"Oh Dave, don't forget, your oath is today at 9:15." The words snap my groggy mind to attention. Oath? My boss continues. "Yeah, it will be on the fourth floor, in the administrative offices. It shouldn't be a problem." It shouldn't be a problem. Is that a threat? It shouldn't be a problem if you keep your idealistic, religious nonsense in check, is the message I am receiving. Really though, my boss couldn't possibly suspect her newest employee to be one of those Christian loonies uncomfortable with pledging allegiance to the government. I've done nothing to give that impression, as there are few opportunities to be a radical when you work in the basement of a public library.

The hour approaches. I make my way to the administrative offices on the fourth floor and am greeted by the receptionist's cheery smile. I announce that I am here to take my oath and then sit down in trepidation. What to do? I do not want to take this oath. I want to take Jesus at his word when he says, "Do not swear at all, either by heaven…or by the earth…" (Matthew 5:27). At 23 years of age, this is the first time my faith has put me in an uncomfortable situation. And as ridiculous and unnecessary as it may be, compliance with the State amounts to cowardice on my part. And I don't want to be a coward.

The woman who will administer the oath appears and invites me to join her in a conference room. I'll call her Amanda for simplicity's sake. Amanda is clearly a veteran of the oath-administering process, rapidly going through the legal introductory details stream-of-conscious style. But I'm barely listening. I haven't yet determined if I have the courage to stand up for what I believe. She hands me a copy of the oath and instructs me to read aloud with her, inserting my name at the appropriate intervals (see below). I finally summon the courage to ask, "What if I refuse to take this oath?" My words sound foreign, and I can hardly recognize them as my own. Amanda shoots me a quizzical look, and asks what the problem is. I spare her (and myself) the inevitable awkwardness that would result if I confessed my actual reason: that I believe Jesus said not to. Instead, I nervously declare that I believe in "truth in all speech" and taking oaths violates my claimed probity in language. I'm not sure if I made any sense, because a moment later, I am treated to a wide-eyed, grandiose discourse of our founding father's vision of government, and that the Constitution they formulated wants to protect people like me, by whom I can only imagine she means subversive lunatics. Amanda then informs me that everyone takes this oath, from the newly elected Congressional representatives to every library employee. Swearing to defend the Constitution means swearing to protect justice, liberty, etc. You know, good things.

Still unconvinced, I ask again what would happen if I refused to take the oath. "Well," Amanda intones, "you would not be eligible to work for the City of _______." There it is. My job and my paycheck are on the line. She quickly follows up by mentioning that I have the option of merely affirming the oath in lieu of swearing. I briefly wonder if any difference is merely semantic, but a moment later I am faithfully affirming that I will defend the Constitution against all enemies from my cubicle in the basement.

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

I try to say "affirm" with radical gusto, but I instead sound awkwardly patriotic. Once finished, I notice that my signature is also required. I sign away my remaining principles, not stopping to think about how a signature is probably just simply swearing on paper. Amanda sweeps up my signature and bids me goodbye. I slink back down to the basement while glumly informing my wife via text message that she married a spineless wuss.

Sure, this was no Jesus vs. Pilate, and although I poke fun, I think about the encounter often. I can't be sure that if the "affirm" loophole were unavailable to me, I wouldn't have sworn the oath anyway. It's likely that when the chips are down, and my financial well-being is at stake, I can't let Jesus get in the way, whether I am interpreting him correctly or not. Just give me my paycheck. I can only pray for the courage to do otherwise.

Now, this is not to say that Jesus commands us to be anarchists, or that one must choose between God and the Government at every turn. We must remember Romans 13, that government is instituted by God, his servant for our good. But I would hope that we do not confuse "supporting and defending the Constitution" with the proclamation of the Gospel. Oath taking is serious business, and there is no more decisive oath normative for Christian lives than baptism.

After all, the interests of the State and the interests of the Church probably coincide less frequently than either would have us believe. If there are no longer any visible differences between the followers of Caesar and the devotees of Christ, the Church's capacity to advance the Kingdom of God is severely compromised. It seems to me that oaths of any sort, and to any government, obfuscate the transcendence of the Kingdom. Along with the Church Father Tertullian, we would do well to remember that Christians acknowledge no commonwealth smaller than the entire world.

Dave graduated from college with bachelor's degrees in English and religion and is now studying theology at the graduate level. In addition to confusing library employees, Dave enjoys college basketball, practicing his imaginary golf swing, and spending time with his wife.

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
 
 

8 Comments

  1. Cameroncrazie92 says:

    Dave has raised an interesting dilemma. When push comes to shove in seemingly innocuous situations such as this, what is one to do?

    • Rich Humpal, JD says:

      Yes, Dave did raise an interesting question, but it is much deeper than what most people believe. Dave also used the reference to Romans 13 to show that Christians must obey the government because it was God who set the government up. Is this correct?

      Because of the New Orleans disaster a few years ago, FEMA ordered people to do things that many did not want to do. FEMA contacted the clergy and instructed them to remind their congregations that they must obey them because of what Paul wrote in Romans 13. When I heard of this it suddenly dawned on me that the government will probably use Paul’s same writing to enforce their rule that everyone must take the “Mark of the Beast”.

      This in turn caused me to investigate the words of Paul verses the words of Jesus and I found numerous contradictions, including the instruction found in Romans 13. Jesus said that the ruler of this world is Satan and that he had nothing on Jesus. So, could Paul be the threat that Jesus was concerned with in Matthew 24:4-5, 11 & 24-25?

      Rev. 2:2 has Ephesus, a church in Asia, as putting to test those who called themselves apostles and found them to be false. Acts 21:27-29 (written by Luke, a follower of Paul), shows us that men from Asia (including Ephesus) said that Paul was teaching people not to obey the covenant of God. Even Paul admits that ALL of Asia had turned away from him as found in 2nd Tim. 1:15 & 18.

      Perhaps it is time to follow only the words of Jesus given to us by His eyewitnesses as found in John 14:26 and 17-17-20.

  2. Cameroncrazie92 says:

    Dave has raised an interesting dilemma. When push comes to shove in seemingly innocuous situations such as this, what is one to do?

    • Rich Humpal, JD says:

      Yes, Dave did raise an interesting question, but it is much deeper than what most people believe. Dave also used the reference to Romans 13 to show that Christians must obey the government because it was God who set the government up. Is this correct?

      Because of the New Orleans disaster a few years ago, FEMA ordered people to do things that many did not want to do. FEMA contacted the clergy and instructed them to remind their congregations that they must obey them because of what Paul wrote in Romans 13. When I heard of this it suddenly dawned on me that the government will probably use Paul’s same writing to enforce their rule that everyone must take the “Mark of the Beast”.

      This in turn caused me to investigate the words of Paul verses the words of Jesus and I found numerous contradictions, including the instruction found in Romans 13. Jesus said that the ruler of this world is Satan and that he had nothing on Jesus. So, could Paul be the threat that Jesus was concerned with in Matthew 24:4-5, 11 & 24-25?

      Rev. 2:2 has Ephesus, a church in Asia, as putting to test those who called themselves apostles and found them to be false. Acts 21:27-29 (written by Luke, a follower of Paul), shows us that men from Asia (including Ephesus) said that Paul was teaching people not to obey the covenant of God. Even Paul admits that ALL of Asia had turned away from him as found in 2nd Tim. 1:15 & 18.

      Perhaps it is time to follow only the words of Jesus given to us by His eyewitnesses as found in John 14:26 and 17-17-20.

  3. Tre Duke says:

    Thank you Dave and Religious Liberty TV for this sobering article. Dave's central point, as I understand it, is that we should not and Christians should not automatically assume that the interests of the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world coincide. In fact, Christians should cautiously examine our allegiances to the state and assume that the allegiances will come into conflict–they are bound to.

    But he honestly and with tasteful humor show how difficult it is to live out the ideal of total and sole allegiance to God.
    It's becoming more and more clear to me that only the return of Jesus will stop this pervasive idolatry, enraging a God who insists that he alone deserves to be worshiped.

  4. Tre Duke says:

    Thank you Dave and Religious Liberty TV for this sobering article. Dave's central point, as I understand it, is that we should not and Christians should not automatically assume that the interests of the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world coincide. In fact, Christians should cautiously examine our allegiances to the state and assume that the allegiances will come into conflict–they are bound to.

    But he honestly and with tasteful humor show how difficult it is to live out the ideal of total and sole allegiance to God.
    It's becoming more and more clear to me that only the return of Jesus will stop this pervasive idolatry, enraging a God who insists that he alone deserves to be worshiped.

  5. Interesting thoughts. Not quite sure why library employees are taking the same oaths as congressional representatives but hey I don't make the rules. Perhaps you can be impeached, recalled, or vetoed in that basement. Watch out Dave.

  6. Interesting thoughts. Not quite sure why library employees are taking the same oaths as congressional representatives but hey I don't make the rules. Perhaps you can be impeached, recalled, or vetoed in that basement. Watch out Dave.

 
 
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