Just in case you were in need of more reasons to have trouble sleeping at night, consider this: The North Koreans are saber-rattling over nuclear weapons, and one of the men advising President Donald J. Trump on the matter is a Christian fundamentalist pastor who believes the biblical book of Romans gives Trump the authority to “take out” North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
Trump stated recently that if North Korea keeps behaving in a threatening manner, it will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” (Yes, a nuclear confrontation would tend to be dramatic.) Many in the political world are alarmed that international relations are being conducted at the level of playground taunts on steroids, especially given the high stakes, but in Texas, Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, insists that Trump is on solid biblical ground.
Referring to a passage in Romans 13, Jeffress said, “When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary – including war – to stop evil,” Jeffress said. “In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong Un.”
Trump evangelical adviser Robert Jeffress believes the Bible authorizes a U.S. attack on North Korea.
There’s a lot to say about this. First off, we must confront the obvious: Religious scripture is notoriously open to interpretation. The same Book of Romans that Jeffress says gives Trump authority to attack North Korea also warns people not to “repay evil for evil.” Jeffress gets around this by insisting that the passage refers to individuals, not governments. Of course, that’s just his interpretation. Other Christians feel differently. Government has no right picking one interpretation over another and using it to justify policy; after all, our nation is a constitutional republic, not a theocracy.
Secondly, there’s the question of context. Scholars believe the Book of Romans was written during the middle of the First Century, a time when wars were fought with things like short swords, spears and chariots. While battles were vicious, no army had the ability to obliterate the rest of the world. Times have changed. That’s just one reason why we don’t base government policy today on religious texts from long ago (aside from the obvious fact that – see above – we’re not a theocracy).
Finally, no one at any level of government should be listening to Jeffress because the man is an extremist who simply has no respect for the American traditions of religious diversity and religious freedom. In 2011, Jeffress got in hot water for attacking the Mormon faith of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, calling it a “cult.” Under criticism, he refused to back down. In fact, he later added Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism to his list of “false” religions and has even called the Catholic Church a “cult-like pagan religion.” Far from being a pariah, Jeffress is a member of Trump’s evangelical inner circle and spoke at his inauguration. He doesn’t seem to understand that the U.S. is not a theocracy. (Do you sense a pattern here?)
And for all of his talk about biblical values, Jeffress operates under some slippery ethical standards. Jeffress first came to Americans United’s attention in 1998, when he was serving as pastor of a Baptist church in Wichita Falls. A member of his congregation was upset to find two LGBTQ-friendly kids’ books in a local public library and brought them to Jeffress. Jeffress confiscated the books and refused to return them. Where I come from, that is called “theft.” (Pastor Jeffress, please see Exodus 20:15.)
Jeffress, of course, is free to believe what he wants about how to interpret the Bible, other faiths and the people who hold beliefs that differ from his own. But when a man with such radical views has the ear of the president of the United States and is filling it with a fundamentalist spin on geo-politics, we ought to be alarmed.
North Korea is a rogue state that oppresses its people. The United States certainly has an interest in what kinds of weapons that unstable country can access. But our response must be carefully considered and not influenced by an intolerant fundamentalist pastor’s interpretation of a passage that was penned during a time when Emperor Nero was in power.
Otherwise, we’re all in for many more sleepless nights.