If St. Paul was right, then whoever the next president is, we Christians should commit to pray for him/her “so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way,” which is “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Tim 2:2-3). And if St. Peter was correct, we should also work hard to respect our nation’s leaders (1 Peter 2:17). I trust we will consider this as November quickly approaches.
Nevermind the future, though. The church can start by committing to pray for Pres. Obama and his family…today. Will we? That’s actually a good question, one that can be followed by a few additional questions: Do members of the evangelical church show respect for Pres. Obama (and our other national leaders)? Have we done a good job in disagreeing with his policies, all the while bending over backwards in order to respect him so as not to vilify him personally—passing on spurious rumors or sharing demeaning jokes about him on media platforms? Have we heeded those scriptural texts that critique our own actions just as much as we do those texts which critique the President’s? A quick glance at Facebook could provide us with an answer.
It’s always appropriate to use Scripture to critique our culture and the policies of our national leaders, and I won’t shrink back from this obligation (D. Bonhoeffer and K. Barth are my personal heroes on this front). But we, the church, should never fail to see how at the same time Scripture often has something to say against us. What about those texts after all, like the ones above, which command us to be respectful and honoring? We must let all of Scripture—even those which make us feel uncomfortable—to come to bear upon not just our faith, but also our practice. Take up our cross, shall we? Judgment, after all, begins with us (1 Peter 4:17).
I forgot who first said this, but I share his concern: We ought to worry about people when they have a god who always agrees with them and never challenges them, a religious people who thinks they are “safe” because they go to church, because they have good Sunday School attendance records, sing praise songs, those people who can say they have Abraham as their father—those to whom god always winks and smiles. Is this your god, one who never challenges you but always endorses your every political move? (I recall Jesus interacting with a similar group of people who, dare I suggest it, share a sort of odd kinsmanship with certain sub-groups within evangelicalism.) Lest you and I fall into such Pharisaic methodology, let’s first run to those texts that challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable. We are called to holiness, not hypocrisy, after all. The Christian faith, as Lewis once quipped, isn’t a comfortable faith; it’s a costly one. The cross has always been the center of our theology. We must now make it the center of our praxis. Let’s begin with 1 Peter 2:17.
All that to say, in our protesting, let’s not present ourselves as undignified, loud, or otherwise obnoxious brutes. We are called to flourish in right thinking (Rom 12:1-2). Let’s rid ourselves, then, of dishonest tactics. Perhaps we can start by fact-checking some of those conspiracy-laden articles we read and all-too quickly share on social media. We look silly when don’t.
In our praying, rather, let’s be dignified, quiet, humble, and honest. Preaching truth is always necessary, yes. You will never hear me say otherwise (I myself remain a firm critic of Donald Trump’s regular antics, after all). But preaching truth is far from sufficient. Against popular opinion, among all the things we can do as a church, “speaking the truth” is not the greatest thing. By no means. Rather, “speaking the truth in love” is the greatest of all things. This means being honest in our protests, in our disagreements. It means not being disingenuous. It means not being rude or arrogant or “insisting on one’s own way” (1 Cor 13:4). When political candidates and their supporters, especially those who personally claim the name of Christ, negligently fail to speak truth in love, they publicly shame the name of Christ. Not only that, but “speaking the truth in love” is important not just in regard to our witness before an unbelieving culture; St. Paul even suggested that it is also necessary for our growth in Christ (Eph 4:15). If you name the name of Christ, then, it’s time to grow up.
The New Testament writers, especially Paul and Peter, have a few things to say to the church—to me and my own tribe—on how we go about making our voices heard during this political season. We will do well to listen.
Of course, both of these saints might have been wrong in what they wrote. What, after all, did they know about living under difficult rulers?