Well, it is a new year with the new blog, so, might as well start if off with a bang and with a topic of emotion, if not controversy! This is probably why people who grow up in New Jersey shouldn’t grow up to be pastors!
In church Sunday, an illustration was used of praying for and supporting President Obama. The point of the reference was not to necessarily get this specific application as an action step, but to make an illustration that would cause the listener to stretch emotionally. The speaker presented it in terms of “if Obama claims to be your brother in Christ, then you need to support him in prayer, and so forth …” Is that really true? How do we evaluate that?
Well, before it was out of his mouth fully, I was already hung up on the “if” portion. I’ll confess that I don’t see the POTUS very much as my brother in Christ, apart from the most general sense of those words. Yes, he has called Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior. And I guess I believe he really does espouse the Christian faith and is not a closet Muslim, though he has done and said enough things to fuel the doubters on that subject. And the Christian connection he had in the years leading up to his public ascendancy is one that we would not find biblically accurate. It was in a culture and vein of thought heavily endowed with a brand of “liberation theology” – which redefines the Gospel away from the spiritual issues of the blood payment of Christ as the atonement for sin, to seeing the work of Christ as an example to follow of liberating oppressed peoples from establishment power systems. (One can easily see how this category of biblical worldview would energize a left-wing activism.)
HOWEVER … the question is not ultimately one of prayer support by determining if he is truly a Christian brother or not. After all, we know that the world is full of people who carry the Christian label who do not really have a life changed by the Gospel. Jesus said there would be many like this – people who don’t really embrace the Gospel in a way of life-giving change.
The reason to pray for President Obama is because the Scriptures say to pray for all people in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1-3 … “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”) And I remind you that Paul wrote those words while under the heavy hand of a persecuting Roman government. The thought here is that our prayers for civil authority may work toward an establishment of peace for the sake of the Gospel and its proclamation … that as a peaceful civil society succeeds, so does the context for the work of the Church and the spread of the Word.
Some years ago, at the height of controversy in the Clinton administration, I referenced this passage and prayed for the President. A person in the church thought this was dreadful and went to the Elders with a complaint on the issue – about the pastor praying for an avowed abortion-rights person, etc., etc. Of course, it was a simple matter to point out that praying for the President is a clear application of the words to Timothy.
So, we may pray for and support civil leaders in this way, while also NOT supporting their policies and even working for the success of alternative views. We may pray for their ultimate success (as in the terms above) while also accepting the reality that they do not hold to our values – which we may in turn give energy to through our efforts. So, for example, we may pray for the Administration to honor God on the issues of the value of human life, yet understand that they see it differently than the Scriptures, and so our energies are thrown toward what can be done through agencies like the Hagerstown Area Pregnancy Center. When the Romans threw away unwanted babies in the first century, it was the Christian community who went around and took them and gave them life. And they were ultimately respected for this work.
A difference between the Roman Empire and now is that there was no legal and practical means for protest or political action then. However, standing in opposition publically is a cherished right of the system of governance that we have, and I do not believe it is wrong for a Christian to participate appropriately – to call publically for a redress of grievances and speak to the decay of historic values and foundations. As many of you know, I have done this in a very public way.
Yet in it all, we need to remember that our primary mission in life personally, and in life together as a church, is to be God’s ambassadors as reconciling agents of the Kingdom to a lost world (2 Corinthians 5). Some may have a calling by God to serve in the systems of this world, but we are primarily citizens of another, eternal Kingdom and warriors in that cosmic conflict. I can honestly say that I have, in this season of my life, that calling to serve for a time in a political capacity. It found me; I did not seek it. I will tell you that honestly, I don’t really like it that much and am disappointed that even in the Conservative movement, there are too many who do not live exemplary lives and walk by the values they publically espouse. This is very sad.
So, I will pray for the President and all those in authority – which of course include many with whom I have much in agreement. My goal – our goal – is to see this country thrive … yet we know that there are historic values that have made this place exceptional in history. That exceptionalism is not because we are better as a people, but because there has never been another culture with the same “stew” of freedom and opportunity – for advances on all fronts, including the spread of the Gospel – as has been facilitated by the God-blessed ideals of those founders some 200+ years ago.