Before we get to leaders generally, let’s talk about you leading you. Individual self-government is the foundation of all governmental units in society. I begin with self-government because without people controlling themselves, there will either be anarchy or tyranny. If all of us first pay attention to governing ourselves, then other forms of government in society will be just.
Most people think of the word “government” in a narrow sense. Government means a civic authority such as city, school district, county, state and federal government.
The admonition in this article’s headline, “stay in your lane,” as applied to governments, means the federal government doesn’t put on county fairs and counties don’t fight wars. Each civic entity has certain authority and police power to enforce its rules.
In 1900, the federal government did very little and taxed very little. The United States was on the gold standard, had no income tax, no passport system, and had a small army and navy. For most Americans, their only contact with the federal government was the local post office.
This was how the U.S. Constitution envisioned life in America. The U.S. Constitution has enumerated powers – those specific powers the states gave the federal government in 1788. The Bill of Rights covers what Congress cannot do and reserves other rights and powers to the states and the people. This was the anti-federalists’ way of saying to the federal government, “Stay in your lane!”
A broader view of the term “government” includes other spheres. In the church, this is called “sphere sovereignty” and refers to the governmental units of family, church and state.
Traditionally, the family unit had great authority and responsibility in society. When parents brought children into the world, they immediately had the responsibility of providing their offspring food, clothing, shelter and education.
The church had the authority to baptize, bless and marry people in society, as well as the authority to excommunicate a member for impenitent sin, which carried great social stigma in past times.
The state carried the sword and had the power to protect the family against outside invaders and provide an honest court system and criminal justice.
Prior to the 18th century, the world never had clean and clear boundaries like this. There was a time when popes had armies. There have been times when the king presumed to name the bishops. That was a driving factor in the American Revolution. American Presbyterians did not want King George III to name an American bishop. Americans did not want a State Church, which was headed by a king in the motherland. They wanted the head of the civil government to stay in his lane.
Yet there was a time when the common law was the law of the land. The common law was based on the Ten Commandments. Christians looked to Romans 13 when it came to obeying the civil magistrate:
“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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?” (Romans 13:1-3a)
Let’s remember that the governing authorities need to obey written governing authorities such as state and U.S. constitutions. Unchained from the Bible, civil authorities may define something as “good” which is actually “evil,” such as abortion on demand, drone strikes on wedding parties in foreign lands, or telling children there are 47 different gender identities.
God gave us Ten Commandments. The State gives us 10,000 commandments. And more every year.
When the Oregon Legislature gathers for a 35-day session each member of the House and Senate gets to propose two laws. With 90 legislators, that means a minimum of 180 new laws are considered. Not many get passed, of course – but why, when we face a new problem, do we need a new law and a new state program to solve it? Because the state government just can’t stay in its lane!
Imagine if when the Southern Baptist Convention gathered annually, each pastor could propose a new commandment. There would be a lot more than Ten Commandments.
Things can really get out of hand when there is a real or perceived crisis. In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, many state governors shut public schools, shut churches on Easter, shut down restaurants and shut down local debate on how to deal with the pandemic. In Oregon, medical doctors and nurses faced the hard choice of getting jabbed or losing their job. Pregnant health care workers faced the risk of losing their baby if they had a reaction to the vaccination.
The Grants Pass City Council held an emergency council meeting on Dec. 27 on whether or not to open a warming center. Grants Pass City Manager Aaron Cubic told the council, “The city does not have any experienced individual on staff to run a warming center.” The council then voted 4-3 to open a warming center for two days. The city got out of its lane briefly but did not open a warming center again during the many cold nights in January.
I have seen some gimmers of hope. Our Josephine County commissioners have been unanimous and unrelenting when it comes to COVID vaccinations. “We’re not doctors. We won’t tell you to get a medical treatment.” That is staying in your lane.
Our Congressman, Cliff Bentz, demonstrated this principle in a meeting with locals in November. An attendee asked the congressman how we can stop Critical Race Theory from being taught in our local schools. “Talk to your school board about that. Do you really want to solve a local problem with another act of Congress?”
We need to stop clamoring for our elected officials to get out of their lane and solve problems better solved by families, churches and nonprofit organizations. The civil government can’t give us anything they haven’t previously taxed, borrowed, or inflated away from us.
How about we keep our money and use our individual authority to solve our problems. Yes, One Nation under God is good. Yet a nation of individuals under God is even better.
Richard Emmons is the publisher and editor of the Josephine County Eagle.