Tonight is the night of the Iowa Caucuses, the more or less official start of the US Presidential race, although in reality Republican hopefuls have been jockeying for some time, creating the political theater of the summer. As politicians compete, it is time for Christians to reflect. We need to reflect for several reasons. First, scripture does speak about how one is to treat a ruler (which I would also extend to potential rulers). Second, President Obama and all of those competing to take his job call themselves Christians. It is clear that the President and most of the Republican contenders mean “orthodox” or even “evangelical” Christian by that label, or perhaps “born again” would be a label some prefer to use to describe them. But even the Mormons in the Republican pack consider themselves followers of Jesus, even if their beliefs about Jesus conflict with traditional orthodoxy. How orthodox does one need to be in order to be considered a “brother (or sister) in Christ”? Finally, third, the issues are the issues and when one is not careful about one’s rhetoric or when one is reactive issues can fogged and poor decisions result.
So, first, we need to remember in this vitriolic atmosphere (surely now more from the Republican side, but perhaps that is because the Democrats do not need to sling their own mud because the Republican candidate is not yet decided) that Christians should show that they are Christians by speaking honorably of leaders and, when they must critique, doing so with charity, not to say accuracy. 1 Peter says that one is to “honor the king” (1 Pet 2:17) and Luke cites Paul as saying, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people” (Acts 23:3) – indeed he apologized for what he had called the high priest, despite the fact that the high priest had behaved badly. Paul points to this as a still-valid Old Testament teaching. Of course, none of this is surprising, for Jude notes that even the archangel Michael, when arguing with the devil himself, refused to speak judgmentally about him. Such passages could be multiplied. So, yes, we can and we must state that we disagree with this or that position taken by a politician, for we have to discuss such issues to vote responsibly, but we show we are Christians when we do it respectfully, sticking to the topic and the substance, and curbing our rhetoric. Whether the person is from the left or the right, they should know that they are spoken about as honorable persons, and even more if they are actually in office.
Second, how does one speak about a brother or sister in the Anointed One? On the one hand, followers of Jesus are called upon not to critique their fellow believers before the world. That is so even in such serious matters as those discussed in 1 Cor 6. On the other hand, when we do speak about fellow believers, we are always to “speak the truth in love.” There is rather a lot in the New Testament about the use of the tongue or speaking slanderously or speaking evil of others, and usually that is aimed “within the family.” Surely political discussions do not suspend the teaching of the New Testament. Of course “the world” will use all types of slander and coarse jokes and backbiting and the like, but followers of Jesus set themselves apart from the world by how they speak. I may profoundly disagree with the policies of a George W. Bush or a Barak Obama (not to mention the plethora of positions taken by various candidates for the office both of them have held), but if I listen to Jesus and Paul, if the Holy Spirit is directing me, I will do so in the same tone that I would use in speaking to a brother or sister whom I love when I disagree with them (e.g. my own brothers or my wife, since I lack blood sisters).
Finally, followers of Jesus know that democracy is just a temporary game, so to speak. There is a Father who is sovereign, and a Son who is the King. None of these human leaders or would-be leaders are the end of the world. We show this attitude by speaking without anxiety, even with some lightness. In other words, we should be less reactive, less serious about the choice. Such terms can be misunderstood, but I am using them in the sense that they are used in Bowen theory, i.e. family emotional systems. Such a stance also assists us to think clearly, to speak rationally, to look at both sides of the issue, and ultimately to make better decisions. Unfortunately, it is also the opposite of what we observe in the political process that we see in the USA, although one is thankful for the all-too-rare exceptions to this rule.
Christian theology tells us that we are all sinners who need God’s favor. That is, it indicates that we not only were fallen, but that we also fall. I can get reactive. I can let words slip for which I should apologize. However, if we take our submission to Jesus as Lord seriously, we will recognize that he is Lord and we are not. Because of this recognition we will pray that his Spirit will enlighten us to when we are falling short of his standard in our political speech. We will beg him to show us when and where we have gotten caught up in the anxiety and rhetoric of the world around us. And then we will confess our sin, apologize as appropriate, and pray for the divine favor and power of the Spirit to amend our ways. And if that is the way we live, our political lives will show that Jesus is Lord, that we are a different type of people, and that the Holy Spirit is controlling our lives. That, I submit, is far more important than the outcome of a mere presidential race or any other political contest.