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Confessions of a Submissive Rebel

Confessions of a Submissive Rebel

by Mike Duran · 29 comments

Jill-DomschotGuest blogger: Jill Domschot

I’ve often heard Christians use Romans 13:1 — 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 — as an excuse for complacency in the face of an authoritarian government.

It shouldn’t be news, at this point, that our government has taken regulation and security to an absurd level that even Iron Curtain countries were not capable of back in the day. When I originally began to write about this subject, I pulled up every Bible verse that discussed a believer’s responsibility to authority. I wasn’t surprised to discover that these verses on authority tend to cluster in the New Testament, but I needed to understand why.

I needed to understand because, well, I have a problem. I can’t deny it. I call myself an anti-authoritarian misanthrope on the bio page over at my blog. When I’m told to submit to “my” authorities (ostensibly by authorities), my soul cries out at the injustice of the command. I’m not the most powerless person to ever be given life on earth, but, as an invisible stay-at-home mother who never did manage to get past the gatekeepers of the publishing world, I’m powerless enough to acutely understand the injustice of the command.

Yet, I also can’t deny that I respect my true authorities with a sacred, almost religious reverence. Of course, you’ll recognize this as a paradox. But I’m okay with being an anti-authoritarian who respects authority. It’s my contention that this paradox exists as a necessary protection for powerless people. It upholds justice and, owing to that, is also fully present in the pages of Scripture.

First of all, I’d like to establish a biblical, historical understanding, so bear with me a minute. When the Israelites formed their nation under God—initially through rebelling against the Egyptian government—authority was an understood reality of the world. Therefore, Mosaic law spends more time regulating existing authority structures (e.g. patriarchy, slavery) than commanding that these systems must exist, or outlawing them altogether. At the same time, God through Moses established a new authority system of priests and judges that would act as spokespersons of God, as well as provide justice to those who wouldn’t normally have access to it: widows, orphans, strangers, and those who were accused of crimes.

In fact, directly before the Israelites are to occupy the Promised Land, Moses writes, “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land the LORD your God is giving you”(Deuteronomy 16). Despite the law’s emphasis on justice, the Old Testament historical accounts are rife with examples of prophets who were forced to rise up and rebel against unjust civil and/or religious authorities of the day because even God-ordained human authority figures will take advantage of their positions. Within Israel’s theocracy, God was always the highest authority. And He repeatedly made his opinion on the matter clear: God hates injustice.

But what does this mean for Christians today, and how do we reconcile this with the commands in the New Testament that we should submit to our earthly authority figures? It doesn’t take a genius to realize that submitting to authorities often means injustice will prevail. And why is the focus no longer on justice as a priority for God’s people? Essentially, I’m asking how we as Christians are to live with this paradox. In order to do so, it’s first necessary to understand why the emphasis changed from an undergirding of justice under the law, to Jesus being the fulfillment of that justice (see: Luke 4) to submitting to secular institutions.

In his act of sacrifice to set us free, Jesus fulfilled his father’s just laws. Christ replaced the priestly authorities, not just for Israel, but for all people who follow him. And that left the early Christians, mostly Israelites, at a loss. Jesus hadn’t restored Israel’s theocracy. He hadn’t led his people into battle or drawn them out from under the new “Egyptian” rule, as Moses had done. Instead, Christian converts everywhere were still oppressed or imprisoned by unjust worldly leaders.

For this reason, the apostles Paul and Peter had to encourage Christians to obey the government authorities that God, himself, allowed to exist. God’s people still had to pay their taxes and follow the local ordinances. Slaves still had to obey their masters; wives still had to obey their patriarchal husbands, even if they had no recourses under the law. The new covenant between God and his people wasn’t of a political nature. If any Christian nation existed, it was spiritual—a spiritual Israel, with God as her head, while living in secular political states.

This is a difficult truth to ponder: God wants us to live at peace, as far as is possible, with the society we live in. But, somehow, I don’t feel this peace inside. I don’t want to fund empire building. I don’t want to fund our military committing heinous acts, such as murdering innocent people with drone warfare. My soul rises up in rebellion at my government spying on me and my fellow American citizens. I’m disgusted by the heavy-handed regulations, which are almost unilaterally directed at powerless people, while the bailing out of the rich and powerful who commit actual crimes continues. I’m enraged at government institutions, such as child services, that operate as mavericks under their own system of law.

How am I — how are any of us — to reconcile this? How far are we to submit to our government authorities? If social workers from child services knock on our door, do we allow them to enter in order that we remain in subjection to the institutions that God has ordained? Do we allow them to take our children from us when we’ve done no wrong? While I still possess an almost sacred respect for those above me, I have no respect for government institutions that misuse their authority, who operate outside the law, or who step outside their designated spheres and demand compliance where none is due.

Here is the crux of my problem: Greater than my respect for government is my God-influenced ideal of justice. My earthly authorities will let me down. It’s inevitable that they’ll work injustice, oppress the weak, and take advantage of the poor. Christianity may not have a national identity, but God is still the highest authority, regardless of who is temporarily in control of human society. Paul may have said in his letter to the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” And Peter may have agreed when he wrote, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” But Peter and the apostles proclaimed in the book of Acts, “We must obey God and not man.”

You see, there is no paradox. Despite our citizenship in secular states, God is still the highest authority. His power trumps all earthly institutions. And, as we learn from the Old Testament writings, God hates injustice.

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Jill Domschot writes speculative novels with a Gothic flair, as well as odd short stories and philosophical memoirs. Anna and the Dragon is her debut novel. You can find out more about Jill and her current writing projects at her website.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

billgncs July 15, 2013 at 5:37 AM

but we are the government – by the people, of the people, for the people.

They are not our kings, they are our employees. In this case we are on the road to becoming serfs to a class of elites with no authority other than what they usurp.

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sheilahollinghead July 15, 2013 at 6:16 AM

Just what I was going to say. This is something I have struggled with until I had an aha moment. “We the people…” When the government we elected tramples on our rights, it is no longer “We the people.” Another thing to consider are state rights:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791
And so, to whom do we submit?

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 7:26 AM

Please don’t make the mistake of believing that all Christians are Americans, though.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 7:34 AM

….except that it’s been a while since I wrote this, and I realized I was addressing Americans. But the question broadens to all Christianity.

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Patrick Todoroff July 15, 2013 at 7:08 AM

The only way I could ever reconcile the command to submit with the higher demand to honor God first, combined with the abuses and errors in both church and secular history is to recognize God sets up authority structure but people don’t always fill those offices in the way/spirit God intended. I try to respect authority even when I don’t agree. ( I don’t always succeed.)

That said, I don’t think disagreeing/discerning error is traitorous or rebellion. In fact, there’s a huge difference between ‘mocking your father’s nakedness’ and praising the emperor’s new clothes. I have to decide if/when I cross the line into being complicit and enabling error, then ask God about my response and responsibilities before Him in each particular situation. All the while hanging on to the fact this life is a vapor and his rule is just, his kingdom eternal.

(*whew* that one’s been brewing a while)

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Not In The Clique July 15, 2013 at 6:31 PM

Complacency and enabling when it comes to respecting authority. How do you respect authority as God commands without being so complacent and enabling that you become a stench that reaches to high heaven because you now are “parly” with the perverters of judgment and righteousness?

I am not saying this of you. I struggle with this everyday because everyday I deal with authority figures who stink to high heaven because of their perverting of righteousness and judgment.

I recently read through the book of Esther and in chapter 4:13-14 KJV it states:

“Then Mordecai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14 KJV

When God made Nebuchanezzar to conquer Jerusalem and take the people captive, some of the many people were Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abadnego. They submitted to and served as slaves to Babylon as God commanded through Jeremiah, but they were not complacent nor were they enabling as we read about:

1) refusing to eat the kings meat and wanting only pulse

2)when we read that Daniel willingly disobeyed the kings order by continuing to pray to God with the window open for everyone to see which resulted in being thrown in the lions den

3)when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abadnego were thrown in the fiery furnace for their disobedience to the kings authority.

I admire all of them, Esther, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abadnego, and many many others in the KJV Holy Bible who respected authority due to their love and obedience to God but they also knew God does not pervert judgment and they were bold to stand up to wicked authority. God was number 1 in their life and they were not willing to let that authority come between them and God.

David willingly fought Goliath because while, no doubt, Goliath easily could destroy all of Israel, David took a stand for God, and God rewarded David by making Davids aim a success.

Also, in the New Testament we read about Pauls imprisonment and he makes mention in at least one letter if not more of his fellow prisoners like Junea. They were in prison for their Christian faith. They willingly took a stand for what was right knowing that their stand would result in execution.

In 1 Kings 3:5-10 Solomon prayed to the Lord for an “understanding heart to judge” in order to “discern between good and bad”. Pray for me that I will be that pleasing to the Lord.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 7:28 PM

You bring up an important point. If we follow God and not man, we will have to be willing to face the consequences. Ironically, the entire idea of Jesus, who did no wrong, sacrificing himself for evildoers, is terribly unjust. And yet that is our example. He defied his unjust authorities and then died a criminal’s death.

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Jessica Thomas July 15, 2013 at 7:14 AM

As always, Jill, you leave much to ponder. I agree, it’s clear that God hates injustice. What’s not always clear is God’s definition of justice. Many parts of the Old Testament seem shockingly unjust, such as when God tells the Israelites to go and kill everyone including the women and children. Why the women and children? I don’t understand it, nor do I like it. But I do have confidence that God has a plan and he knows best, so I revert to that as my default position.

In this day, we are faced with circumstances that seem unjust to human eyes. With postmodernism blending the line between right and wrong, and in some cases erasing it all together, it’s difficult for the Christian to discern when to stand up against the authorities versus when to submit. I struggle with this on a micro level every day at work. I can only hope/pray that when injustice (based on God’s definition) looks me in the face, I have the wisdom and courage to stand against it.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 7:29 PM

You bring up a subject I didn’t want to….

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Jim Hamlett July 16, 2013 at 8:09 AM

I’m not fond of the subject either (some of the “injustice” in the OT). The only place I can find understanding is in remembering that He is the Creator, we are the created. The potter has every right to do as He pleases, the clay has none. We are left (happily, I add) to trust in His judgment.

Still, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

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C.L. Dyck July 15, 2013 at 8:51 AM

Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know several Christians who are refugees from African and Asian war zones–the Congo, etc. Bad, bad stuff has happened to them.

I tend to think that our North American white middle-class sense of (in)justice is as relative as any postmodernist’s.

That’s not to say that our authority structures aren’t just as subject to corruption as any human system–it’s the way of our kind. But as one of my friends said, upon arriving in Canada, the spiritual challenge was that all of Babylon was laid out before him for the taking, like grapes on the vine. It was a challenge he’d never faced before, and it took him years to learn to act justly toward the people he met and with regard to the sumptuousness that we’re immersed in.

So perhaps if we want to walk justly, our first calling as North American Christians is similar to that of Laodicea: to become aware of our own blindness, and to recognize the faults in our understanding of sufficiency and freedom.

As Jill said, Christianity doesn’t have a national identity. But we do, as human beings, and human culture is worth protecting–our Burmese friends regularly pray their gratitude to God that He has allowed them to keep their culture and language in the face of genocide. Wherever we are, it’s our calling to value the earthly blessings with a heavenward perspective.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 9:52 AM

The problem, of course, with us is that we are wealthy. We’re not starving. We don’t fear for our lives when we walk out the door. But that is no reason to become complacent with the injustices that do happen. I don’t know much about Canadian government violations, but US violations occur both inside and outside our borders. Perhaps what is more likely is that a refugee from another country will acutely feel the injustice of his new American neighbor who has just lost his children to Child Services due to an anonymous tipper, or his neighbor who was arrested because she asked a police officer a simple question. Perhaps a refugee will feel the injustice more than we do because we’re well-fed and complacent and we don’t recognize what’s occurring.

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Patrick Todoroff July 15, 2013 at 11:02 AM

Wealth? You mean our love of wealth and exaltation of material comfort, right?

Perhaps the refugee is more sensitive. Or perhaps they wonder what we’re all upset about. After all, they’ve gone from death, threats, starvation and rampant corruption to MacDonalds, high-speed broadband, low monthly lease rates, and the Mall of America.

I think our insulation and affluence skews our sense of injustice out of proportion. Furor over celebrity, top-of-the-news cycle (or personal or minor) dramas command our attention while long-term erosion continues unchecked, even unnoticed. In a short-attention span, media-saturated, consumer culture, we’re champs at majoring in the minors.

You know, sometimes I look at the national debt clock, consider the implications, and shudder.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Once, when I wondered why we all so complacently allowed the TSA to search our baggage and strip search us either electronically (or physically if we were singled out), made us remove our shoes and separated us from our children in the airport search lines, I looked up at a an ad for great food and cocktails on the other end of the flight. And I thought–that’s why. We’re not hungry. We have cocktails awaiting us. Yeah, I don’t consider myself rich. I live paycheck to paycheck. But I live in a 2000 sq ft home, have five computers, a dishwasher, etc. Granted, the computers were either scabbed together from parts or bought on clearance, but that’s part of the problem. We are still able to buy expensive products on clearance and we feel satisfied with ourselves. Yeah, I shudder, too.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 11:48 AM

My comment I just wrote went into moderation, and I’m sure it will be posted at some point, but it really has nothing to do with the subject in my article. It is another subject altogether–complacency in the face of (perceived) injustice. I can’t help thinking, though, that if we accept injustice for ourselves, we’ll accept it for others as well, or just turn our heads when it’s happening.

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C.L. Dyck July 15, 2013 at 12:55 PM

Patrick said: “Perhaps the refugee is more sensitive. Or perhaps they wonder what we’re all upset about.”

Well, I think when one is embroiled in the political problems of one’s home country, one doesn’t worry too much about the politics of the exile country unless they’re blatantly of the same severity. The USA and Canada are perceived as sanctuaries.

As to living here, a couple of stories have jumped out at me. One was the invitation for some of the newly-arrived families to send their kids to summer camp. But their understanding of the word “camp” was refugee interment and detainment, so to them it was initially a frightening question, not a fun one.

We go “roughing it” in shared cabins or tents without full plumbing and sanitation for the fun of it, to get away from the complications of our wealth-accumulation habits. Most of us have no sensitivity to what memories or associations that might bring up for most of the world’s people. Their hardship is North America’s recreation, to be picked up and discarded for our entertainment.

Nothing wrong with getting back to nature. It’s just that we have an ingrained ingratitude for our comforts. We treat them like gravity, like a law of the universe that’s always there to keep us rooted. That surely affects our ability to perceive the nature of justice and mercy.

It’s God’s mercy we live here, and at yet the same time, justice asks us to protect the good aspects of the culture into which God has placed us. Seeing how my international friends worship, I firmly believe God rejoices in human culture even as He rejects our corruption of human rights, freedoms and personal sanctity.

Jill said: “Perhaps what is more likely is that a refugee from another country will acutely feel the injustice of his new American neighbor who has just lost his children to Child Services due to an anonymous tipper, or his neighbor who was arrested because she asked a police officer a simple question. Perhaps a refugee will feel the injustice more than we do because we’re well-fed and complacent and we don’t recognize what’s occurring.”

No “perhaps” about it:

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/columnists/it-was-like-an-abduction-139567308.html

This is the church we visit. Yes, absolutely yes, as Christians we don’t submit blindly to the system, and we do stand up against injustice from authorities.

Blind submission is a form of religious legalism. “It was for freedom that Christ set you free: Therefore do not go on being subject to a yoke of slavery.”

How can we preach that God is loving and trustworthy if we ignore need and suffering? It’s not enough to say, “Go in peace, be warmed and fed,” and yet do nothing for it.

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Bob Avey July 15, 2013 at 10:59 AM

Excellent points being made by all within this post. I think Jill has posed a valid concern, which many of us have been nurturing. To put it crudely, I often fear we citizens are like proverbial frogs in boiling water. Let’s just hope we realize we’re being boiled to death before it’s too late.

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R. L. Copple July 15, 2013 at 12:06 PM

I’ve always understood those verses by Paul and Peter to be general principles. Too often we take verses as absolute commands that are not meant to be that way. So to me, it doesn’t say, “Never oppose one in authority,” but, “In as much as possible, obey an authority.” IOW, pick your fights carefully, and make sure they are worth standing up for in the grand scheme of things.

John Chrysostom, patriarch of Constantinople, for instance, was exiled more than once for not obeying the demands of the emperor at the time.

The tricky part is in knowing when I personally should or should not pick that fight. Even Jesus obeyed the authorities and paid taxes (by an unusual means I wish I could duplicate). I doubt He approved all that the Romans were doing with that money. But that wasn’t an injustice He felt would be corrected by rebelling.

But I think the key difference is Paul and Peter’s obvious context to “keep the peace” rather than “serve.” We serve God, but we keep the peace with secular authorities in as much as possible in order to be a good witness. That doesn’t mean, however, that obeying the secular authorities won’t at times conflict with obeying God. It is obvious in that situation, who we should obey.

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D.M. Dutcher July 15, 2013 at 2:15 PM

I always thought it was more “don’t be lawless or engage in armed rebellion.” To be honest, I think “justice” is a waste of time, because we aren’t a Christian nation; we can’t even argue or make policy based on or as the outflow of our own religious beliefs. Instead, people hitch their wagons to whatever secular movement is closest to the things they value most: libertarianism, liberalism, social conservatism, etc. Most of the OT was speaking to a specific nation that had shared religious beliefs to a point we’d find exclusionary, and usually the first thing that was told to do was to repent and seek God. Justice was to rebuild the temple, and follow our first commandments. But with few occasions, it was mostly directed to the people of God.

I think we’re more like Daniel in that we live under a benign leadership that has the potential to flare into hostility, and Daniel didn’t go arguing for social justice; he did the best job he could, and trusted in God to deliver him. Sometimes when we borrow the secular world’s ideology, even for a good cause, we wind up having to deal with their philosophy too. That leads to situations we can’t reconcile to the faith.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 3:27 PM

Justice was not relegated to the building of the temple. Justice was defined as helping the poor, the fatherless, the widows, the strangers, and those who were convicted of crimes. And God’s people were to uphold it, not sit back and claim that God would help the weak. If God hated injustice in the Old Testament–and he said he did over and over–he hates it still, despite that Christians live in secular states. Therefore, we should still be defending those who are most prone to suffering injustices. Frankly, I’m not certain what you’re calling “the secular world’s ideology.”

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Katherine Coble July 15, 2013 at 4:41 PM

Oh for goodness sake.

If “justice” is a waste of time, please explain Micah 6:8 to me:

He has shown thee, O man, What is good and what the LORD requires of thee. To do JUSTLY, to love mercy, to walk humbly with thy God.

“Oh, silly Bible! You’re telling me to waste my time!”

To do justly was to have a fair and honest government free of corruption. Seeing as the temple hadn’t been destroyed yet it had nothing to do with the temple.

As to your assertion that “most of the the OT was speaking to a specific nation that had shared religious beliefs” …that’s just patently false. They, much like Christ-followers, had a relationship with the Lord in the past that was often overshadowed by secularism, worshiping of false idols of neighbouring countries, etc. In fact you’ll find that much of historic Israel is pretty darn comparable to our lives right now.

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D.M. Dutcher July 15, 2013 at 7:05 PM

That verse tells us to do what is right, but this isn’t an external thing; the problem was that God’s people had forgotten His commands. If you read Kings and Chronicles, usually the bad kings did that first; maybe they put the Asherah poles back up, or worshiped strange gods, or what have you. Josiah’s reforms for example were detailed in 2 ki 23, and they mostly were getting rid of all the pagan gods that the people worshiped. Mostly, right relationship with God/repentance/then obeying the mosaic law.

The secular focus on justice though simply ignores this. We’re trying to fix problems for people who don’t know God and don’t accept the moral law we live by, and base their decisions on various secular political philosophies if not just their own whims. When God told Israel to be just, they knew how to do so-the Law. But there’s nothing uniting us without God, and justice seems to be devolving into competing ideologies where nothing gets solved past a certain point. Heck, even the idea of natural law isn’t there any more. I don’t think we can champion justice without people first sharing what justice is.

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Jill July 15, 2013 at 8:18 PM

I understand what you’re saying. But I still believe we can and must champion justice. Not all our efforts will be successful. Take Thoreau, for example (who wasn’t even a Christian as far as I know). He refused to pay his taxes to support the Mexican War because he believed it to be an unjust war. He was willing to go to jail for this, and his efforts were futile. Later, though, he helped slaves to freedom through the underground railroad, and his efforts were small, but successful. And slavery was eventually outlawed, such that slavery, to this day, has gone underground/outside our borders because it’s considered unjust. Perhaps I’m being simplistic in my outlook, but I can’t help it. The world is an overwhelmingly evil place.

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Nike Chillemi July 21, 2013 at 6:27 AM

I visited the former Soviet Union (USSR) before it’s collapse. I was in my early 20s and along with my parents and brother to help my mother fulfill a deathbed promise to my maternal grandmother. My mom had promised to bring my grandmother’s sister a pink flowing gown that my grandmother’s sister would wear as her funeral garb. This garment could not be mailed as it would’ve been stolen from the box by postal inspectors. Yes, in the former USSR all mail from a foreign country was opened and inspected. My grandmother quickly learned that words/terms like “freedom” “making money” “new house and/or car” would be blacked out. You always had to put something really good into the box for the inspectors and then hoped the rest would get through. They didn’t monitor phone calls from dissidents and political opponents. They simply denied them the right to possess a phone. Is the USA going in that direction where the elites who run things and who are not subject to the rules are the ones who graduate from leftist universities and govern at the top…and where government bureaucrats who have landed government jobs then steal from the middle? Leaving the rest in subjugation? It seems so. In that environment, Christianity will become a crime against the state for there can be no higher authority than the state.

I vividly recall my mom’s cousin Stephan, a man in his 40s who looked in his 60s. He’s just been released from a 10 sentence in the gulag in Siberia. What was his crime. Well my mon’s family is Ukrainian and Stephan was a grade school teacher. He insisted on teaching Ukrainian folks stories to the children in the Ukrainian language. He hoped to keep the Ukrainian language alive and he was a Christian and picked his stories with definite moral underpinnings. This was against official school policy. I met a broken man who had been stripped of his teaching license. He and his family had not been given papers to obtain an apartment and the family was split up and living with other relatives. They had not obtained working papers either so they had to be supported by the meager wages of other family members. None of them had good jobs as the family was suspected of secretly being Christian. Stephan and his wife did have hopes of soon obtaining papers to obtain menial jobs and then after that they hoped to get a room in a rooming house so the family could be together in that one room.

Americans are so complacent. They don’t understand the relentless maneuvering of the left to reshape society. The left says it’s for the common good, but the good of the common man only falls lower under socialism. What in actuality happens is the elites line their own pockets. You can see this in the life style the Obama’s flaunt. This is exactly how it was in the USSR. Obama is showing us what it will be like but many don’t want to see.

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Jill July 21, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Sadly, I’m afraid you’re right. But many people are willing to see what’s going on. I’ve even seen a trend for my friends on the left to realize Obama and the democratic party just do not represent them any longer. I think that’s a very important realization.

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Nike Chillemi July 21, 2013 at 9:47 PM

I hope and pray your are right. I also hope all and I mean all who are right of center vote against this oppression in the mid-term elections. I hope there is a huge upset.

That to me means throwing out Republicans who have become corporatists and who simply want to manage the ever expanding bureaucracy.

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Jill July 22, 2013 at 8:31 AM

I hope and pray, too, Nike!

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sheilahollinghead July 22, 2013 at 6:30 AM

Wow, Nike. Thanks for sharing. I do hope we wake up before it’s too late.

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