In Brief

In this lesson, students examine positive and negative treatments of the role of government in the Bible and relate them to a case study of government response to contentious diversity.


  • Students will compare and contrast treatments of the role of government in two biblical texts.
  • Students will construct arguments for and against government suppression of controversial public religious expressions
  • Students will evaluate their own participation in debate in light of the themes of previous lessons.

Thinking Ahead

It is often easier to think about how and whether our government protects our own rights and freedoms and promotes our own wellbeing than to focus on the rights, freedoms, and wellbeing of others, especially others whom we mistrust or disagree with. This lesson pushes students to think about issues from more than one side. First it asks them to explore the role of government in contrasting biblical texts. Then it asks them to consider both sides of a contentious issue involving religious pluralism in France. You will find it helpful as you prepare for this class to read the following two sources that frame the case study used:

Note that the second source is by the same author as the article on hospitality used in Lesson 1, theologian Matthew Kaemingk.

As the lesson unfolds, resist the temptation to move towards neat closure. The framing concern here is not whether we can arrive at a quick resolution, but how we engage with one another while we continue to live with differences and unresolved tensions. How might the biblical call to exercise hospitality to strangers and care for the oppressed lead us to seek the rights and welfare of others, and not just of ourselves? Think ahead about how you can help students to see at the end of the class that this is the main point.

Preparing the Activities

For this lesson, you will need:

Teaching the Activities

Introduction (5 minutes)

As class begins, project the following quotes on the purpose of government (slide 1) and have students briefly discuss in pairs which statement they appreciate the most and why.

The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.
– Thomas Jefferson

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
– James Madison

Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of man will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.
– Alexander Hamilton

Phase 1: Psalm 72 and the King who Protects (15 minutes)

Next, tell students that the question of the nature of government comes up in a number of biblical texts. Psalm 72 is considered to be a “royal psalm” and was likely prayed at the installation of a new king over Israel.

Hand out copies of Psalm 72 or have students use Bibles and make lists instead of underlining/highlighting. Read Psalm 72 together as a class (the full text is also provided on slide 2). Then have students read the text a second time individually, this time underlining (or listing) words or phrases that describe what actions the king is called to do.

Example: He will defend the oppressed among the people; he will deliver the children of the poor and crush the oppressor.

Next, ask students to read through a third time with partners and circle or highlight words or phrases that describe people or groups of people that the king is to be particularly concerned about.

Example: He will defend the oppressed among the people; he will deliver the children of the poor and crush the oppressor.

Then, in small groups (partners could be combined into groups of four), discuss the following questions:

  • Whom is the king called to defend? Whom is he called to restrain? What might that look like today?
  • Who and what benefits from a righteous or good government?
  • Can you think of present-day government actions that might be examples of the things the king is called upon to do in this Psalm?

Phase 2: 1 Samuel 8 and the King who Takes (10 minutes)

While Psalm 72 presents a positive picture of the king and by extension the role of government, other biblical texts also express cautions about the role of government.

Have students read 1 Samuel 8 from the handout or from Bibles (The text is also provides on slides 3 and 4) and list all the things that the king will take from his people.

Then ask the class how this relates to Psalm 72. Why does Scripture warn of government taking for its own advantage as well as portraying government as a source of prosperity and help for the oppressed? What does each picture say about the dynamics of a fallen world?

Phase 3: A Case Study (20 minutes)

Divide the class into groups as detailed below to read and engage the case study of reactions to the niqab in France from the handout: What Should the French Government Do?.

Divide students into two groups (depending on the size of your class you may wish to go with two A groups and two B groups and run two parallel discussions in the next step):

Group A: Develop civic arguments in favor of France banning the wearing of the niqab and burqa in public and against its tolerance.

Group B: Develop civic arguments in favor of France allowing the wearing of the niqab and burqa in public and against its banning.

(The case study is based on: For further reflection that is directly connected to the article about hospitality discussed in lesson 1, see:

After giving each of the groups five minutes to prepare their arguments for and against, draw the class together and host a discussion on the topic: Should France allow the wearing of niqabs and burqas in public spaces?

After allowing the discussion to run for enough time for key arguments and disagreements to be aired, call a halt and ask to student to step back mentally and voice their thoughts on the following questions:

  • What went well and what went poorly in the debate?
  • Did people listen to one another? Did people talk over each other? Could our response to those on the other side be described as hospitable?
  • Is it possible to be hospitable without agreeing?
  • How were the fruits of the Spirit present or absent?
  • How did the arguments that we used relate to the picture of Psalm 72 of a government that protects the weak? How did they relate to the warnings about government in 1 Samuel 8?

Consider re-reading Psalm 72 aloud at the end of class. If there is time, or for homework, ask students to journal on how thinking about Psalm 72 could inform the way we seek the well-being of those who might think differently than us in a debate or come from a different religious or cultural background than us.