Can you say nice things about people with whom you disagree? On the anniversary of 9/11 I posted a nice comment on Facebook about the leadership of President Bush after 9/11. It wasn't a political statement, just a note of admiration. I was surprised at how many people (many Christians) who wrote scathing things about the President. Some were conservatives upset he wasn't conservative enough. Others were liberals who were convinced he was the second coming of Hitler.
I think this is a shame. I see this same dynamic when I post nice things about President Obama. Now a few words of explanation. I'm generally a conservative when it comes to politics. I didn't vote for President Obama and I'm likely to vote for a more conservative alternative in November. I'm glad our political system gives us this choice.
But that doesn't mean there aren't things about President Obama to admire. So from time to time I've posted those things. The other day I recommended an article where he testified about his Christian faith. Now, because I'm not God, I don't know if the president is a true believer in Jesus Christ. But I take him at his word. Again this provoked all kinds of charges. People are convinced the president is a Muslim, born in Kenya, and on a collision course to destroy America. I don't share those opinions. I have been disappointed in his leadership, but think him to be a genuinely sincere man whose policies I disagree with.
Because I have this position, I've heard from a number of friends and other folks who are concerned that I'm "liberal." One prominent conservative leader privately accused me of "moving to the center and abandoning Biblical truth."
I freely admit that I'm not always right and that my opinions on politics and other stuff is as flawed as the next guy. But I wonder if Christians have forgotten the Christ-like ability to love and admire people with whom they disagree. This isn't confined to the political realm. It happens in the evangelical world. Mention the name of a prominent Christian leader in certain circles and you're likely to hear a laundry list of all that person is doing wrong in their ministry.
I think we need to consider a few things here, in light of Scripture:
Complimenting someone's character is not the same as agreeing with them completely on every issue. Every soul is created in the image of God, even if they are fallen. Part of living out our faith is loving people enough to find the good things about them, even if they are hard to find. Our highly-charged polarized political culture forces us into "sides" but as Christians we should resist this. We can hold to our political positions or theological positions firmly without compromise and still be winsome and warm and respectful to those on the other side. We can also do this in real life among regular people whose lifestyle or personality rubs us the wrong way.
We can affirm and respect leaders without swallowing everything they teach or espouse. The Scriptures are pretty clear that leaders hold their positions because ultimately God placed them there (Romans 13:1). It's okay to be dissatisfied with leadership and want a new direction. But overwhelmingly the New Testament urges us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-3), honor them (1 John 2:17), and obey them (Hebrews 13:7). This is not some optional thing for the more "soft" Christians. This is commanded of every believer who takes seriously the call to live out their faith.
Jesus overturned the money-changers but that doesn't mean you should. Every time I speak about praying for and respecting leaders with whom we disagree, I get the "But Jesus overturned the money tables in the temple." Yes, Jesus did this and no, Jesus wasn't the soft, effeminate liberal some make him out to be. But anger wasn't the predominate response of Jesus throughout his ministry. And Jesus had gospel and kingdom motivations to overturn the tables. Your hacked-off Facebook post about the president, I'm pretty sure, doesn't fit this category. Most often our anger arises from our fleshly and worldly impulses.
And remember that Jesus was bipartisan. Among his twelve chosen disciples were Matthew, a despised politician/tax collector and Simon, a zealot who advocated the overthrow of Rome and probably despised Matthew.
There is a strong Biblical history of believers kindly respecting and serving wicked leaders. Nehemiah, Daniel, and Joseph all served very pagan, wicked kings. These are just three examples of many. I'm pretty sure the worst political leader in our current system would pale in comparison. Consider their examples, how these men of God stood firm for biblical truth without making it personal, how they respected and loved leaders with whom they disagree. We can all learn from this.
We should live at peace with all men. Romans 12:8 says, as much as possible, we should "live at peace with all men." This is rather convicting, because I'm prone to arguing my point until the other side cries uncle. But this verse reminds us that, when we can, we should seek peace in our relationships. Let's face it, we all have differing opinions on politics, church methodology, etc. It won't be possible to always have peace in a world of fallen men and women. However, we, as Christians, should work hard to promote peace. This may mean we think twice about posting an inflammatory comment on Facebook about a public figure we don't like. It may mean swallowing hard when a friend compliments somebody you despise. It may also be, as Christians, that we promote a tone of civility and love even in the rough-and-tumble of the public square. We should ask ourselves, Are my opinions alienating people who might disagree and are they clouding the gospel message?
We should not be conformed to this world. We make a difference by being different. We have to remember that we are first Christians, then everything else. The world wants to conform us to its mold, to lure us into the snarky, mean , angry opinion-making that characterizes much of public discourse. And often we Christians excuse our behavior as "Well, the other side is worse" or "That's just politics or business or whatever." But we are Christians. Sometimes we say nasty things because our position is being attacked, often unfairly. But again, this is an opportunity to demonstrate Christlike love. Peter reminds us, in 1 Peter 2:18-20, that responding in love to unfair treatment is a terrific opportunity for gospel witness. The few Christians in public life who have the strength to do this are a wonderful witness to the world. This is not a sign of "being soft," it's a portrait of the gospel.