The American people have decided that Barack Obama should have a second term. And, behind them, in the mystery of providence, God has decided that Barack Obama would be re-elected. So how should Christians respond to our once and future president?
Many of us have some disagreements with the president. As a conservative Christian, I believe unborn children have certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, and I wish President Obama would work to protect them. I believe freedom of conscience is the preeminent right in a civil society, and the administration’s incursions on religious liberty are troubling. I don’t plan to back down one bit on these matters, even as our forefathers Isaac Backus and John Leland relentlessly stood up to the founding generation of leaders on behalf of religious freedom and human dignity.
We are going to disagree with the president on some (important) things; there will be other areas where we can work with the president. But whether in agreement or disagreement, we can honor. Honor doesn’t mean blanket endorsement.
I am always amazed by those Christians who will dispute the command to honor, arguing that “kings” in our system are the people, and therefore we’re called to honor the Constitution but not elected officials. But the Scripture doesn’t command honor simply for the ultimate authority (which is, of course, ultimately God, in any case). Humanly speaking, the ultimate political authority in the New Testament context was the emperor. And yet, the Apostle Peter specifically calls the people of Christ not only to show submission to the emperor “as supreme” but also to “governors” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). The Apostle Paul calls on the churches to pray and to show thanksgiving for “kings” (plural) and for “all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
Paul imitated this when he showed due respect to the governor Felix, referring to him with the honorific title “his Excellency, the governor” (Acts 23:26) and “most excellent Felix” (Acts 24:2), even as he appealed his way up through the political process of the Roman Empire of his time. Paul showed thanksgiving for Felix, despite his part in a system with which Paul disagreed at some important points, for his “reforms” for the common good (24:3).
Behind that is a more general command to “honor everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17), to pray for “all people” (1 Tim. 2:1). We are to not only pay our taxes but give “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7).
Christians, above all people, should pray for and show respect for our president and all of our elected officials. After all, unlike those who see politics as ultimate, we recognize that our political structures are important, but temporal, before an inbreaking kingdom of Christ. We don’t then need to be fomented into the kind of faux outrage that passes for much of contemporary political discourse. And, unlike those who see history as impersonal or capricious, we see behind everything a God who is sovereign over his universe.
So let’s pray for President Obama. Let’s not give ourselves to terms of disrespect, or every crazy conspiracy theory that floats across the Internet.
That doesn’t mean slavish obedience. In a democratic republic, the president and the Congress govern by the consent of the governed. We appeal to our elected officials, and lobby them for the common good, expressing disagreement when we must. But we do this, as Paul does before Felix and Agrippa, with respect and honor, even as he seeks to persuade them of the need for religious liberty and as he preaches “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25).
However we voted in the election, let’s pray for God to bless our president. We can pray for him to be granted wisdom and health. We can pray that God would prosper his good ideas, and change his mind on his bad ideas. Moreover, we can teach our children to respect our president, starting with referring to him as “President Obama” or “our president,” not as “Obama” or “the guy our parents voted against” or what have you.
There’s a time to vote. There’s a time to campaign. And there’s a time to petition. But, through it all, let’s be the people who, even as we speak with conviction, are marked by kindness and respect. When we have to differ with President Obama, let’s do that, with backbone. But let’s make sure we do all this with honor, with respect, with prayer, and, most of all, with love.
Let’s render unto Caesar, as free people with natural rights. Because we know as believers that we will eternally say “Jesus is Lord,” we can as citizens temporally say, “Hail to the chief.”