This reminds me. A few years ago, on a Middle East trip I engaged in a What if? discussion considering how a Christian ministry should respond to several hypothetical regional incidents. How could a Christian ministry maintain its testimony and advance its mission in its response to current events?
For example, what if—God forbid—the child of a Middle East/North Africa (MENA) country leader suddenly died? What should or could a Christian ministry say publicly about this kind of heart-wrenching development?
At first glance it seems obvious. Shouldn’t we attempt to demonstrate Christian love by grieving with those who grieve? Wouldn’t we share the family’s sadness and communicate public condolences? —Even if the ruler involved was an autocrat or ruthless dictator, clearly not a friend of human dignity, freedom, or the Church?
But my Middle East friends noted that in the MENA politics flavors everything. Nothing is non-political or apolitical. So even, they said, a seemingly harmless comment like, “We’re praying for the family,” would be interpreted as an endorsement of the political leader’s politics. In other words, in the MENA, everything-is-politics.
This discussion took place during the US Obama Administration. At the time, the President and Mrs. Obama lived with their two young girls in the White House. What if—God forbid—the Obamas’ lost one of their daughters? Wouldn’t the entire world be shocked and grieve with them? Wouldn’t Christians extend their sympathies? One would hope.
But at the time of our discussion, honestly, we reluctantly concluded some Christians would likely look upon this family tragedy through a partisan lens, thus withholding or limiting their expressions of care and concern. However ugly that seems, we felt it was real then, and it seems worse now.
Even now as we walk through a coronavirus pandemic and related panic, it seems like common sense, health and medical counsel, and spiritual perspectives are often set aside for the all-knowing god called Politics. Decisions are being made, media is presented, and citizens are asked to recalibrate their lives based more on partisan power politics than on any real calculus of the overall well-being of society. And if one raises concerns about this, even concerns about the possible overreach of state governments riding roughshod over civil liberties in the name of public health, well, that person doesn’t care about people. We should trust the “experts” and the political leaders involved, and oh by the way, this is happening on both sides of the partisan aisle.
In Scripture, “Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’” (Mark 12:17).
This we do because God created government for our good: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:1-7).
That said, the Bible also says, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). We honor, we render to Caesar, but we render to God. It is our responsibility as Christians to discern the difference.
While we give honor to those in authority, the American people’s tendency to build up their leaders to bigger-than-life positions has, if anything, increased in the early 21st Century, at least in terms of partisanship, which is to say, divisive terms. My man or woman is our “savior” but yours is the “devil.” There’s no middle ground now. You’re for us or against us. You’re a patriot or a traitor. Our man or woman is going to take us to the Promised Land. Yours would lead us, well, to Hell on earth.
Meanwhile the Bible says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Psalm 146:3).
Political leaders have a shelf-life. They are but human beings with all the wonders, faults, and shortcomings this entails. Sooner or later, they all will fail us, so politicians and politics cannot nor ever should be our end-all be-all of life.
Os Guinness once said in his book Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom has Become Its Greatest Threat, “The first thing to say about politics is that politics is not the first thing.”
Yes, at times in the providence of God, the US has been blessed with great leaders. But Americans’ freedom and well-being have never depended upon leaders or politics. They depend upon ideals:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the
pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are
instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of
The US Declaration of Independence is not Holy Scripture but an incredibly well-worded, prescient document that set down ideals in 1776 for this “First New Nation.”
The United States of America is an experiment in self-governance. For more than two hundred years, with serious adjustments, it has worked amazingly well. One of the keys to its success has been a confidence in people, not politics or politicians or partisanship as such. To take freedom and well-being deeper into this century, this wise perspective needs to be rediscovered.
Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President SAT-7 USA,
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