The United States loves democracy.
Well, sort of. They love it like a child loves candy on Halloween, and they begin to stuff themselves with it with such a ferocity and in such a great quantity that they quickly become sick of it.
That’s where we are now. We’re three debates into this presidential election cycle, and yet we’re still over a year away! Fox News and CNN may have pulled in record ratings for their debate, but voter turnout next year still won’t get much beyond 60%.
Why? Because by then, we’ll all be sick of this nonsense, specifically, the negativity.
And that’s why were here. The stridency and thoughtless criticism that characterize our political dialogue is absolutely inexcusable. The way we treat our fellow citizens is shameful. It’s not that we disagree—that’s fundamental to a democratic republic like ours—that has poisoned our politics. It’s that we have stopped discussing issues to criticizing individuals, from questioning the system to questioning the character of our opponents.
Before you start to defend yourself and your bias, let’s look at the Scripture:
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
When we criticize—you know what, let’s pause for a minute. When I say “criticize,” I’m talking about the mean-spirited, personal attacks that have nothing to do with the actual issue or policy at hand. These are the attacks that wound the spirit of those attacked and grieve the heart of God who created that spirit.
Understand, then, that when we criticize those whom we disagree with, even our elected officials, we are doing violence against the image of God within them. That’s a dangerous place to be. Name-calling and slander have no place in our public dicourse, least of all in the midst of the Church. As Christians, we are to be the best citizens of this nation, as we are to be living now as citizens of a greater kingdom with a higher standard of behavior than even the greatest of earthly republics.
Backing up for a second, let’s look at what the Bible says about our elected officials. Paul gives us some challenging language in his letter to the Romans:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Romans 13:1-2, 5-7
And again, if more succintly, in his first letter to Timothy:
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
1 Timothy 2:1-2
How should we treat our leaders? Respectfully, carefully, reverently, and prayerfully. Respectfully as both a fellow, if imperfect, image-bearer of God and as an individual chosen by God to have authority. This is not a defense of the egregious medieval doctrine of the “divine right” of kings. However, God is sovereign, as a Jesus Himself reminded Pontius Pilate, all authority ultimately belongs to God, and no one can have authority without God allowing it. Does that mean that God necessarily actively chooses our leaders? Perhaps. He certainly can, but I think it’s more of a situation of His passive agreement to whatever silliness we come up with. So, because these leaders have God’s backing we must give them our respect, and we must treat them carefully, lest we find ourselves questioning God’s judgement or challenging His authority. Thus, we must have reverence for our leaders, not as divine figures but as divinely appointed, though perhaps not anointed, leaders.
“Oh, I pray for the president/governor/mayor/senator. I pray that they won’t be reelected!”
That’s not what Paul meant or what God wants from us, and you know it. Praying for our leaders means praying for them just as we would pray for a friend, even ourselves.
- Pray that God would protect and bless them and their family.
- Pray that God would give them wisdom and insight.
- Pray that God would open their hearts to His presence, His love, and His grace so that they, too, might enter into relationship with Jesus and be transformed by the working of the Holy Spirit.
“Well, I can’t pray that. This person supports (insert inflammatory issue here), and that’s not right!”
That issue may not be right but neither is that attitude, and let me be clear: I have had that attitude before. I’m intensely principled and have a terrible time letting issues pass without my two cents being offered and my blood pressure being raised. And I can’t tell you how many times God has had to correct me and convict me, reminding me how He has commanded me to pray for my enemies, and I can tell you that no elected official is your enemy.
Mostly because they don’t even know you exist, let alone that you hold such rancor in your heart toward them.
I frequently discuss issues with others who hold fervently to ideas that I know are not only invalid but destructive, and yet that is no reason to abuse them verbally. There is no room for rancor or bitterness in public discourse, especially since most of our differences are born out of a genuine, shared desire to lead our nation to a better tomorrow. That’s not to say that everyone’s ideas are equally valid, equally true.
Fellow citizens, for the sake of our nation, our dialogue must rise above the negativity. We are destroying our democracy. Fellow Christians, we must be true to our calling to a higher standard of citizenship because our Eternal King will not tolerate anything less from His subjects. He died for all, and so we have no right to cut anyone down with our words, no matter how much we might disagree over serious issues.