Preparing for a President Nobody Seems to Want

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Most would agree that we live in strange times. In just a few months, the strangeness will take center stage when the citizens of the United States decide who they will choose as “the lesser of two evils” in the coming presidential election. Most are uneasy with the right-leaning candidate because his behavior has proven less than presidential: insulting women, making racial slurs, making boastful innuendos about the size of his private parts, and so on. The left-leaning candidate is also considered by many to be less than ideal, due to email scandals and alleged lies and FBI investigations and such.

In light of these strange times, Christ Presbyterian Church will host a Public Forum for Nashville residents, featuring both a right- and left-leaning Christian–Republican Tennessee Governor, Bill Haslam, and former Obama aide, Michael Wear and moderated by local ABC news anchor, Samantha Fisher–at 4:00pm on November 6 (free tickets can be reserved here). We hope you can join us for this.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a few thoughts on how we can start preparing ourselves to be led by a President, whoever she or he may be, that so few people seem to be excited about. As always, I welcome your thoughts. But please be civil.

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Christians can show Christ to the world in the way that we respond to authority. Rather than bucking the system, sticking it to the man, insulting or talking back, Christians are taught in the Bible to respond to authority with honor. This starts with honoring God, who holds authority over the whole universe, including our very own thoughts, words, behaviors and bodies. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price.

One of the chief ways we honor God is in the way we respond to those He has put in authority over us. Whether we agree or disagree with our authorities, showing honor and respect is presented in the Bible as a non-negotiable. In showing honor and respect, we also honor and respect God, who, in His own wisdom and for his own purposes, ordains who will lead and who will follow. This “honor” principle touches virtually every realm of society. It includes children honoring their parents, congregants honoring their elders and pastors, students honoring their teachers, employees honoring their bosses, and spouses honoring each other. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” Paul writes to husbands and wives.

The Bible also says Christians should honor, respect, pray for, and obey authorities in positions of government. During a heated political season like the one we are in now, this can be challenging for all of us. And yet, because politics are so heated, the season we are in now presents Christians with a unique opportunity to live counter-culture to the typical partisan spin and vitriol. We would be wise to remember what Martyn Lloyd-Jones said in this regard, that the world is is attracted to Christ not when Christians behave like the world, but when when they stand out as different from the world.

Biblically, Christians have a civic duty to honor their national, state and local officials. As long we aren’t being coerced to sin against God, following Jesus includes submitting to and praying for all of our public authorities. Put another way, the citizens of God’s kingdom should be known as the most cooperative and refreshing citizens of earthly kingdoms, no matter who is in charge. This was true in biblical times, and it can be true now.

New Testament Christians were routinely marginalized, persecuted and even put to death by the Roman state. Even in this climate, honoring, respecting, cooperating with, and praying for Roman officials was part of being a disciple. The Apostle Peter, who would later be executed by Roman authorities for his Christian faith, said that in all circumstances, Christians must honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). The Apostle Paul, who would also be martyred by decree of the Roman Caesar, said that every Christian must submit to and pray for governing authorities (Romans 13:1).

In today’s political climate, it is sometimes hard to find Christians who embrace this line of thinking. Instead, many have been drawn in to partisan spin and rhetoric. In so doing, these well-intended but misguided Christians have become more like the world than like Jesus. Here are a few thoughts about how we can retreat from the spin and rhetoric, and instead return to more of a New Testament approach:

(1)
Don’t label or smear; instead, humble yourself

Right-leaning Christians fall prey to dishonoring our current president. He identifies as Christian, yet gets labeled as patently not Christian. He identifies as a social Democrat, yet gets labeled as a Socialist. He claims to champion the poor and under-served, yet gets labeled as a crook who takes “other people’s money” and uses it to enable laziness. And yet, strangely, some of his most outspoken critics have now gotten behind another presidential candidate: a billionaire who, on several occasions, manipulated bankruptcy laws to grow his casino business with “other people’s money.”

Similarly, left-leaning Christians have shown disrespect to our previous president. Words like “Murica” and “Strategery” are now part of the American lexicon, but not for honoring reasons. Rather, such words are used to belittle, embarrass and caricature this president and Yale graduate as a bumbling idiot. Left-leaning Christians can also engage in rhetoric that labels right-leaning authorities as anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, and so on. Many of these same Christians dismiss the wisdom of proven, work-based poverty solutions that foster independence and self-respect. In the name of “choice” and “rights” and protecting the vulnerable, choice and rights are denied to millions of vulnerable, voiceless boys and girls in the womb.

I probably just made everyone angry. But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? Right, left, or neither, we should address the logs in our own eye before we presume to address the specks in someone else’s.

(2)
Show respect for authorities with whom you disagree

Examples fill the Scriptures. In spite of being put in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, Joseph treated for Pharaoh and the Egyptian guards with honor. Daniel and his three friends spoke respectfully to Babylon’s evil King Nebuchadnezzar. David blessed and prayed for King Saul, even though Saul wanted to kill David. When David had the opportunity to defeat Saul with his sword, he resisted the temptation. Instead, he entrusted himself, and the ways that king Saul had injured him, to God who judges justly. David wouldn’t even speak negatively about Saul. Why? Because God, for reasons only God knew, wanted Saul to be king for a time. Out of respect for God, David gave respect to the evil, hateful Saul.

These are models for us to consider as we engage political discussions, and as we think about how to relate to authorities we don’t agree with.

(3)
Engage the political process in a grown-up, non-judgy way

Amid a heated political campaign in 1774, John Wesley wrote the following in his Journal:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1. To vote…for the person they judged most worthy,
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.

I have nothing to add to this.

(4)
Remember that Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world.

Jesus came to fulfill every part of Scripture. Not one scratch of the law will go unfulfilled by Jesus. How conservative of Him. And yet, as Jesus demonstrates, the more conservative we are in our beliefs about Scripture, the more liberal we will be in the ways that we love. Jesus fulfilled the law by feeding the hungry, identifying with the poor, empowering women, reaching out cross-racially, and welcoming and eating with sinners. How progressive of him.

And get this. Jesus brought Simon, an anti-government Zealot, and Matthew, a government employee, into his group of twelve disciples. You might say that Simon was “right wing” in his views, and that Matthew was “left wing” in his. Of the four gospel writers, only Matthew points out this fact, signaling that loyalties to Jesus transcends all other loyalties, including political ones. Even Simon and Matthew, two people on polar opposite political extremes, can live and love in community together. Why? Because instead of creating dividing walls, Jesus breaks down dividing walls and prays that his followers—from the political left and the political right—will live as one. In this, we show the world that we are his disciples.

(5)
Sit uncomfortably with the most important questions

In consideration of Matthew and Simon living in community together under Jesus, we should wrestle with the following question:

For whom do I feel greater affection?
1. People who agree my politics but don’t share my faith? Or…
2. People who share my faith but don’t agree with my politics?

If it’s the first instead of the second, we may be rendering unto Caesar what belongs to God. And that can’t be a good thing.

The way that we answer this question will, in many ways, determine what kind of honor—or what kind of dishonor—we will give to those in authority over us.


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9 responses to “Preparing for a President Nobody Seems to Want”

  1. Valerie Cullaton says:

    Scott Sauls- thank you for writing this. I always appreciate your thoughts and am so glad to see your thoughtful perspective pop up in my Facebook newsfeed amidst so much craziness. For the most part I agree with your thoughts here and with the theological foundation you present for respecting authority, but I would love to hear your thoughts (or the thoughts of other believers who might read this) on a few things that leave me questioning.

    Recently this same issue came up, with regard to respecting the authority of police, even when they are in the wrong (in a comment thread following the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille). I just wonder at what point we draw the line between honoring and obeying authority and standing up for those who are being oppressed. I agree completely with your point about humbling ourselves and not giving in to the temptation to disparage those in authority just because we disagree, and I definitely agree that we must pray for our leaders. But I think about leaders like Hitler. Surely the work of the forces of resistance and the role of the U.S. in WWII was warranted, as saving lives is as much Kingdom work as prayer? There have been so many evil leaders in the history of the world. Were none of them to be challenged? Was Hitler placed in his position by God? (Confession- I am not 100% Presbyterian 🙂

    Further, in the U.S., we do not have a king, and questioning the decisions and character of our leaders was by necessity woven into the fabric of our nation from the beginning. Our “king,” as I understand it, is in effect the Constitution, under which every citizen is held to account- cafeteria workers, policemen, and presidential candidates alike. Yet, even in respecting the Constitution, do we not have an obligation (as followers of the true King) to hold its founders to account for naming an entire ethnic group 3/5 human?

    In my opinion, as Christ’s followers, we will neither fall to the far Right nor the far Left, as each side has some good and some evil- as you pointed out. And I think this is where I’ve felt the most discouraged with the current discourse among Christians in this political season. Your last challenge, encouraging us to sit uncomfortably with those two questions… In many ways it seems to me that honoring our true King simply is not compatible with honoring (in this case- giving our full support to) either of the available presidential candidates. I know several Christians who have now donned their bedazzled Trump pins and decided to ignore the decidedly un-Christian attitudes and agendas of the Republican nominee. Some still will vote for him as (in their opinion) the “lesser of two evils,” but many are actually choosing to believe in him for (it seems) salvation from whatever they believe is ailing this country. While the same is true on the flip side, it feels so much more frustrating with the Republican nominee because of the amount of effort being exercised to paint him and his agenda as sincerely Christian. My point is that all of a sudden it feels like I don’t “share my faith” with many in this country who call themselves Christians, and the current political insanity has exposed this. I understand and cling to Wesley’s “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things charity;” but it feels like each of us has a different idea of what the essentials are. Is this an arrogant perspective? Maybe I’m missing the plank in my eye? From my perspective, it seems that there are multiple gods being worshiped here (Money, Power, Safety), and all are labeled “Christian.”

    • scottsauls says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful note, Valerie. I’ve written in greater depth on these things in Chapter 1 of my book, Jesus Outside the Lines. That chapter can be downloaded free of charge, should you be interested, at https://scottsauls.com/books.

    • Stephanie says:

      Valerie,

      You say so many good things. One item I would quibble with would be equating “honor” with “full support.” I doubt that the early Christians fully supported the Roman emperors who were throwing them to the lions! I think we often attach our 21st century sensibilities to words/translations of words in the Bible, attributing meanings to them that weren’t meant. Nowadays, we use the word “honor” only in the most positive sense, implying that we condone everything a person has done/is doing. But if we look at multiple Scriptures, we can gain a richer understanding of the word. I think “honor” can look different according to the object of that honor. I can “honor” Gandhi for his nonviolence activism without holding to his Hinduism, and I can “honor” Donald Trump by praying for him and not spreading dehumanizing vitriol on social media without condoning what he says or does. Truth be told, we as Christians should honor everyone as someone made in God’s image. (What that would have looked like in the days of Hitler, I have no idea – and I know Bonhoeffer struggled with it.)

  2. Gingy Steele says:

    What Valerie wrote about the two candidates is so true. I have always been anxious to debate the two candidates qualities but this year I have kept out of the debate because I cannot find much I agree with in either candidate . Do I stay home and not vote? I was raised to respect my country and its leaders, which I believe is rendering unto Cesar what is his and unto God what is his. My conscience is saying to decide what is most important in all the issues available to debate. And so based on what I feel the strongest about (morally speaking) is the life of the unborn child! There are few who stand steadfast for the life of an unborn child. We rename it “fetus” to sooth our conscience and the truth is swept away. Even our countries laws can be wrong and stand defiant before the Creator. Denying life is not our decision but God’s. Jesus said let the little ones come to me, but we as a nation stand in defiance of Jesus’ words and deny those children the opportunity to know life outside of the womb. My decision is to choose the candidate who respects life. Without respect for life, we as a nation will crumble!

  3. Jon says:

    I, personally, have and odd dilemma when voting. I tend to have “higher standards” for the person in the party that is supposed to “resembles most closely” my beliefs. I believe my candidate should not only have the position of my faith but also the posture of my faith.

    Unfortunately, although position is often there the posture toward outsiders and insiders is almost always absent. So, I am more inclined to vote a bit antithetically (the opposite) since I don’t want to be placed in the position of defending the guy I voted for. What is really weird is I find this both funny and sad at the same time…. 🙂 :-(.

    It is such a difficult time for our faith.. but I believe the Gospel will continue to shine more brightly than ever and Christians have more opportunity than ever to be the Salt and Light to peopled needing healing.

  4. Mark Nester says:

    Thank you, Scott. Daniel’s three friends in Daniel chapter 3 were very bold in saying they would not worship his gods or bow down to the golden image, but they never dishonored the king. It cost them and yet we know the end of that story. When the king came to the lion’s den to check on his friend Daniel, Daniel responded, “O king, live forever.” Others may have been insincere in using this statement, but Daniel meant it. Daniel goes on to declare his innocence before God and man in ch. 6:21 and 22. And we see another powerful ending to God’s story. I believe we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in the east and the middle east.
    This answers none of the issues of oppression and injustice, but I believe it does answer how we go about dealing with the imago dei in each one of us whether prince or pauper; whether left or right or self professed neutral. Jesus was very bold and firm with the religious leaders of his day amd yet we see his tears for them in Matthew chapter 23.
    Thanks again Scott for being very bold about issues, injustices, oppressions and differences and yet laying a clear path as to how we approach the ones we may differ with.

  5. Laird Ehlert says:

    A very good article, however, let us not give in to defeatism! There are other choices- Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, Gary Johnson. I may not agree with everything that they say, but by and large, I think that I like their values more than the major party candidates’ values. While third party candidates never had a chance before, this year there are discontented voters in such huge numbers that a third party could win, even as a write-in. The two parties love to pay lip service to whatever they think will get them votes, but they really abandoned the people years ago and are mostly interested in preserving their own power. They accomplish little, but talk a lot to make you think that they care. I think that it would be the Christian thing to say to them, “We cannot allow this to go on. Thank you and good-bye.”

  6. Soman Varghese says:

    Brother Scott,

    I agree with you 100%. Thank you for the awesome reminder of a believers role during this time of unstable political environment. We are called for a higher purpose and we must be a light in this world and show Christ likeness in everything we do “including politics”. We must have a daily awareness that our citizenship is not on this earth but with our Lors Jesus Christ in heaven and we are His ambassador representing Him on this earth!!!

    I needed to hear this today!!

    Your former Indian Room mate “Soman”

  7. Chad says:

    Scott,
    Thank you for the level-headed, biblical treatment of this subject. I especially appreciated point #2. It stuns me how Christians can be so disrespectful of one candidate or another and feel quite justified in doing so just because that office holder may not see the world as they do. I am a registered Republican and did not vote for Barack Obama, but he is God’s anointed for our nation and he deserves our respect, honor, and prayers. In this divisive political season may God raise up more Daniel’s, David’s, and Joseph’s in his church. God’s peace to you!

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