There is one place where liberalism and conservatism meet.
Paul recognized the State’s right to execute when he said, “I do not refuse to die” (Acts 25:11).
Paul recognized the State’s right to punish in Romans 13:1-7, but also our responsibility to be agents of mercy. We agree with Paul’s description of a State’s rights in Romans 13, but do we forget the next set of verses which command us to love our neighbor (verses 8-10)? Perhaps even the neighbor the State punishes whether in crime or in war? We usually think that mercy is for the suffering, but that is not the Bible’s primary picture of mercy.
Mercy is for the guilty.
The State punishes. The church ministers. The church must recognize the State has the right to punish and even to kill. And the State must recognize the church’s right to extend mercy to those it punishes.
If you support a State actor’s right to bomb its enemy, do you also support the church actor’s right to heal the enemy’s wounds? If you urge compassion for the State’s enemy do you also recognize the State’s responsibility to defend its citizens, even with lethal violence? The State’s rights come from God just as the Christian’s rights do. If you voice support for the bombing of the State’s enemy, are you also willing to be the hands that minister to the enemy’s pain (Romans 5:10)?
Liberalism and conservatism meet at the cross. There, both the State and God acted within their rights. One to punish, one to save. One to bury, one to raise. Jesus’ execution was unjust but within the Roman State’s rights. Jesus’ death was God’s expression of punishment for sin on our behalf. Jesus did not condemn the State for its action. He prayed, “Father, forgive them…” The cross is the ultimate expression of both justice and mercy, wrapped in a single grotesque and beautiful act. It is also the model for the Christian to emulate. Submission to an even unjust State and obedience to God through mercy to the guilty.
The Christian must honor the State regardless of its leaders and its flaws. And he must honor the Lord and his neighbor, because he belongs to them all. Honoring the State is God’s will. And so is loving your enemy. It is for the State to protect and punish, not to love. And it is for the Christian to love and not to punish. And both these rights come from God.