“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” – Romans 13:1

During this graduation season, I came across the story of Zander Moricz.  Zander is the class president at Pine View School in Osprey, Florida.  In his role as class president Zander was slated to speak at the graduation ceremony.  As per school policy, his speech needed to be approved by the school principal.  Zander always felt supported by his principal but after meeting with him to discuss Zander’s speech, Zander felt hurt.  The principal told him that because of the new law in Florida, Zander could not say anything about being gay.  Zander came out during his freshman year and was the first openly-gay class president at the school.  Zander felt it was his responsibility to talk about the controversial law and his own experience.  He did not want to lie to his principal about what he would talk about and he did not want to lie to himself about who he is.  So when the time came, he stood at the podium, removed his mortarboard, pointed to his hair and said,

“I used to hate my curls. I spend mornings and nights embarrassed of them trying desperately to straighten this part of who I am. But the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to do…So while having curly hair in Florida is difficult, due to the humidity, I decided to be proud of who I was and started coming to school as my authentic self.”  He spoke about initially going to teachers he trusted for advice because he didn’t have any other “curly haired people” to talk to.  Zander shared that he wanted to speak out about his “curly hair” because “there are going to be so many kids with curly hair, who need a community like Pine View.”

After his speech his principal came onto the stage and gave Zander a big hug.

This story reminded me of the verse from Romans 13 shared above.  This verse has proven to be difficult for many Christian communities over the generations.  Not long after Paul wrote this verse, the Emperor Nero came to power who infamously persecuted, tortured, and murdered Christians.  How did the early church reconcile their lived reality with this verse?

Some biblical scholars say the “governing authorities” referenced in the text were not political authorities but the authorities in the Jewish temple and synagogue system.  Paul wanted to make sure the new Christians, who often went to the synagogue were getting along with their Jewish brethren.

Some say that there is a limit to how far we should obey the “governing authorities.”  When political leaders pass or enforce laws that contradict the law of God then Christians are no longer bound to follow them.  Afterall Paul and Peter were both commanded to not talk about Jesus and they clearly and thankfully did not follow that directive from “governing authorities.”

In Zander’s speech I see another creative response.  He found a third way of staying within the framework he was given while doing what Pastor Eugene Peterson calls, “telling it on the slant.”  You hear Jesus doing something similar when he responds to the question about paying taxes by saying, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.”  Jesus says we live in tough and dangerous times and that to navigate them we need to be as “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.”  Christians are called to be more creative and less combative.  We are called to be truth tellers who communicate with and for the sake of love.

While I do not know Zander’s faith background or story, I do know that we as people of faith can learn from him about how to creatively and courageously engage our culture while remaining true to our identity as followers of Christ.  May we also share our testimony without fear and full of love.