Sunday, August 15, 2010

Biblical Basis for Nullification

I've written frequently about nullification on this site. The Christian reader may ask, "is there biblical justification for nullification?" especially in light of Romans 13:1-7, which reads:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

The short answer is 'yes,' and the justification is found in the passage above. One could go further and argue that the passage above demands the doctrine of nullification, or something akin to it.

Let me state up front that Romans 13--and the entirety of the word of God--forbids rebellion. The Christian is forbidden from rebelling against the state and its officers, for "he is God's servant for your good."

However, what must be distinguished is that nullification is not a private act; it is a public act undertaken not by a citizen, but by another public servant instituted by God in the Romans 13 mold. In our form of government, the Governor of a state and the respective state's legislators are equally God's servants appointed for wrath, just as the President of the United States, Congress, and/or the Supreme Court. As such, they have a duty according to Romans 13
to be ministers of God for the good of the people whom they serve. In the case of a federal government that has exceeded the powers delegated to it by the States, the state officers are required to resist this usurpation in order to protect the people that God has given them to serve.

The theological doctrine is known as interposition. It is the same doctrine that served as the theological justification for the War of American Independence. It should be no surprise to the student of history to find that its clearest proponent was John Calvin, the spiritual father of American Presbyterianism. Not the mainline, wimpy Presbyterianism with the backbone of a jellyfish. The historical, manly Calvinism that caused the war to be called in England The Presbyterian Rebellion and caused Horace Walpole (Member of Parliament) to observe that "cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson!"

Calvin writes in his magnum opus, the Institutes of Christian Religion, book IV:

Although the Lord takes vengeance on unbridled domination, let us not therefore suppose that that vengeance is committed to us, to whom no command has been given but to obey and suffer. I speak only of private men. For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and perhaps there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets), so far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy; because they fraudulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardians.

In order to be free from "nefarious perfidy," the Bible requires lesser magistrates to resist the usurpations of kings.

And Presidents, Congresses, and Supreme Courts.

"If this be treason, make the most of it!" -- Patrick Henry


Dave Linton said...

Well put, and I agree entirely. I am at the point of defining nullification and finding the right procedure under the U.S. Constitution. Look forward to fleshing this out in more detail after reading Woods' book. BTW Casa Blanca was smoked in the "White House" upon Ronald Reagan's ascendancy to the presidency.

JWC said...

Dave, thanks. I'm skeptical that you'll find "the right procedure under the U.S. Constitution." The whole point, in my opinion, is that the state nullifies those acts of the federal government that are enacted wholly apart from the U.S. Constitution. For better or worse, where the Constitution applies, it is "the supreme law of the land" (Article VI). The States, in their ratification, acceded to this. However, what the Constitution doesn't address is how to make null and void those acts undertaken by the federal government that weren't authorized in the first place. The answer that the Supreme Court will decide using its made-up-out-of-whole-cloth power of judicial review is wholly untenable, as is any other reliance upon separation of powers, for all three bodies of the federal government are still federal and still inadequately represent the interests of the states. I'm afraid that the states will be left to their sovereign devices to decide on a case-by-case basis how to nullify a particular federal act. You may or may not come to the same conclusion.

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