Was the American Revolution sinful?

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Martin has some arguments I haven't heard before. 

But in his P.S., he claims that many of the founding fathers were "good Presbyterians." Makes me wonder how many of his other facts are off.

He's right about Lex Rex and its influence on the founders. But logically I'm not sure that helps with Rom.13--written many centuries before Lex Rex. The relevant question is, was Paul thinking the law is king when he penned Rom. 13 (i.e., was God telling us "obey those in authority except when they disregard enough laws... then you can not only disobey them but revolt too"?)

Mark_Smith's picture

Until I visited SI in my entire life I never heard any Christian try to claim that the American revolution was sinful. Frankly, I find the claim odd. Forgive me for what follows because I am positive that people who actually believe this have thought this through....

First, and I'll keep it to that due to my time limitation, consider Romans 13:1 

Romans 13:1 (ESV)
1 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

 

The claim that the revolution was sinful hangs its hat on the first sentence of the verse. The thought being that there is almost no just cause for a revolution. What about the second. What if God in His sovereign majesty decided that the American colonies would become a separate country and thus implanted the desire into the heart of the revolutionaries to lead the development of the United States? In that case, which is unprovable I guess, the revolution was not a sin but people carrying out God's plan to institute a government!

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Mark,

I do not see the American Revolution as sinful, but I will play Devil's advocate. If the first sentence or Romans 13:1 means what you have ascribed to the other party, then God would never put a desire to disobey His commands in the hearts of men by interpreting the rest of the verse the way you have described.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

John E.'s picture

if I had tried to tell my parents that God had implanted the desire in my heart to disobey their authority .... I think that my dad would've responded with, "Well, God has implanted the desire in my heart to whip your butt!"   

Mark_Smith's picture

I am making a serious comment, not passing "rebellion" off as pure human lust and sin, but COULD IT BE that God planned it that way. Is that not a legitimate possibility? To use Chip's comment, does that "subject to authorities" clause trump the "instituted by God" clause. Can God not cause the US to form?

 

In fact, many of the people involved in the Revolutionary War noted many times that Providence (their word) protected them. As one simple example, I believe after the loss at the battle of Bunker Hill (Breed's Hill), the troops needed to retreat across the river. They tried to do it under the cover of darkness, but were not done when sunrise came. As one writer put it a "mysterious" mist rose up and covered the river, shielding their escape. There are literally dozens of examples of this that I am aware of, and I am no expert.

 

 

John E.'s picture

Of course God can “cause the US to form.” But, I hope that regardless of which side of this question people fall on, their justification is not limited (at the least) to individualistic mysticism. For example, having grown up in Florida, there is nothing mysterious about a dense, early morning mist rising from a body of water. Did God cause that mist to arise? Of course. But does that mean that He smiles with favor upon the actions hidden by that mist? Not necessarily. What people “feel” isn’t nearly as important as how their actions comport with the teachings of scripture.

Bert Perry's picture

Took a quick look at the article, and what he's arguing is historic; the kingdom in England was reinstituted in 1688 under the 1688 Bill of Rights, which served as a Constitution for the Commonwealth.  So what the Founders were arguing, more or less, is that since the King had not defended the colonies in their need but chose to tax them anyways, and violated the 1688 Bill of Rights in many ways, King George had effectively abdicated.   And the British did often call it the "Presbyterian parsons' rebellion", whether they were right or wrong.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Mark,

The founders certainly believed Providence was at work on their behalf, but they did not arrive at their justification through the line of thought you have suggested. They went back to the founding of human government in Genesis 9 and understood the thread of authority as extending from God, through the governed, to the government. They saw the authority as delegated authority given by the people to the leaders that could be revoked by the people for certain justifiable reasons. Somewhat along the lines of congregational polity in the church. If you look back at the Declaration of Independence through this lens, you will see this line of thinking very clearly. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Rob Fall's picture

for Europeans 100 miles (161Km) is a long distance, while for Americans 100 years is a long time.

Many treat the AmRev in isolation from the the previous 100+ years of Anglo-American history.  If one says supporting the Continental side of the AmRev was sin, which side do you support in the 1600s Parliament or the Crown?  Would you be a Royalist or a Parliamentarian?  Which side would you support in the Glorious Revolution, the Jacobite or Parliament?

Bert Perry wrote:

Took a quick look at the article, and what he's arguing is historic; the kingdom in England was reinstituted in 1688 under the 1688 Bill of Rights, which served as a Constitution for the Commonwealth.  So what the Founders were arguing, more or less, is that since the King had not defended the colonies in their need but chose to tax them anyways, and violated the 1688 Bill of Rights in many ways, King George had effectively abdicated.   And the British did often call it the "Presbyterian parsons' rebellion", whether they were right or wrong.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Bert Perry's picture

....and to understand the 1600s, you've got to understand the Magna Carta, I think, and probably as well the shifting sands of feudal society since Roman times, as well as the Anglo-Saxon and Norman invasions, no?  All in all, my take is that the response of the Parliamentarians to the question of Romans 13 would have been similar to mine.  King Charles had, for all intents and purposes, abdicated by refusing to honor the authority of Parliament.   Certainly this is the implication of the 1688 Bill of Rights, as well as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have a few favorite books on the Revolutionary War I thought I'd throw out here for anyone who is interested:

  • Washington's Crossing, by David H. Fischer. An amazing, detailed book about Washington's disastrous defeat in Manhattan, the retreat across New Jersey and the fateful battles at Trenton and Princeton.
  • Almost a Miracle, by John Ferling. A good book on the military side of the revolution. His portrayal of the disastrous British retreat from Lexington and Concord is chilling. 
  • A Leap in the Dark, also by Ferling. This is a political history on the intellectual background of the revolution. Not so much action on the battlefield, but political intrigue instead.
  • Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free, by Ferling. I just started this one. It looks to be a broad overview of the movement from resistance to outright declaration of independence. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Greg Long's picture

Don't forget 1776 by David McCullough.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Mark_Smith's picture

Chip:   I didn't say that the founders justified the Revolution based off of subjectivism or Romans 13. They had a lot of reasons, many of them from secular reasoning and sources of philosophy.

JohnE: I never said that the justification for the Revolution is based off of "feelings".

 

What I did say is that while God tells us to obey authority because He places it in power, He clearly also has the power to have other men rise up to replace or modify the government. I suggest that the evidence of Providence from the time of the Revolution and our ability to see from 230 years later lets us see that there was some divine intervention to help the cause of America's founding. I AM NOT suggesting that America is a perfect nation or a godly one! Just that it is clear that the rebels had no business winning that war...yet they did. The hand of Providence is all over it.

Sometimes we over-react to charismaticism by neglecting the obvious power of God to directly influence events. I am not saying that God pulled an overt miracle like He did when He freed Israel, but it is clear that He was acting nonetheless. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I probably would have stayed loyal to the British as well. I have private reservations about a lot of what this country is doing, but do not let them bother me too much unless our country's actions violate Biblical principles. That means, were I alive in the later half of the 18th century, I would have privately griped about taxation by the British, but endured it and spent my energies worrying about the Gospel. 

That also means my life would have been pretty uncomfortable. If I'd lived in Boston, I would have moved . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

What if King George III had had all his marbles?

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have read a good deal about the Revolutionary War. I have also read a whole bunch of source documents from the Colonial perspective (e.g. a whole lot of the popular pamphlets, etc.). I do not think the Colonists had a legit case for rebellion. I'm all for it now, of course, because it's a done deal. However, I think the rebellion was wrong and unjustified on balance - there's certainly no Biblical justification. We're strangers and pilgrims here while we wait for Christ's return. This isn't our home; we have heavenly citizenship.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

I always suspected you were a Tory spy in the US Navy Wink

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

TylerR wrote:

I have read a good deal about the Revolutionary War. I have also read a whole bunch of source documents from the Colonial perspective (e.g. a whole lot of the popular pamphlets, etc.). I do not think the Colonists had a legit case for rebellion. I'm all for it now, of course, because it's a done deal. However, I think the rebellion was wrong and unjustified on balance - there's certainly no Biblical justification. We're strangers and pilgrims here while we wait for Christ's return. This isn't our home; we have heavenly citizenship.  

Tyler,

Go back an look at my previous post. I fall within the camp that believes there was a biblical justification for the rebellion of the colonists. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

 

TylerR wrote:

 

I have read a good deal about the Revolutionary War. I have also read a whole bunch of source documents from the Colonial perspective (e.g. a whole lot of the popular pamphlets, etc.). I do not think the Colonists had a legit case for rebellion. I'm all for it now, of course, because it's a done deal. However, I think the rebellion was wrong and unjustified on balance - there's certainly no Biblical justification. We're strangers and pilgrims here while we wait for Christ's return. This isn't our home; we have heavenly citizenship.  

 

Tyler,

 

Go back an look at my previous post. I fall within the camp that believes there was a biblical justification for the rebellion of the colonists. When you understand this line f thought, it makes "We the people" much more signficant. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

TylerR wrote:

 

I have read a good deal about the Revolutionary War. I have also read a whole bunch of source documents from the Colonial perspective (e.g. a whole lot of the popular pamphlets, etc.). I do not think the Colonists had a legit case for rebellion. I'm all for it now, of course, because it's a done deal. However, I think the rebellion was wrong and unjustified on balance - there's certainly no Biblical justification. We're strangers and pilgrims here while we wait for Christ's return. This isn't our home; we have heavenly citizenship. 

 

Tyler,

Go back and look at my previous post. I fall within the camp that believes there was a biblical justification for the rebellion of the colonists. When you understand this line of thought, it makes "We the people" much more significant. 

 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Chip:

My problem is that your explanation sounds too simplistic. The justification for rebellion was taxation without representation. It was secular reasoning, no matter the theological garb it was dolled up with by the time Jefferson and Co. wrote the declaration.

  • I'm reading Ferling's book on the independence movement right now; Richard Lee was the man who actually introduced the resolution for independence, and he was a scheming political opportunist. 
  • I've read a lot of the pamphlets on the issue published and circulated during the time. I remember sitting in the library at Tacoma Community College, reading page after mind-numbing page where Colonists make the case that Parliament had no legal right to tax them without representation in that legislative body.
  • I remember reading Edmund Morgan's The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. This was not a theological issue; it was about money and politics. 
  • The theological gloss we see in the declaration of independence is just that - a shiny gloss that isn't real. 

I believe a whole lot of the piety we see in public documents of that age are just that - public piety without a whole lot of substance. I've read nothing to suggest that rebellion was primarily motivated by a theological understanding of government. The truth, like always, seems to be altogether more pragmatic - it was about money and politics. I'm not a historian, just a guy who likes to read history. I could be being led astray by secular historians, but I've read enough source documents from the period to think they're correct. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

have been theologically based to be ethical and "biblical"? Why can't God have moved the hearts of secular minded men to suit His purposes without them sinning? After all, Romans 13:1 says God establishes rulers. America DID separate from England. By definition, then, HE DID IT!

In parallel I wonder what people think a biblical grounds for rebellion would be. After all, all governments in the Bible are monarchial or just plain dictatorial. Paul wrote Romans when the Roman empire was ruling. So, is Europe, most of the Near East, and North Africa supposed to surrender their representative democracies (for the states that have them) to replace them for the ONLY legitimate governments which are the ones in place when Paul wrote Romans. I arrive at that since any government that is subsequent to the Roman empire is the result of rebellion, barbarian invasion, war, murder, or other political/social intrigue. Just how far are we supposed to go?

Rob Fall's picture

It's not much of a stretch to say "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft" is an axiom for most of SI's readership.  This causes some to reflexively take the Tory side in the Rising of '76, when the war is referred to as the American Revolution.  I believe a better perspective is to view the conflict as the Third (English) Civil War.  The first was the Civil War in which Charles I lost his head.  The second was the Glorious Revolution and the Risings of '15 and '45 in which the House of Stuart lost the crown.  At least back in the pre-Tea Party days, the soon to be Continentals saw their cause as protecting their rights as free born Englishmen.
 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

TylerR wrote:

Chip:

My problem is that your explanation sounds too simplistic. The justification for rebellion was taxation without representation. It was secular reasoning, no matter the theological garb it was dolled up with by the time Jefferson and Co. wrote the declaration.

  • I'm reading Ferling's book on the independence movement right now; Richard Lee was the man who actually introduced the resolution for independence, and he was a scheming political opportunist. 
  • I've read a lot of the pamphlets on the issue published and circulated during the time. I remember sitting in the library at Tacoma Community College, reading page after mind-numbing page where Colonists make the case that Parliament had no legal right to tax them without representation in that legislative body.
  • I remember reading Edmund Morgan's The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. This was not a theological issue; it was about money and politics. 
  • The theological gloss we see in the declaration of independence is just that - a shiny gloss that isn't real. 

I believe a whole lot of the piety we see in public documents of that age are just that - public piety without a whole lot of substance. I've read nothing to suggest that rebellion was primarily motivated by a theological understanding of government. The truth, like always, seems to be altogether more pragmatic - it was about money and politics. I'm not a historian, just a guy who likes to read history. I could be being led astray by secular historians, but I've read enough source documents from the period to think they're correct. 

Tyler,

You have the cart before the horse. Your premise is that the colonists rebelled because of taxes and then tried to cover their thinking in the garb of delegated authority. Actually, it was their philosophy of government as a power delegated by the people to the ruling powers (technically called the social contract theory) that led them to stand against the unconstitutional taxes they faced. The theory was derived from a specific understanding of Genesis 9, as I stated earlier, and fleshed out in the writing of John Locke. Here is an excerpt from wikipedia that summarizes the thought:

"Consent of the governed" is a phrase found in the United States Declaration of Independence.

Using thinking similar to that of English philosopher John Locke, the founders of the United States believed in a state built upon the consent of "free and equal" citizens; a state otherwise conceived would lack legitimacy and legal authority. This was expressed, among other places, in the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:[8]

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.

Notice the line, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed." Were there scheming political opportunists involved - surely the depravity of men is to be found all over human activity. But the primary thrust behind the Revolution, among both the leaders who sparked the issue and the common folk who supported it, was the social contract understanding of the form and function of government. When you go back to the Declaration of Independence, you find it dripping with this ideology. Here are some examples (emphasis added):

-- When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...

-- ...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,...

-- ...it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government...

-- ...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States...

The social contract theory was also the primary influence, understood as a biblical concept, behind the forming of our Constitution (hence the opening line, "We the people"). Certainly some Christians reject the assertion that the Bible teaches the social contract theory, but it cannot be denied as the primary force behind the founders' thinking. I personally believe Genesis 9 presents the founding of human government as a social contact and that Romans 13 must be understood in light of this founding statement, not in contrast to it which is why I have been teaching it in my history classes for almost 20 years now.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I understand now you are a history teacher, have been teaching this for a while. You may not have the time (or willingness) to indulge me in a discussion board on an issue you have studied so thoroughly, but here are a few of my concerns:

#1:

You wrote:

Actually, it was their philosophy of government as a power delegated by the people to the ruling powers (technically called the social contract(link is external) theory) that led them to stand against the unconstitutional taxes they faced.

  • To me, that seems like a gloss. It sums things up nicely, but I just have a hard time accepting that the common man in the street cared that much about the social contract theory of government. I read about Samuel Adams' propaganda machine, and the scheming opportunism of Richard Lee and I have to wonder how pious and noble the leader's intentions were?
  • How much of popular sentiment merely reflected the shifting attitudes of the day towards England? A good spin-doctor can turn people any which way he wants. I think the colonies, particularly Boston (which one contemporary British official label "that cradle of sedition") were simply a melting pot of anti-English sentiment in the aftermath of the taxes levied after the French & Indian War. These sentiments were quickly fanned into open hostility by (1) a shrewd propaganda machine and (2) for pragmatic reasons.  

#2:

Even if the social contract theory was a legitimate driving force (and I'm sure you could direct me to literature that says it is), that doesn't demonstrate that the rebellion was still legitimate. I still remember taking a class at community college on the Revolution, and thinking, "If I were British back then, I'd have been all for whipping the colonists back into line." England was reeling with debt after the French & Indian War, and what else were they supposed to do but raise taxes? I would have! It makes perfect sense. Now, you can argue that they went about it in a bumbling way (and their frequent turnover of governments didn't help either), but England's motives weren't malevolent and cruel. 

Conclusion:

I don't want to go on, and I'll stop with this. I just think we're reading a bit too much of a gloss over past events. I just think the truth was much more dirty and complicated than attributing it all to the social contract theory of government. There are nostalgic glosses on every period; for example:

  • I tend to think of the 1950's as a prim, proper and happier time. The men wore hats and suits. The wives wore dresses and baked pies at home. The children all smiled and called their parents "Sir" and "Ma'am." This gloss has been reinforced by stereotypes and movies, and I have a hard time getting away from it. It wasn't a perfect time, and it wasn't quaint like I imagine it was. 
  • We tend to think of WW2 generation as the "greatest generation." They fought for their country and were patriotic to the core. They bled red, white and blue. My grandfather served in the Navy in WW2. He told me, "I went . . . because I got drafted." Sure, men went for patriotism. But, a whole lot of men went because they had to and just wanted to go home. 

I am just naturally cynical about reading pious motives back into history. I just don't think it was so simple. I just can't get away from the idea that I think the British were justified in doing every single thing they did to the colonists. If I were a Brit back then, I would have been furious with the colonies and supported every measure 100%. 

This is a good discussion, and I'll be pondering it. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I'm at least mildly with the "independence" wing, because the authority in the British Empire was vested in law since the Magna Carta and arguably before--hence a king in rebellion against that law had in effect abdicated. 

Some things I will acknowledge; many of the Founders did not use this logic explicitly, so it's at least debatable whether many knew that there was a plausible Biblical explanation.  Also, it's worth noting that in Paul's time, the Roman republic had only recently become the Roman Empire--Paul famously appeals to his rights as a citizen in Acts 16, for example.  So Paul does counsel submission to rulers, presumably including emperors who had usurped the rights of the Senate, but at the same time Paul tells a rogue magistrate that he'd do well to make sure a prisoner isn't a citizen before flogging him.  

So while I fall on the "patriot" side, I acknowledge that there is at least cause for debate on whether the founders generally appealed to Blackstone's interpretations of the law, and whether this ought to empower Christians to reject rulers whose actions are lawless.  It might also be noted that Mr. "I have a pen and a phone" is a good reason for us to discuss this.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

mmartin's picture

Thought I'd bring some levity into this serious conversation.  :-)!

 

Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

TOP TEN REASONS THE BRITISH LOST THE COLONIES

10.  Hard to shoot straight with sissified powdered wig falling in your eyes.
  9.  Wanted to just lose New Jersey but got carried away.
  8.  Colonists on steroids.
  7.  Spent too much time guessing who's gay in the royal family.
  6.  Their diet: tea and crumpets.  Our diet: raw squirrel meat and whiskey.
  5.  Serious problems with snuff abuse.
  4.  Lots of painful poking accidents trying to put on those pointy hats of theirs.
  3.  We had Batman.
  2.  Wanted to get first draft choice.
  1.  Uninspiring battle cry: "Let's win this for our swishy inbred monarch!"

http://www.netfunny.com/rhf/jokes/92q4/colonies.html

 

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