Honoring Obama Even When You Disagree With Him: The Sequel

This piece was first posted four years ago today. I find that it is just as relevant now as it was then and can only hope that people who claim to follow Christ will exhibit Christ-like character no matter what their political position may be. It is deeply concerning to me that I see many Christians, politically right and left and theologically right and left, who have made their political ideology superior to their Biblical commands. By that I mean, many people are interpreting Scripture in light of their politics and not their politics in light of Scripture. I think this because the vitriol that I see in the Christian on Christian attacks and ad hominem arguments are only possible if we are setting aside the things that Jesus taught us about our relationships and responding to one another out of human pride, bitterness, and anger.

With that said, I trust that the following will speak to you and that you will be encouraged to trust in an almighty God who has been running the universe very well, long before you and I ever showed up on the scene to tell Him how to do it.

First published in November of 2008

“This morning I was confronted with one of those Bible passages with which we like to do one of two things. It is a passage that we either try to ignore altogether or explain it away so that we become convinced that it could never apply to our situation. The passage deals with giving honor to leaders, even bad leaders, even if you vehemently disagree with what they are doing. The words come from the Apostle Peter in 1st Peter 2:13, 14 and 17. “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good…17 Honor everyone. Love the Brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor” Peter goes on to talk about also honoring your boss as well as being willing to suffer for doing good. Those are not easy things to put into practice.

Now before I go any further let me make it clear, in the last election I voted for the other guy so this is not coming from an apologist for the current administration. Rather, I am trying to look at this from the standpoint of making Christian witness a priority over political ideology. What I have seen in recent months, in terms of political rancor and vitriol is not new, at least not in my eyes. One advantage of being a child of the sixties is I have seen demonstrations against the government that make the G-20 demonstrators look like a Sunday school class out for an ice cream social. So I am not concerned about the general population getting all angry and nasty in politics. That is nothing new no matter what the media says. What does concern me is the level ridicule, bitterness, and anger bordering on hatred that is being poured out by many claiming to follow Christ. Instead of attacking the issues that we disagree over, many are falling into the time-honored tradition of attacking the person expressing the ideas.

I always find it humbling to the extreme that the first century Christians continued to honor the Emperor with the exception of worshiping him as a god, even as he was having some of them put to death for their faith. Peter makes it clear why this was to be the practice of Christ-followers. 1st Peter 2:21-23 says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His footsteps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” That is the kind of life that we as Christ-followers are to demonstrate to the world around us.

But what is the purpose in it? Peter also makes that clear. We are to live this way, honoring those in authority even when they make us suffer so that they will glorify God. “Keep your conduct honorable among the gentiles so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” 1st peter 2:12 This is why I say I am more concerned with our Christian witness than I am with political ideology. Peter says that the ultimate goal is NOT for us to shape the government. Certainly we are to be involved in the process but if we get the public policy we want and do not live in such a way that leads people to people glorify God, then we have failed. It would be better to have lost the policy debate and have won people to Jesus than to have won the debate and lost our witness and our souls.

This is why Peter says that we are to honor others. We are to treat them with respect and dignity, even serving them while we disagree with their policy or their methods. We debate the issues. We don’t attack the person. We should be involved in the public debate in order to demonstrate what a Christ-follower is really like, not just what we think, but how we love and honor others. So disagree all you want with President Obama, with your governor, mayor, town dog catcher. If you are in another country the same applies to you. Disagree with policy but honor the office and the person in it. It may mean that you will suffer for disagreeing, because we should never be surprised when unbelievers don’t play by our rules. But that is never an excuse for us to do anything differently from how Jesus did it.”

Obama, the Bible, and Same Sex Marriage

It is impossible to turn on the news today or go to the internet without being confronted by the news of President Obama’s statement that he supports the right of same-sex couples to get married. While I can certainly appreciate his compassionate heart for people who feel they are unfairly being denied the possibility of a marriage to their same-sex partner, and I can even affirm that I believe the President to be my brother in Christ, I have to disagree with his position on clear biblical grounds.

At the heart of the issue is this, who determines what a marriage is and who can get married and who cannot? In the last 200 years or so, governments have played an increasingly large role in that decision and the religious community has played a smaller and smaller role. But for the entire period of human history prior, that was not the case. Prior to that time, certainly in western civilization, it has been the church, and I mean that in the broadest terms, that has defined marriage and informed the government on what is and is not a marriage. Clearly the tables have been turned. Now instead of the faith communities informing society and the government on what is and is not marriage, it is western philosophical, post-enlightenment philosophy that shapes the our understanding of marriage. We have gone from marriage being a sacred union between man and woman, to being a contractually based relationship between two people who want certain benefits of accorded such couples by the government and society. That is founded on faith in philosophy not faith in God.

But where does the church get its understanding of marriage? On what basis does it take a stand. Let me be clear about one thing. This is not a blog dealing primarily with homosexuality. That is only secondarily the issue here. What I am talking about is marriage and its roots. In the Christian community we look to the Bible as our revealed source of God’s truth. That is a given. You can debate the wisdom of that all you want but the fact is, the Bible is what Christians hold to as their depository of God’s will and wisdom. I say that as strongly as I do, so that it becomes clear, if you want to affirm same-sex marriage you are doing so with full knowledge that the Bible teaches otherwise. That may not matter to you, but it matters to millions of Christians in America and a billion world-wide. First let’s be clear on what the Bible does not say. The Bible does not say “same-sex marriages are sinful”. You won’t find those words. Why? Because rather than take a negative approach full of “thou shalt nots”, the Bible takes a positive approach and holds up the ideal that we are to strive for. The positive teaching of the Bible on marriage is that it is designed by God to be between a man and a woman. That teaching is so clear and so taken for granted that there were no same-sex marriages and thus no need to say anything against them. That doesn’t mean there was no homosexual behavior. There was. But same-sex marriage was unheard of so there was no need to speak against it. Rather the Bible says what marriage is, why it is and who is eligible for marriage.

To understand what the Bible teaches, we have to start with Genesis 2 and the account of the creation of man and woman.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Genesis 2:18-24

It doesn’t matter whether you think this actually happened as a literal event or that it is somehow a myth handed down to make a point. For Christians, and incidentally, Jews AND Muslims, this is something revealed to us by God to teach us about our origins, purpose, and destiny. As it speaks about marriage it is crystal clear that God made it to be a union between a man and a woman and that it has spiritual significance. They are somehow joined together as one. They are not just two people signing a contract detailing how they will share property rights or designating who can visit them in the hospital or any other such important issues. Those are the issues of the contractual understanding of marriage in the post-enlightenment west. The Bible is saying there is more, there is a binding together of man and woman in marriage that is instituted and blessed by God.

Some will say that the Genesis passage is Old Testament and therefore culturally irrelevant. For that reason it also needs to be recognized that Jesus affirmed this teaching in the clearest possible ways.  In Matthew 19 he repeats and expands on the teaching from Genesis 2 as a way of affirming the sanctity of marriage and the exclusive nature of the relationship between a man and a woman. Jesus does not deal with this as a cultural issue but rather as an issue of theological truth that is founded in the very character of God. When Paul writes to the Corinthians he also affirms that there is a spiritual component to the physical relationship that is supposed to be reserved for husband and wife. A biblical understanding of marriage must include the recognition that it is more than two people agreeing to live together and be partners in some domestic limited partnership. There is a third-party involved. The Bible says that God joins together a man and woman in marriage. That is why it is primarily a spiritual and not a civil matter.

In making any decisions about our view of marriage we must, or at least confessing Christians must, look to what the Bible says about marriage and seek to understand it and implement it as best we can. Some people may come to a different interpretation of what the BIble teaches. I understand that and can work with that. At least from there we can discuss the meaning of the passage and its application based on mutually agreed methods of literary interpretation. What we cannot do is simply ignore what the Bible says because we are trying to be compassionate, modern, or even fair.

What are the concerns in all this? Some who support same-sex marriage might simply say, “why don’t you just live your way and let them live their way?” That sounds so nice and reasonable and fair. But here is the problem. Because government now has the primary role in determining who can get married and what a legitimate marriage is, they also have the power to determine who can perform such marriages and who cannot. Given the nature of government to spread its power and authority rather than limit it, as an evangelical pastor I have a legitimate concern that the day may soon come when the government says, in order to have the authority to perform any wedding, I must be willing to perform all weddings, same-sex or not. You think that is far-fetched? Think the government would never do such a thing? Look at recent history. Religious hospitals are being faced with regulations requiring them to perform medical procedures they find to be immoral. Religious schools and other institutions are being faced with the possibility of being required to provide insurance coverage for those same procedures. Clearly the government has shown a willingness to ignore the conscience of people of faith and require them to do things that violate their religious beliefs. How ironic is that, when one of the foundational principles of our culture today is to respect the beliefs of others and not force anyone to adhere to your beliefs. It seems that only flows one way.

Let me make one final point. I place the blame for where we are, squarely on the shoulders of Christians and the Church, though probably not for the reasons you may think. It is not because we have failed to oppose such culture shifts vehemently enough with protests and indignation. Rather, it is because we have failed to teach and uphold the positive Biblical ideals on marriage, sex, and human relationships. Far too much of our teaching and preaching is moralistic do’s and dont’s without any solid foundation based on the character of God. Such moralism quickly gives way to what is expedient, easiest, or “most reasonable”. In other cases our teaching too closely represents the latest self-help steps to a better marriage or relationship. It is teaching, full of practical tips, void of Biblical power. We need to get back to a Biblical understand of the purpose of marriage, the oneness between man, woman, and God that is the glue that holds the marriage together. We need to be captured by the holy mystery of man and woman becoming one, and that being more than sexual intimacy but a binding of soul on soul that is for the benefit of society and the glory of God. Let’s live out the glory of a Biblical marriage that makes it so attractive and compelling that people would yearn for that ideal and accept no substitute for the blessings God has for them.

 

President Obama: Christian or Muslim?

One thing you have to love about people, is the way we can refuse to let the facts get in the way of a good preconceived notion, conspiracy theory, or deeply held conviction. Depending on which poll you read in the past several months, anywhere from 18 to 24% of Americans still think that the President is a Muslim. When asked why they thought that, a significant number point to his name and say it sounds Muslim. Given that logic I guess my name, Lacich, makes me Croatian Eastern Orthodox.

Today at a prayer breakfast in the White House, President Obama spoke as clearly of his Christian faith as anyone could be expected to speak. In fact, he was more clear than a lot of people I have talked to who claimed to be Christians and are regular church goers. In an article in the Examiner, author Christine Priest Stiegemeyer, (hmm sounds like a Nazi name to me) details what the president said about his own faith and religious practice. He goes so far as to pinpoint the events that led to him embracing Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior twenty years ago. According to what I read in my Bible, that pretty much makes you a Christian, no matter what your name is. So if you are a Christian then I think it is time to recognize that the President is a brother in Christ, with you, me, and the Governor of Alabama. If you are wondering why I mention the governor then read this post from a few weeks ago. That means you need to treat the President with the same respect you would any other member of the family. After all, you just might find that you are seated across from him at the eternal banquet feast in Heaven. Talk about awkward!

But what if he was not a Christian. What if in fact he really was a Muslim? Then what? First, according to our Constitution, it is irrelevant what his faith is or is not. America was founded on lots of principles, one of them being that a person’s faith or lack there of, has no bearing on their rights as a citizen. Further more, if you are a Christian let me suggest that you are still required by Scripture to pray for him, to respect and honor him, as well as to love him so that one day he would come to faith in Christ. Christians can disagree with policy. We can express our opinions on issues. We can work, march, debate, and struggle for what we think is the right direction for the country. What we cannot do is attack the person who holds different views. We cannot raise the issue of their faith as being somehow the deciding factor of what is right or wrong.

But the fact is, the president has identified himself as a follower of Jesus Christ. Every morning he reads scripture and a devotional on that passage. He prays and asks the Lord to give him wisdom and strength as he seeks to lead. At night he prays again and asks the Lord to forgive him. Maybe we can all get past this silly notion that he is a Muslim and instead spend our time reading the Scriptures, praying for strength and wisdom and asking for forgiveness.

Striking a Nerve About Barack Obama

At 7am on Wednesday November 5th I posted “Why God Had Obama Win”. Up until that time this site averaged less than 20 hits a day for the two months that it was up. In a little over 48 hours 800 people have accessed the site and I have been told of hundreds more who have read it because people have copied the post and put it on their Facebook page, on other blog sites, and in one case even translated one of the posts from the blog into Russian to post on a site in Ukraine. As you can well imagine it has left me rather astonished. I thought I had something to add to the discussion but never figured that it would attract that much attention.

Well being the kind of person that God has wired me to be I have spent a good bit of time wondering why so many people have been compelled not just to read it but to keep passing it on to others. As I look at the responses that I have received at the blog as well as in emails, on other blogs, and Facebook walls it seems that there are a couple of reasons for this mini-viral blip.

For the first presidential election in my life time, and I can remember Goldwater running against Lyndon Johnson in 1964 so that covers a few elections, the evangelical church has shown solid support for two different candidates. In the past there has nearly always been a single candidate that a vast majority of evangelicals rallied around. This year that was not the case. A purely unscientific poll of people I know revealed an even split between Obama and McCain supporters. I think that this lack of consensus on the part of Christians has added to the anxiety. McCain supporters just can’t figure out how a fellow Christian can support Obama, and to a lesser degree the reverse is also true. I say to a lesser degree because McCain fits the more typical profile that evangelicals have historically supported when it comes to abortion and gay marriage, and other similar social issues.

I believe that this lack of consensus in the church has added to a sense of dread. Some people are worried that we are somehow being deceived. It is hard for them to imagine that God’s people could disagree so much without there somehow being the hand of Satan behind it. Certainly that is always a possibility, but it may also simply be that the landscape is changing and the the monolithic power block of evangelicals is no more. Christians have woken up to a host of other issues, including care for the poor, and the sick, and creation. The issues we care about are growing and as a result, no one candidate seems able to address them all. Depending on what your hot button issue is, you will support a different candidate. A couple of conversations with people who wrestled long and hard over who to vote for demonstrated this. Many who I have spoken to who voted for Obama truly admire McCain and agree with many of his positions. They made a decision for Obama based on his approach to other issues that they also cared about.

I think a second factor involved in why people gravitated to the site is that there has been so much doom and gloom predicted by Christians over an Obama presidency that many people were looking for hope. Yes, I know, kind of ironic isn’t it, looking for hope after the candidate of hope gets elected? But from what people have expressed to me it is clear that many Christians who supported McCain were genuinely worried about how this was going to change the world. One women even expressed fear that since we had a “Muslim” president, Christians were going to be persecuted terribly. I don’t even know how to seriously respond to that. (Well I do but that would take too long at the moment) What it shows me again is what this site is all about. Followers of Christ are generally not following Jesus very well. If, and this is a huge hypothetical “if”, we do start suffering persecution for our faith, the biblical, dare I say provocative response, is to praise God for the privilege of being counted worthy to suffer for Jesus name. Read Philippians 1:29, Matthew 5:10-12, and Acts 5:40-42 for just a few examples of how our forefathers in the faith rejoiced in their persecution.

What all of this forces me to do is go back to our roots in scripture. remember the word for “root” is the same for “radish” and “radical”. So getting back to our radical roots of a provocative life means that we must be the best posible citizens who not only pray for our president-elect, but live the Great Commandment to love God with all out heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We do that even if, especially if, we think that neighbor is an enemy. In that way, we will change the world, just like that first generation of Christ-followers did 2,000 years ago.