“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” — James Madison, New York, February 1, 1788. The Federalist (373).“But one of the things that I’ll be emphasizing in this meeting is the fact that we are not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help that they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone.” Barack Obama, Washington D.C., January 14, 2014.
The President of the United States has challenged the Congress of the United States on repeated occasions by invoking executive power to enact social initiatives that would otherwise require the legislation of a representative government. At the very least, he is testing the Constitutional limits of his office. But at the worst, he has overstepped the boundaries of discretion and given the appearance of a repugnant, presumptuous license by assuming powers not granted. The latest episode leaves him vulnerable to the charge of a Federalist-style tyranny. One can understand the critique given Madison’s clear statement on the matter and then taking Obama’s words, context and repeated offense.
As a pastor, I would advise the President that continually pressing the “executive order” card is neither helpful nor endearing. The country and the Congress do not need the appearance of raw power grabs. Strength is more easily born by one who is comfortable in exercising authority.
The President has not had experience in command authority and I am afraid that it is showing. His words and actions reveal the actions of a man who governs by insecurity rather than vision. There was a king who ruled like this. His name was Saul. We know that his rule was finally cut off by the Lord because of his assumption of authority unto himself. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say, as our Founding Fathers well knew, about representative government and about the division of labor and rebellion against authority. One of the more famous lines is from 1 Samuel where God equates rebellion against authority with divination, an evil practice that led to the breakdown of societies all around Israel. Look at what God says about assuming powers unto oneself:
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23 AV).
Indeed, the New Testament, also, underscores the importance of the lines of authority. St. Paul wrote to Titus, a “church planter” at Crete and told him that he was to “put in order the things that remain, appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5). Other places in Scripture are filled with admonitions concerning the importance of government and the sad state that comes to leader and people when government breaks down.
It is not just that the President is going to have bad poll numbers because of assuming powers to himself. It is not just that Washington will have “gridlock” if the President persists in violating the lines of authority (whether Constitutional or not attorneys can reckon, but an American like myself can clearly recognize, at minimum, a messy blurring of the line at our highest levels of government). It is that if the President of the United States continues to buck the authority of the Constitution, he would lose the blessing of God. That would mean our nation could suffer further trials and tribulations.
It is good that we all remember the teaching of the Bible on governmental power contained in the single greatest book on the subject by the Puritan Samuel Rutherford: Lex, Rex, or The Law and the Prince; a Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People (1644). Rutherford answered the question, “What does a human government look like that is based upon Biblical precepts?” In 44 questions and answers he tells us. His summary for those who rule?
“Power is a birthright of the people borrowed [by a ruler] from them.”—Samuel Rutherford.
This is our heritage as Americans. Let no man move the sacred stone of that heritage of the Free.
Mr. President, since I doubt I will have the opportunity to counsel you privately or to speak to those clergy who do, I plead with you and your counselors, publicly, to guard your hearts and your words. Model a spirit of humility before authority. You will not only demonstrate leadership, you will secure divine blessing for yourselves and Providential protection for those who have loaned you the power to govern.
Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, John Jay, and John C. Hamilton. The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States: A Collection of Essays. Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 1998. Print.
Rutherford, Samuel. Lex, Rex The Law and the Prince. A Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People. Published by Authority. London: Printed for ohn Field, and Are to Be Sold at His House upon Addle-hill, Neer Baynards-Castle, 1644. Print.