More than thirty-eight years into the practice of ministry, I continue to grapple with how to appropriate the spiritual truths that I learned in my formative years. I will never forget the impact on my young mind of Apostle Paul's words, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (see Ephesians 6:10-23 NRSV).
The ministers and Sunday school teachers who tutored me professed a clear understanding of the implications of Paul's teaching for daily practice. With utmost devotion and earnestness, they recommended girding oneself with the whole armor of God to defend against malicious attacks that are fueled by evil spirits that are at work in the atmosphere. They characterized such forces as the wicked powers of evil--demonic forces--that possessed people causing them to hate and harm others. My elders concluded that you should also pray for such people that God would deliver them from evil, while guarding your own heart, mind and soul against the evil forces lest you become ensnared in fighting them back.
On the most fundamental level I never disagreed with my elders’ exposition of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6, But I struggled then, and I still do so to this day regarding whether we have fulfilled our entire mission by girding ourselves with spiritual armor, and by simply whispering a prayer for evildoers, especially when they are bullies who repeatedly harm others as they wield politically harmful weapons such as racism, bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, classism and incivility.
Surely there is more that God calls on Christians to do when the human carriers of Satan's most lethal infections are exposed, whether in the person of a politician, judge or clergy person. I also believe that Paul’s counsel to the Ephesians contained far more than advice on prayer and their spiritual wardrobe. When is prayer not enough?
Across the years I have come to far more insights regarding Paul’s words than I can delineate here, but I will share this: the entire responsibility of Christian discipleship when confronted with evil is not captured in Ephesians 6. Our mission entails more, such as the prophetic task to speak truth to power as we assert words of reprimand and condemnation upon the actions and speech of those who harm others. Remember also Jesus' words of woe to those who caused harm to his "little ones" (Matthew 18:6-7). Jesus also taught that we should render to political authorities what is due to them and render to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:15-22). For example, in a democracy such as ours, human leaders such as Donald Trump are deserving of the sternest possible rebuke for words and deeds of racial hatred, sexism and xenophobia directed at fellow citizens, and by his administration’s malevolent treatment of migrants at America's border.
Christian's have civic duties to perform in addition to our acts of piety, and they include practicing justice, defending the week and working in favor of a compassionate society where all people are created fairly.