Confession. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008. While I am not a political junky, I do get caught up in the grandiose chess match that is American politics. I gained interest in Obama in 2006; not because he was a strong orator, but because his oratory brought a resonating message of change to a gridlocked system. I read his book, watched his speeches, and learned about his worldview. I did not agree with all of his policies, but I believed in the man making the decisions.
Fast-forward a few years. The man who spoke of conviction and unity has since trended toward “evolving” political views. His divisive shifts in thinking, and “progressive” moves away from the convictions he outlined as a younger candidate have not held true to the man I thought I was supporting.
This introduces my dilemma. My aim in this post is not political, though certainly the topic is of a political nature. My aim is theological. As a Christian, what should my attitude and actions be towards a president with whom I disagree?
Romans 13 gives us direction regarding government and its citizens. Paul tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
What do we learn from this passage?
- We are to be subject to the governing authorities.
- Our government’s authority is given by God and exists because God wills it.
- When we resist our authorities, we resist God.
- Resistance to our temporal government results in eternal consequence.
I would not expect this to be the Bible’s stance on government. I believe these four things apply except in cases where the government directs citizens to explicitly go against God’s will expressed in Scripture. After all, governments sanction the killing of infants, redefine institutions given by God (for His glory) to accommodate sin, and label running away from God’s principles as, “progress.” How are we to respond? Are we simply to roll over and let these things happen? How does a Christian obey the Word of God in one hand while obeying leaders who do not affirm its statutes in the other?
As I have wrestled with this idea and prayed about how to be obedient to God’s Word, I have come to a few conclusions.
1) I am to honor God in honoring his institutions. When I submit myself to authority, I exercise humility. Whether it is the authority of a boss in the workplace (Eph. 6:5-9), a godly man in his home (Eph. 5:22-32), or parents in the family (Eph. 6:1-4), God has placed us all under authority and in authority. Scripture reminds us we continually fail in authority and are to forgive those in authority over us as we desire forgiveness from those under our authority. God’s institutions point us to a greater home with a greater King. Until then, I should treat those in authority over me with respect and prayer. The further from God they seem, the more I need to pray and intercede on their behalf. In honoring them, I honor God.
2) The way I treat my president says more about me than it does my president. George Bush, Barack Obama, and I will all stand before the same throne, judged by the same Master, with the same sin-soaked heart, with no other plea but Christ. We are equally sinful. Jesus had one-on-one encounters with many leaders. Even as they mocked and abused Him, what was His response? Father, forgive them. Let us be as prayerful, intercessory, and forgiving as our Christ.
3) Sin does not justify sin. Perhaps the worst thing I can do is lie, gossip, or slander another who is presumably outside of God’s will. Not only does it condemn me for the same rebellion against God that I am opposing, but it misrepresents Christ to the world around me. If I may be blunt, many of us are showing a horrible shade of ugly in the way we talk about our officials. One can barely scan their Facebook feed without encountering a pithy quip backhanding the president. He is called a socialist, a Muslim, an anti-Christ, a non-American, a fool, and this from people professing to be Christians. Quit. Repent. Pray. We can disagree with our leaders, but we don’t have to sin in order to do so. There is a godly way to disagree.
4) Make a difference, not just a noise. Should Christians be politically active? Of course. Having godly leaders praying and making decisions on behalf of those who have smaller voices is commendable. But remember, Christ continually had to turn from the crowds who wanted to make Him king. Why? Because His authority was above that of a king. We walk in a kingdom that is not of this world. Men may come in and out of the oval office, but Christ and Christ alone occupies His eternal throne.
I am not endorsing or un-endorsing any candidate, party, or ideology. I am simply wrestling with what it means to follow Christ in the area of politics. Ultimately, let us thank God for His sovereignty, and follow His model as we pray and engage our political system. Let us strive to see God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, but realize it is not ushered in through government, but the church. Governments rise and fall, but the gates of hell cannot overcome the bride of Christ. Let’s be the church, even towards those with whom we disagree.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…” 1 Tim. 2:1-3