It’s hard to talk about what’s been happening in the Capitol Hill district in Seattle. That’s because no one knows what to call it (the name of the little “country” changed a few times in its two-and-a-half weeks of life). The ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ (CHAZ) became the ‘Capitol Hill Occupied Protest’ or the ‘Capitol Hill Organized Protest’ (CHOP) or simply ‘Free Capitol Hill.’ Deciding on a name is apparently complicated when you don’t have a city council or a voting system—or any government at all, for that matter. Many CHAZites began emigrating back to America this week, and the “official” CHOP Twitter account announced that the illustrious nation was over. But not all can agree. The Seattle Times reported that some Capitol Hill occupants aren’t ready to leave their anything-goes utopia yet. We all wait with bated breath to see what new and terrible acronyms will follow.
The actual, legitimate authorities of Seattle, despite their initial willingness to tolerate a lawless zone of anarchy, have finally announced they will fulfill their responsibilities and restore the rule of law to Capitol Hill. This became necessary when the egalitarian oasis predictably devolved into a hellish dystopia. CHAZ was conceived in violence, and violence begets more and more violence. Seattle residents—even those who supported the cause of the protestors—became afraid for their safety after being routinely harassed by mobs of people outside their apartments. There have been scattered reports of rapes and assaults, and over the weekend there were multiple shootings and a 19-year-old young man died.
CHAZ was supposed to be a glimpse at a future with total equality. But the only equality they achieved was equal misery. They were all equally unsure whether they would make it through the night alive. They were all equally sure that no one would answer their cries for help.
The citizen-occupants of CHAZ were probably unaware that their disastrous political experiment has been tried before many times. The Bible tells of many failed attempts to establish cities and empires based on human pride. Babel was a little autonomous zone, where the proud inhabitants foolishly believed they could devise their own way to break into heaven (Genesis 11). Israel during the time of the judges featured ad hoc rule that constantly devolved back into chaos, where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:24). The prophet Daniel tells of entire peoples and empires rising and falling throughout history. Every human political arrangement is precarious because of sin, the Bible says.
The Bible also explains to us just how essential government is for ordering our lives together. In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve in his image as co-rulers of the earth, meant to exercise dominion over creation (Genesis 1:26-30). God worked through Moses (with some sage advice from Jethro, his father-in-law) to establish a functioning legal system for Israel (Exodus 18:17-23). In the Law of Deuteronomy, God established principles of justice and benevolence that would provide for the flourishing of Israel as a political entity. The Law held lawbreakers to account and protected the innocent and vulnerable, such as foreigners, widows, and orphans. It even had provisions for maintaining public health and regulating commercial transactions.
Government is good. It was God’s idea. It is meant to reflect His just and benevolent rule over the universe. The reason we’re able to govern is because we were made for it by God. That’s what being in God’s “image” means. We’re endowed with a mind that can develop the prudence and wisdom needed to govern well.
Governing is not merely an ability, it’s a responsibility, too. It’s essential for experiencing the thriving, free life that we all seek. Every time people fail to take on the responsibility of governing, it leads to suffering and violence. We cannot, out of misguided utopian ideology, pretend that we don’t need laws or a government to enforce those laws. Every time someone tries to abolish government, humanity quickly devolves into might makes right. This creates a mockery of justice, with evil will imposed at the end of a gun. The de facto “ruler” of CHAZ reportedly went around heavily armed, enforcing his own twisted laws on others.
This is why the Apostle Paul so heartily endorses government as an institution in Romans 13. The authority that the government enjoys has been “instituted by God” (13:1). Resisting authority means resisting “what God has appointed” (13:2). Paul does not mean, of course, that every person who holds a government office is good or just in God’s sight (Paul himself was later killed by the maniac emperor, Nero). But the office itself and the authority it wields in making laws and enforcing them is good in its essence. As Paul says, the governing authorities when they are fulfilling God’s purpose for them are “God’s servant for your good” (13:4).
C.S. Lewis captured this well in his essay “Notes on the Way” with his quip that in the military we “salute the uniform and not the wearer.” The same is true for all authority. We respect the goodness of God’s design when we respect the governing authorities. We offer respect not because we endorse everything an officeholder does, but because we respect the God who created government offices in the first place. We know because of human weakness that our government leaders will often fail to bring the justice God desires. But this is an argument for why good government is necessary and important and worth working towards. It’s not an argument for abolishing government altogether—which leads to anarchy, chaos, fear, and suffering.
But I guess the CHAZites will never get to hear about any of this biblical wisdom. Their micro-kingdom dissolved before the First Baptist Church of CHAZ could open.