How do we respond to Peter's call to honor government leaders?
by Connie Faber
“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:17
In this issue’s Conference Call, Board of Faith and Life chair Larry Nikkel reminds us that while our primary allegiance is to God and his kingdom, we are called to pray for earthly governments. Nikkel says it is crucial that we pray for “those who have the awesome responsibly of making decisions about longstanding problems for which there are no easy answers.”
But the current climate does not encourage us to pray for our government leaders. Instead, it fosters mistrust and ridicule toward people affiliated with the various political parties. Efforts to disagree in ways that don’t inflame others to anger or bitterness are drowned out by political discourse typified by antagonism, scorn and sarcasm. We are more likely to see posts on Facebook and hear comments that disparage and mock elected officials than we are to read and hear calls for prayer on their behalf. It is so easy to allow negative attitudes toward people in positions of authority to take root and grow and to behave as if these individuals don’t deserve our prayers.
How do we quell the loud voices that say it’s OK to complain, whine and grumble about our leaders, to join in the gossip and slander of passing on half-truths or to comment on the general intelligence level of people from another political party? We aren’t the first followers of Jesus to consider these questions. The words of Peter in 1 Peter 2 are among the Scripture passages that guided our Anabaptist spiritual parents in their understanding of what it means to be citizens of a heavenly kingdom while also being residents of earthly nations.
Peter encourages the early believers—whether slave or free, male or female—to live godly lives in the midst of a pagan society, an environment that was hostile toward their faith and sometimes oppressive and abusive. Peter calls on believers to submit to human authority but reminds them that only God—not the emperor or governors of the day—is to be feared.
When I think about the ways we 21st century believers can follow Peter’s words, the following examples come to mind:
- We show respect to “everyone”—and that includes government leaders— when we think twice about what we post on Facebook. Does this comment express my opinion in a respectful way, or does it encourage contempt of someone in authority?
- Respecting one and all means caring about the people in my congregation who don’t hold the same political views that I do. It means watching my tone of voice when expressing my opinion of the Affordable Care Act.
- To “honor the emperor” is to teach my children to earnestly pray for the president of our country and others in leadership, regardless of the party with which that person is affiliated.
What would you add to the list?
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