to vote. He replied that voting was a citizen's responsibility; a position I agree with. However, given his lifelong career, that was not sufficient for Dr. Graham; he had to find Biblical authority for his position, and there, he went too far.

He pointed to Romans 13:1 where he quoted just the last part of the passage,:

"The authorities that exist have been established by God"

He went on to write:

"This means government is not a human invention, but God designed it and established it for our own good. This is one reason I believe we have a God-given obligation to vote..."

Now even though I read Graham's column in a Canadian newspaper, his columns are written in an American context. The preamble to the Constitution of the United States says:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty, to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It is quite clear that the government of the U.S.A., like most democracies, was designed and established by the people for the people. Not by Billy Graham's God! Not by anyone else's God. It is only dictatorships and monarchies that claim to exist by divine right.

But let us go back to the full passage from which Dr. Graham extracted nine words for the purpose of quoting them out of context:

  1.  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
  2. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
  3. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.
  4. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

What is this passage really saying?

Every government which exists has been established by God, and the ruler is doing God's work. Consequently, if you agree with the opening verses of Romans 13:

Bluntly, Romans 13:1 has nothing to do with voting.[2] It is about submitting unquestioningly to authority.

Governments exist for the people, not for anyone's god. Governments are created by people, not their deities.


  1. My Answer, Billy Graham. Calgary Sun, 31 January 2007
  2. Contrary to Dr. Graham's reasoning, there are Christian sects who use this very passage a justification for not voting - selection of rulers is God's job, not theirs. Perhaps we should encourage Christians in this idea.