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.”

What Would You Do If….?

I find it very interesting to consider “worst-case scenarios”. A few years ago I even bought a board game by that name. (By the way, don’t bother getting it. It became the fulfillment of it’s own name) But thinking about the worst-case scenario recently I thought, what would the typical church going American do if attending worship at a church building with lots of other people was no longer an option? What would you do if for some reason it was no longer legal or possible to do so? What if it was still legal to be a Christian, you just could never gather in a group of more than a few people at a time? What if terrorist threat levels meant there were no longer any large group gatherings, not just churches, but sporting events, schools and theme parks and concerts. Sound crazy? Often worst-case scenarios seem to be crazy until they actually happen. Think, The Black Death, The Titanic, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina.

But lets just stick to the church gathering part of this scenario. What would you do? How would you continue to follow Jesus and grow in your faith if you could no longer gather in a “church building” with others? What would you do differently from the way you live your Christian life right now if you had no worship team to lead you, no pastor/teacher to instruct you, no large gathering to make you feel upbeat about your faith? I know that in some cases, maybe even a majority of cases, people would end up with a faith that withers and shrivels beyond recognition. The reason I am sure of that is that for large numbers of people that is the only activity that connects them to their faith.

For those of you who would keep there faith growing and vibrant in such a situation, I suspect that it would look something more like this. First of all you would have a radical commitment to spending a considerable amount of time each day in prayer, worship, and study of God’s Word. That prayer time would be less about giving God updates on you life since He already knows all that, and more about pouring out your love to Him and listening for His voice. The study of His Word would be systematic and not the Bible roulette verse of the day that is forgotten tomorrow. It would probably include writing your thoughts  a journal.

Then there would be the time spent with a couple of other Christians during the week, Maybe you would meet in your home or office or even Starbucks. But it would be consistent and a top priority. That time together would include sharing insights from your time with God, what you learned, what psalm or hymn or spiritual song really grabbed you in your worship time. It might include being honest about areas of struggle in your life and being prayed for, really prayed for, by the others in the group. In between those meeting times you would be on the phone to each other or email one another, urging one another on in love and good deeds.

There would be lots of time in your schedule to meet with that new follower of Christ whom you are mentoring since leading them to the Lord a few months ago. You would be talking with them about what the Lord is teaching them and about the obstacles they are facing recently. You would be encouraging them by letting them know that this is fairly normal after a few months. The early honeymoon of following Jesus, blessing that it is from God, is now winding down and the road is getting a little steeper. But you encourage them with the assurance that you will be with them every step of the way and remind them that the person they led to Jesus last week needs encouraged in the same way when the time comes.

You will head home to get dinner ready for the next door neighbors who you are loving for the sake of the Kingdom. It started when you cut their grass while they were on vacation and then invited them over for dinner once they got back. You thought of loving them that way, because last year when you went on vacation you wished someone had loved you like that. You came home to grass way too high and a refrigerator way too empty. One day while your neighbor was away you remembered Jesus telling us to “love our neighbor as ourselves”.  When they ask why you did that, you are prepared to give a defence for the hope that is within you. You are determined to not say something lame like, “Oh it was nothing” and instead say something like, “Jesus said we are to love our neighbors”.

You would end your day praying for the people in your life who don’t know Jesus. You would pray for open doors to love them with Jesus love and for the chance to answer questions about Jesus that they bring up. You would spend a bit more time reading God’s Word, just as a snack before bedtime since you already ate fully from His Word through out the day.

Does that sound like how you would want to live out your faith if you could no longer go to a building on Sunday with lots of other Christians? Well let me ask the obvious. Why do you need to have a worst-case scenario in order to live out your faith like that, when that is exactly how Jesus wants you to live out your faith, 24/7, no matter what? How provocative would your life for Jesus be if that was the norm and the large gathering was just icing on the cake?

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.

Lord of the Rings, Good; Harry Potter, Bad; Really?

Why is it that so many Christians love Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and vilify Harry Potter (HP)? I ask the question because to my way of thinking there is no significant difference between the two works of literature. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work we have a story of good versus evil, friendships forged in a struggle for the future of world. It is set in a world in which wizards, spells, magic, and violence abound and in which good eventually triumphs. In J.K. Rowling’s series of books we have a story of good versus evil, friendships forged in a struggle for the future of world. It is set in a world in which wizards, spells, magic, and violence abound and in which good eventually triumphs. So help me out here. Why do Christians generally approve of LOTR, even writing books and teaching seminars on it’s Christian themes, and berate HP as evil, corrupting of children and somehow part of a satanic plot to turn children into wizards and witches?

I think much of the answer has to do with Christians not using the critical thinking skills that God has given us and falling victim to some of our ugliest prejudices and fears. The first major difference between the two works is their authors. Tolkien was a known, safe, respected commodity. He was an Oxford professor and close friend of the nearly sainted C.S. Lewis. That in itself probably earns him a pass in the minds of many Christians. Tolkien simply carries an aura of respectability. Of course it doesn’t hurt that his Roman Catholic faith is seen as a backdrop to his work. Rowling on the other hand was a complete unknown, which immediately causes the conspiracy theorists among us to go searching for some deep dark plot. Her instant success, far beyond that of Tolkien, certainly caused even further hand wringing and even jealousy among some. The final ugly part of this is that as a woman writing about magic and wizards she became accused of being some sort of witch herself. After all, how could she have possibly written such a  popular book, without some sort of evil force behind her?

I think that a second factor in the differing reactions has to do with timing. Tolkien’s work came out in a time when Christians still engaged the art and literature of the culture. Christians actually read things like Dickens and Poe and Dostoevsky. They did so with eyes wide open and minds engaged, searching for the great themes of life and faith. What they found was stories of redemption, forgiveness, faith, perseverance, honor, and hope. LOR is just that kind of work. Rowling had the misfortune of writing in a time when many Christians have retreated into a spiritual ghetto. It is a place where people only read “Christian” books, listen to “Christian” music, and watch “Christian” movies, all with only your “Christian” friends. We have our own “Christian” television, radio, theme parks, schools, even plumbers and real estate agents. All one needs to do is slap a symbol of a fish on your business card and you have instant credibility in the “Christian” ghetto.

In ways that are ultimately damaging to the cause of Christ many Christians are closing their minds to the timeless truths of God that are found outside the ghetto. One example would be that most Christians have never and will never see the movie, Hotel Rwanda. Yet it may well be one of the most “Christian” movies ever made. It is about self sacrifice, forgiveness, love, redemption and struggle in the midst of a sinful, fallen world. It is a movie of hope in the heart of darkness.

The final nail in the coffin for Rowling and HP is certainly that fact that children were seen as her target market. Tolkien did not write for children in spite of the fact that LOTR is incredibly popular with adolescents. In fact, Tolkien chided his friend Lewis for writing The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, because it was aimed at children. That was a step down to Tolkien. Because HP is so much about children and for children, the conspiracy theorists had a field day. It only added to the fear that Rowling was somehow secretly looking to lure children into a life of wizardry and witchcraft and away from Jesus. It is a sad day when Christians are guided by fear, rumor, and prejudice.

I long for the day when the majority of the Christian world will once again engage the major cultural works of history with a critical and not a jaundiced eye. We need to look for those great truths and themes that the Bible teaches and that show up regularly in the best artwork, literature and film. We need to find the themes of forgiveness and redemption, of sacrifice and love, and instead of railing against the artist, use those themes and the way they touch the human heart, to point people to Jesus. Paul did this in Athens when he quoted Greek philosophers as a stepping stone to talking about the creator of the world. But of course to do that, you need to know what those Greeks said and then see how it can lead to Jesus. And that my friends means we must use the brains God has given us, to point people to Him, for His glory and honor.

I look forward to hearing about someone who came to Christ because they read Harry Potter and a Christian friend used that to point them to Jesus.