“What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:12-14
In the midst of impeachment furor and an election year, how do we “seek peace and pursue it?” How do we, as Christians who are charged to show a watching world what the Kingdom of God looks like, talk about impeachment, our leaders and election issues in personal conversations? On social media?
Especially if we support President Trump. So many evangelical Christians, especially the younger generation, are wondering how evangelicals can support him and still follow Christ. Here are three questions to ask ourselves if we want to maintain a good witness and example in 2020:
Am I being a Good Steward of My Citizenship?
In today’s highly polarized political climate, I don’t think this means we shrink back from political engagement. We are called to be good stewards of the gifts that God gives us. One of our greatest gifts is our citizenship, especially in The United States where we are the government. This means we need to be informed about our elected officials and the issues at hand so we can speak and vote wisely.
How Can I Find Information I Can Trust?
In today’s polarized culture how can we cut through media bias? One good way is to read both sides of an issue. I read my daily New York Times digest to catch the headlines, but understand it’s written from a very liberal/progressive perspective. Proverbs 18:17 gives us some wise advice: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” To get out of our echo chamber, our Christian bubble, it helps to read different sides of the same story.
Once we have found reliable information, we should be engaged, but in a way that values peace and justice. We may need to fight for justice. God may be laying a justice issue heavily on our hearts. Many evangelicals feel that Proverbs 24:11 compels them to advocate against abortion or human trafficking: “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.” But we need to fight peaceably. Maybe this final question can help us do that…
Does What We Say and the Way We Say It Take Seriously Our Call to Honor Everyone?
Some time ago, in another church, an elder and good friend invited me to have a look at something in his wallet. He pulled out a fake $2 bill featuring President Obama’s portrait in the center oval—smiling and sporting an Arab turban. I looked up at my friend but didn’t smile. Neither did I say anything. I found it offensive but couldn’t process an appropriate response in the four-second window I had. I regretted how I handled that and decided to think it through Biblically and be prepared in the future.
Now I have a much more thoughtful response to an invitation to take a punch or have a laugh at our president’s expense. If a fellow-believer is mean-spirited and mocking, like my friend’s two dollar bill, I can gently ask, “I know how you feel about our president, but may I ask you a question: Have you ever read 1 Peter 2:1—“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor”? What do you think Peter means?”
Christ calls us to honor the image of God in everyone. Even the emperor. Even a horrific emperor like Nero, who was emperor when the apostle Peter wrote this. The same Nero who lashed Christians to poles and set them ablaze to provide outdoor lighting at his garden parties.
This command is incredibly difficult to follow and so ignored, even in our churches. But we know Jesus has the best wisdom about everything, especially being good stewards of our relationships, something far more important than our citizenship.
If we feel like God is encouraging us to go this route, then we need to do it as gently and prayerfully as possible. We also need to know that there is a good chance, no matter how gently we address it, that it will severely test the relationship. It is best done in private, taking someone aside or quietly messaging them. Even then, we may be risking the friendship.
I had a professional Christian friend who was repeatedly ranting on my Facebook page against President Trump. Mocking, name-calling…certainly dishonoring him. Readers of this blog know that I am not an unqualified fan of the president. But after one particularly disrespectful attack the same day my husband had preached on this passage I privately messaged her.
I began with great empathy for her previous marriage to an abusive, narcissistic husband who, in some ways, resembled the president. I acknowledged her tenderness in that area, but gently asked her what she thought of Peter’s admonition. She criticized me harshly and unfriended me.
Whether we are fighting against or for the president or other political leaders, we have the best witness when we fight peaceably, always honoring the other person as one made in God’s image. Remembering that we are all mixed bags of motives.
Beware the politician that presumes to absolutely know his or her opponent’s motives, especially if they claim their opponents motives are all irredeemably bad all the time. The Apostle Paul has honestly said of his own motives that even when he is not aware of anything against himself he doesn’t judge himself. Only the Lord can acquit him. God alone knows what is in our hearts.
I’ve cringed today as Speaker Pelosi and President Trump have each blasted the other’s motives for faith and prayer. There has been no honoring on either side. I feel like the entire nation is in the back seat listening to their parents tear each other apart. Listening to the accusations and vitriol helplessly as people who should lead with honor are reaching for the fiercest words and most wounding metaphors to tear the other down.
We can’t do anything about the way our political leaders are dishonoring each other. But we are clearly admonished by Paul that in conversations with other Christians we are to walk worthy of the Lord, “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3). Do believers with other political beliefs see us as contentious and sarcastic? What about a watching world?
I have loved watching the respectful demeanor of some of the peaceable fighters in this Senate impeachment process. Especially Patrick Philbin. Always, always respectful. Never, that I saw, nasty or mean-spirited. Never yelling or sarcastic. Not that he wasn’t persuasive. At times he reminded me of the earnest persuasiveness of the Apostle Paul: “I beseech you, I appeal to you, brothers, by the mercies of God…(Rom 12:1)” There is a way to plead with people to listen and agree without belittling them or assassinating the object of your persuasion.
Early in the Senate proceedings, after an intense debate over the rules, presiding Chief Justice John Roberts addressed the House Managers and Trump’s legal team, “I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body. Those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.”
How much more important for us to seek peace and “speak truth in the sight of God?” (2 Cor 4:2)