As I write this note, it is February 2010. 2010 is an Olympic year, and each night we get to see the best and the brightest winter sports athletes in the world compete for a gold medal and the right to appear on a Wheaties box. I love the Olympics. I can’t believe it has been 4 years since the last Winter Olympics took place. While it seems (to a certain degree) like it was “just yesterday,” 2006 was also a lifetime away in many ways.
Since the last Winter Olympics, the world has met the iPhone, Twitter, and Taylor Swift. In addition to these cultural changes, the past 4 years have seen a significant shift in America’s political landscape. In 2006, George W. Bush was President with a predominantly Republican Congress. In 2010, Barack Obama is President with a predominantly Democratic Congress. Despite these changes, some things have remained the same.
One of the things that has remained the same is the lack of honor Americans pay to our elected officials . . . particularly our Presidents. 4 years ago, some Americans were convinced President Bush was an idiot and an ideologue who was dead set on ruining the country. Today, some Americans are convinced that President Obama is the anti-Christ and a person intent on burning capitalism (as we know it) to the ground. As Americans, we believe it is our right (and even our duty) to tear apart our leaders in this way. We think it is a part of being a good citizen in a democracy.
One thing that gets lost in our name-calling is an acknowledgement of just how complex the job of our Commander in Chief really is. I realize that after watching a few hours of MSNBC or Fox News, that every American thinks they know what all the right answers are, but real life and real leadership are not played out in sound bytes. Every day our leaders are faced with difficult, complicated decisions that are second guessed by every Monday morning quarterback in the nation. Remembering the complexity of their jobs, Americans should give more honor to their leaders.
A second (and more important) thing that gets lost in our name-calling is what God has to say about how we relate to our government leaders. 1 Peter 2:13-17 raises a high standard for Christians living on this planet. Peter says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.”
In those verses, Peter calls Christians to live by a higher standard. Christians are called to submit to government leaders and to honor the king, not because the king was from their favorite political party or persuasion, but because they were THE KING. All government authorities exist under the sovereign control of Almighty God, therefore, “for the Lord’s sake” all should be treated with honor. Further underscoring this point is that Peter wrote this letter while Nero was the king over the Roman Empire. Nero was a terrible leader who did terrible things, including the persecution of Christians throughout his empire. If the original recipients of Peter’s letter were to honor Nero “for the Lord’s sake” why do American Christians think that this passage does not apply to the honor we want to withhold from Presidents Bush or Obama?
The natural question we should ask ourselves is not “should I honor the President?” (for this issue is clearly answered for us in Scripture). The question we should ask ourselves is “what does it mean to honor the President for the Lord’s sake?” First of all, I think that this passage would indicate that honoring the President has to do with obeying his laws. Christians should be known for their gold medal adherence to the laws of the land. This includes paying taxes, obeying traffic laws, operating by ethical business practices, etc. Christians are to keep these laws because in obeying them, they are really obeying the God who sits in authority above the local officials. Of course, there may come a time when our local government would require us to do something in contrast with God’s clear command (for instance requiring abortions or forbidding conversion to Christianity) and if that happened, civil disobedience would be encouraged for Christians. But since those realities do not exist in America today, Christians should honor the king by obeying his laws.
Second of all, I think that honoring the President for Christians means that we speak of him with respect because of the position that he holds. This does not mean that we do not evaluate what he says, but it does mean that we evaluate what he says with humility, and speak of him with the respect his position deserves. We should be humble when evaluating governing authorities because we do not hold their position, so we have the luxury of critiquing their answer without having to implement ours. Showing our President’s honor also means that we do not resort to name-calling or smear tactics. It is far too easy for Christians to forward on that “funny” or “juicy” email about our President and his policies to our friends, even if we have not verified its truth or considered 1 Peter 2 before pressing “send.” It is striking to me that in the context of 1 Peter 2, Jesus is our model for how to relate to the governing authorities over us. Somehow, it is too easy for us to forget this. Too many Christians end up looking to Limbaugh, Coulter, Mahrer, or Stewart for their models of political discourse. We need to remember that Jesus sets the tone for the style of our political interactions, and He is the One who gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s.
As Christians we are called to a higher standard when it comes to our behavior in the world. As Peter was to Nero, and as Christ was to Pilate, we need to relate to our governing authorities with honor. You may not agree with all I have said here, but as Christians, we all must interpret and apply Peter’s admonition here as we live our eternal lives in a temporal land.