Dethroning evil, Part 2

September 30th, 2020

In the first post on this subject a few days ago, I voiced my conviction that the November election is ultimately about dethroning evil.*  It is not about Donald Trump losing and Joe Biden winning (though that is a necessary component in the dethronement), it is the casting of votes in local, state, and federal races in ways that restore the soul of our nation, which I summarize as a commitment to the common good. By our votes, we must choose people committed to serving the aims of that goodness and legislating in ways that bring it to pass.

Life in Christ

In the mission to dethrone evil, we are in sync with Jesus and with everyone who has labored for justice (i.e. equity, fairness, inclusion) before and after him. In the first post I used Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12 to emphasize that Christian resistance is not against people per se, but rather it is an opposition to “rulers and authorities, “who have become agents of fallen-world thinking and living (i.e. imperialism). It is resistance to those who have sold their souls to “forces of cosmic darkness and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens” — that is (as Richard Rohr describes it), to the collective, corporation mindset which elevates the few at the expense of the many through various eugenic and exclusionary means. 

Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12 provide the motive for Christian resistance — what I am calling the dethronement of evil. That was the focus of the first post. But the verse exists in the larger context of Ephesians 6:10-20, which set forth two additional things: the mindset and methodology of our resistance. Paul uses the garb of the Roman soldier to teach both things.⁑ In this post, I explore three aspects of the mindset. In the next post, I will examine the sevenfold methodology that Paul commends. 

First, he shows the problem is serious. The presence of soldiers in a place is an indication of threat. Timothy Brown describes it as “ the malevolent intent of our adversary.”⁂ It is the malevolence enthroned in too much of our political system today which must be resisted and overcome to the greatest extent possible through the use of nonviolent action.

Paul’s tone cancels out two things we often hear in times of crisis. The first is, “The church should not be involved in politics.” Paul’s jaw would drop if he heard a Christian say this. As accounts in the Book of Acts reveal (along with comments in his letters), he was up to his eyeballs in politics. But more, he followed Jesus who was crucified because he opposed the imperialist system (a collusion of state and religion, as it always is), as did subsequent disciples who were dragged into court (e.g. Acts 4:1-23), and sometimes martyred (Hebrews 11:36-37). The church cannot be the church and be aloof from politics because life is political. But note — in the context of Paul’s words it is a call to be political in a counter-cultural way when the culture is evil. In such times, we put on the full armor of God.

The second toxic mantra is, “Things are bad. But they have been bad before. They will get better. They always do.” This way of thinking uses history as a way to justify “keeping quiet” and not “rocking the boat.” It is a mantra that breeds passivity. And more, it is ignorance — a way of overlooking that even though things often do get better, they never do so magically. Things only get better when people speak and act to make them so — when they labor to overcome evil with good. To voice this second phrase is to insult the saints who have rolled up their sleeves and given their lives to resist evil. Instead of being passive, we must say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” In such times, we put on the full armor of God.

Second, Paul reveals that the power to overcome evil with good is grace. Every item of the soldier’s gear was provided to them; it did not arise from them. They are able to fight because they have been given the means to do so.

One of the things I have learned from studying nonviolence, and from having friends much more involved in resistance than I am is this: the greatest mistake we can make is to work from the base of our own resources.♦  The way Paul illustrated Christian resistance by using the Ronan soldier is his testimony to the necessity of grace in the dethronement of evil.

In the ensuing Christian tradition, the grace to resist (using the contemplation/action combo) came to be described as the works of piety and the works of mercy.☉ The works of piety form our character; the works of mercy shape our conduct. Taken together, they provide the grace to resist evil and overcome it with good.

Third, Paul teaches us that there must be confession. By calling for resistance, Paul was being honest. The culture of his day did not reflect the will of God. He made this confession against the backdrop of theocracy — the Roman empire, where Caesar was declared to be a god, and his laws were deemed divine. To this fallen-world way of thinking, Paul has an implied two-word response, “Not so!”

It is what our response must be today whenever rulers and authorities become so full of themselves that they get “too big for their britches” and come to believe (and work to deceive others into believing) that they are the bringers of “the light and the glory.”

Against this lie, we bring Paul’s two-word confession, “Not so.” Honesty is the only way to dethrone evil. And with respect to our nation it is having the courage to confess that we have lived with a sanitized version of history — one that is Aryan in perspective, with the ensuing harms that come when prejudice prevails. In our day, we must confess that “liberty and justice for all” has never been fully realized, and that “law and order” has been a slogan defined and used by those in power to remain in power.

The dethronement of evil requires a mindset — a disposition of heart and an intention of will. Paul provides it, if we are willing to receive it and put it into practice.


* I see the need for the dethronement of evil even more strongly following the death of Justice Ginsburg, as I watch in stunned (but not surprised) amazement to see how brazen Mitch McConnell and others are being in their insistence on choosing a replacement while Donald Trump is president — a hypocritical reversal of themselves when President Obama faced the same situation. Their rush to choose a new Justice is a clear indication that they have sold heir souls to the preservation of power which is fueled by their nationalist (fascist) agenda, even though they do not represent the majority of Americans. Ironically, their shamelessness is a sign that they fear they will lose control of the Senate, so (to use the words of Jesus to Judas) they must do quickly what they seek to do.

⁑ In using the equipment of the Roman soldier, Paul was not commending violence. He accepted Jesus’ teaching that if we use the sword, we will die by it (Matthew 26:52). He knew that the kingdom of God would not come by force (Matthew 11:22)—something Christians after him forgot and/or ignored. He used the dress of Roman soldiers because people saw them everyday. They were Paul’s “ show-and-tell” illustrations to teach Christian nonviolent resistance. 

The Life with God Bible (HarperOne, 2005), note for Ephesians 6:13-17.

♦ Gandhi, King, Day, Lawson, Lewis, Romero, Rohr, Dear, Charleston, Holmes, and many others teach that action (of the kind we are describing) can only occur through contemplation. To bear the fruit we must first have the root. Without this, we “labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1), and we will eventually fall prey to burnout and cynicism. Henri Nouwen wrote about the contemplation/action link in his book Gracias which describes his time with Christians in Latin America who were having to resist evil every day.

☉In the Wesleyan tradition, these are referred to as the instituted and prudential means of grace. Taken together, the means of grace create and sustain holiness of heart (inward piety) and life (outward mercy).

Steve Harper is the author of For the Sake of the Bride and Five Marks of a Methodist. He blogs at Oboedire.

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