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Posts Tagged ‘respecting authorities’

Occasional Series: Christians and Politics

Well, it’s that time again! A presidential election is upon us. And that can only mean one thing – it’s time for the next installment of our once in every four years, series on Christians and politics. I’m sure you all remember everything I said from the first installment (: But for those who weren’t here, I have some fliers in the back.

This time we look at the perils of partisan politics. This is an important topic since: 1) We don’t all share the same political views. And so partisanship can quickly become a divisive and destructive force among us; we whose real allegiance is to our Lord Jesus, who is our unity. 2) The frenzy of partisanship can lead us to act in ways that are not consistent with our Christian values and commitments.

Let’s begin with a bit more on the question of –

What is partisan politics?

A partisan is a firm adherent to a party or cause, in this case a political one. But I mean more than this. I’m talking about someone who has:

  • an overwhelming certainty about their views which leads them to assume that something is wrong, intellectually or morally with anyone who disagrees.
  • a zealous intensity about their views so that the feel that it is absolutely crucial that their views gain political power.

Such partisanship is fed by 24 hour media outlets who are themselves fully partisan and who make their living on keeping things stirred up.

Well, this certainty and intensity often pushes a ‘win at all costs’ mentality, where you will say or do what you need to, to make sure your cause wins. The end justifies the means.

Partisanship often leads to a ‘politics of destruction’ so that the other candidate cannot be acknowledged as a decent person who has done decent things. They must be torn down and destroyed. And partisanship often leads to a ‘politics of fear.’ You know, if the other candidate is elected it forebodes the end of the world as we know it.

Now there are many who decry the problems of partisanship, for instance the loss of civil discourse and the lack of a focus on the common good. But our interest is Christian. And so I have identified three perils of partisan politics for Christians – things that we all need to beware of in this election season and beyond.

Peril #1. Slander

By slander I mean spreading half-truths, distortions or deceptions regarding a person’s character, record or statements. I’m thinking here of what you say in conversation with others, in emails – your own or those you pass along, in internet posts, texts, you name it.

Slander in politics is so common today that it has to be really outrageous for us to even notice it. And it has been with us for many years. Here’s an example from the presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

  • Jefferson’s camp called Adams neither a man nor a woman in character, having “neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” He was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal and a tyrant.
  • Adam’s camp called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow” and a half-breed (I’m cleaning things up a bit). He was also called a weakling, an atheist and a coward. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201112/political-slander-is-nothing-new Perhaps we are a bit more refined today? Maybe?

Now, I’m not saying you can’t strongly disagree with a politician, just that the same rules apply with regard to slander for a candidate as for any other person – your  neighbor, co-worker, whoever. So –

  • Don’t accept negative information if you’re not sure it is true. There’s so much slander flying around from both sides. Become friends with a good fact-checking site or two.
  • Don’t be involved in character assaults.
  • Even if the information is true, don’t say anything that is simply meant to tear someone down. Yes, we can speak the truth, but we must do it in love (Ephesians 4:15), not in hatred for the other person, or simply to further our political ends, or to delight in their downfall.

This is serious stuff. Regarding slander the ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” – Exodus 20:16. Jesus tells us that slander morally “defiles” us – Matthew 15:19-20. Paul says, “Let all . . . slander be put away from you, along with all malice” – Ephesians 4:31.

Brothers and sisters what business do we have engaging in such practices? We are called to love others, not destroy their reputations. Do you think that because the person is a political leader that it’s OK? That they are not a real person? Do you think that God is not watching? Do you think that politics is an area of life where God’s righteousness doesn’t apply? Where you can be worldly? Where you can be un-Christ-like? Where you can walk in the flesh?

Peril #2. Dishonoring authorities

I remember when George W. Bush was president. And many Christians, progressive and anti-war Christians, treated him with disrespect. I certainly didn’t agree with everything he did. But that doesn’t justify what I often heard – slander, ridicule, insults and name calling.

Well, not to be outdone, since the election of Barak Obama many conservative Christians have responded in kind. I certainly don’t agree with everything that he has done. But my point is that this doesn’t justify what I often hear –  slander, ridicule, insults and name calling.

It’s one thing to disagree with someone based on the issues. It’s another to dishonor them. I am concerned that we are systematically training our children and young people to disrespect authorities, not just political ones, but in all areas of life. We don’t model for them disagreeing with respect.

Scripture has very strong teaching on submitting to and honoring authorities. Here is one example: 1 Peter 2:13-14 – “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.” So we have submission here. But notice this also includes respect too. The text goes on in v. 17 to say, “Honor the emperor.”

Now our culture in general is not very good at honoring or submitting to authorities. We may well live in one of the most anti-authoritarian cultures ever. But as Christians, Scripture is our guide, not our culture. And we need to work on this.

But you say, “Pastor, you just don’t understand, this politician is really bad!” Well let’s think about this for a moment. When Peter wrote, the emperor was Nero. I can assure you that he had no Christian values. He was a worshipper of idols, one who had near absolute power, one who allowed himself to be viewed as a god. And then later in his career he persecuted Christians in the city of Rome mercilessly, most likely killing the apostle Paul and also Peter, who wrote this instruction to us. So, really, you think that your political enemy is bad? Really!?

The point is, whoever the leader is, we are called to show respect. Yes, you can oppose them or call out sin. But honor does not include slander, ridicule, insults and name calling.

Rather we are called to pray for authorities. Paul says, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions . . .” – 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Pray regularly for your political opponents (not for their downfall but for God to lead and help them) and see what this does to your heart and attitude.

Peril #3. Arrogance

When someone is certain that their views are right, it is very easy to become arrogant. I’m talking about political self-righteousness. I’m right and if you can just be quiet long enough to listen to me you will soon see that too. And if you can’t you must be stupid or depraved.

Peter says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” – 1 Peter 5:5. Humility means confessing that we don’t know everything. And that it is at least possible that we are wrong. It means making space for others with different views on matters of worldly opinion.

Also, political arrogance causes division and hurt among us, all so that you can say what you feel you need to say about your political views. But God calls us to live in peace with one another and to respect one another.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1 Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up . . ..” That is, when you think you know everything it makes you arrogant and hurtful to others. He goes on to say, “but love builds up.” Love leads us to respect and serve others, even those who hold different opinions in the matters of this world.

A final thought –

Watch your words!

Politics has much to do with words, especially campaigning. And there is a ‘word theme’ in the message today – words of slander that tears down, words of disrespect, arrogant words that hurt and divide.

David may well have been talking about political opponents in his day when he talked about those “who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows” in Psalm 64:3. And when we are filled with passion for worldly politics we can easily go astray in our words so that they become like arrows and swords.

So let’s remember these Scriptures as we end. Jesus said, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” – Matthew 12:36. If our careless words of slander, disrespect and arrogance are judged how much more our intentional words of slander, disrespect and arrogance?

Peter taught, “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil” – I Peter 4:10. As James said, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” – James 1:26.

William Higgins

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