>If I hear one more citation of “Pray for your enemies” in reference to President-elect Obama, I’m going to start slapping people. Come on people! The Church has had REAL enemies throughout history (i.e.,Nero, Diocletian) and has REAL enemies in the world today (i.e., Communist China, the Taliban). We have legitimate disagreements with Obama, to be sure, but for conservative Christians to freak out and label the President-elect an “enemy” displays a severe lack of perspective and trivializes the suffering that our brothers and sisters throughout history have had to endure at the hands of genuine enemies.
Peter wrote his first epistle to believers who were suffering intense persecution under the reign of Nero. Nero, you may recall, was a vicious tyrant who blamed Christians for the burning of Rome and had thousands crucified and literally burned their bodies as torches to light the way into the city. If there was ever an enemy of the Church, it was Nero. And yet, Peter wrote these words to the Christians suffering under his tyranny: “Be subject for the LORD’s sake to every human institution, whether it be the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17) To honor someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to make yourself like him, but it does mean that you place a high value upon that person and that your responses to him reflect the proper respect due to him. “Honor the emperor,” the crazy guy who wants to wipe you and the rest of the Church off the face of the earth.
In this perspective, Barack Obama is not even close to being our enemy. He is our next President, legitimately and peacefully elected by the citizens of our great republic. As followers of Jesus, we must do more than reluctantly or grudgingly accept President-elect Obama. We must honor him. We don’t have to agree with him, and we don’t have to rubber-stamp every policy that he champions. We can disagree passionately and often, but we MUST do so respectfully. To fail to do so is disobedience to God’s will and cheapens the testimony of the Church before the world (“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” 1 Peter 2:15).
I believe that there are two things keeping many in the Church from honoring President-elect Obama right now: fear and bitterness. Fear does not come from our Father, but from our enemy. God gives us a spirit “of power and love and self-control,” (2 Timothy 1:7). So we should walk in His power rather than limping along as a weak victim; we should overwhelm our world with love rather than being overwhelmed by hatred; and we should exercise self-control rather than surrendering to the self-gratification of insults and innuendo. We must also take caution to ensure that “no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled,” (Hebrews 12:15). Giving way to bitterness corrupts our own soul and then spreads its decay to those around us. If we treat President-elect Obama with disrespect and contempt, we ally ourselves with the vocal minority who have spewed hatred and rage towards President Bush and Republicans for the past 8 years. We must not be allies with hatred; rather, we must defeat hatred with love. Or, as Paul said, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:21).
Again, this does not mean that we cannot disagree, and disagree passionately, with our new leaders. Dissent with charity and grace is a hallmark of a free people, and yet it has become a rarity in modern political discourse. Those of us who claim allegiance to the God of infinite love and grace should set the standard for charitable and gracious dissent, should we not?! At this moment in history the Church has an opportunity to do what others have been unable or unwilling to do in the recent past: change the tone of political discourse in this nation. If we will lead the way by honoring President-elect Obama and expressing our dissent with the respect due to his position, we will see even greater change than was promised in his campaign. Yes we can!