I hear that baseball is America’s favorite past time, but I’m not buying it for one second. No, that’s not the sport that attracts the masses. Our favorite activity has to be political commentary. Don’t believe me? Just check out your Facebook news feed. If nothing else, Mark Zuckerberg has created an online congress of millions, all able to recognize and remedy our country’s problems with the ease and grace of The Imperial Russian Ballet Company. It’s amazing. Let a politician deliver a speech, and all of a sudden our culture—the same culture that has made superstars out of the latest Bachelor and the Kardashians—turns into a bunch of Ivy League political science majors.
Lest you smell some arrogance wafting from this post, I admit that I’ve fallen into this myself.
Expressing your political views isn’t a problem though. Actually, it’s your right in this little governmental system of ours called a republic. But amidst all of this discussion, there is a troubling pattern that I’ve seen across a large sampling of Christians’ political commentating. Disrespect and downright meanness.
I’m a middle-class white male raised in rural Mississippi so you can guess the vast majority of the political views I’ve primarily been exposed to. My Facebook feed gets well over its daily recommended dosage of “Obama bashin’,” and it troubles me to see the mean-spiritedness of much that is shared.
But why? What’s wrong with showing anger and disrespect to a man who endorses policies that run in the opposite direction of our faith? First, let’s look at Romans 13:1–7.
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. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says some surprising things in this passage. He actually says that governments exist by the will of God. Kings and government officials are “servants of God.” Consider the government during New Testament times. It was the Roman empire. Founded upon pagan worship and stabilized by the proclaimed deity of their ruler, the Roman empire was no friend to a religion teaching there was only one God. History shows us that Roman rulers spent time creatively torturing and killing Christians. Nevertheless, Paul is here affirming that this empire was instituted by God.
This empire and the others throughout history have been created by God in order to maintain order and peace throughout the world. That’s not to say governments are above reproach. Our leaders, along with many others who have possessed the substantial authority of governmental control, can abuse this power for the accumulation of power and wealth, but we must also acknowledge the overall benefit. The Roman empire—despite the persecution of Christians and prevalence of sin across the realm—proved to be an ideal infrastructure for the expansion of Christianity, with its vast system of roads and its relative peace.
Paul does not stop at merely acknowledgement that government has been instituted by God. He goes on tell the Roman Christians that they should actually honor the leaders. Think about that. Honor the man that kills Christians and believes himself to be a god. But this is not unique to Paul. Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:13–17:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Again, think about the historical context. Peter wrote to Christians who were suffering at the hands of the Roman emperor. Amazingly, though, he encourages those same Christians to honor and submit to the emperor.
Of course, we have a different type of government nowadays. It allows us to bring our views to the public square to debate other positions and to vote according to our conscience, which is a huge blessing when so much of the world has little control in how their respective country is governed. Regardless of our particular form of government, Christians are called to honor and submit to our governing officials as long as your obedience does not cause you to stray from God’s commands. Even if President Obama somehow turned our country into a communist state—which is a fear I’ve heard repeated on conservative talk radio and the like—the passages from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 would still cry out for obedience.
To be sure, there are times that demand for Christians to vocally speak out about the injustices that a society might be facing, but the biblical writers didn’t spend the bulk of their time there. Instead, the apostle Paul told his protege Timothy, “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” (1 Tim. 2:1–2). Pray for our leaders. Pray for President Obama. Pray for the politicians you support. Pray for the ones you fundamentally disagree with. Pray. If we took these passages to heart, I believe our tone would be much different as we participate in America’s true favorite pastime.
As members of the kingdom of heaven, Christians have a responsibility to be good citizens who honor and pray for those who command the earthly kingdoms. We speak as ambassadors for the true King, exemplify the life of the future kingdom in our lives, and pray that the kingdom continues to spread on this earth. This is the core of how we discuss and participate in politics.