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November 4, 2020Culture

Bart Barber: An Election Day Pledge on Responding to the President

Pastor Bart Barber shares his thoughts on how to relate to the president that (we assume) will soon be declared.
Bart Barber: An Election Day Pledge on Responding to the President
Image: Canva

It’s Wednesday, the day after Election Day in the United States. The outcome of the presidential election sits precariously on a knife’s edge. Situations like these intensify the emotions that were already of elevated intensity, perched atop a mountain of TV ads, October surprises, conspiracy theories, protests, tweets, posts, and direct-message campaigns.

Just for moments like these, God has given us the Bible. Christians describe the biblical documents as our “canon”—the consistent, unwavering rule that grounds us in seasons of inconsistency and instability. What principles does that canon give us to help us to face a day like this one?

God has told us that the idea of a government is a good gift that He has given us. It exists by His authority. Through it, He gives us justice (vengeance against evil), albeit an imperfect, partial, temporary justice to serve us while we await the final justice that He has promised. For these reasons, we are commanded to obey those who have governing authority over us, to pray for them, and to give them “taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7). We do this not only because it is a duty we owe to God but also because we hope to lead quiet lives by which, even in the midst of suffering, we can “put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (1 Peter 4:15).

With these principles in mind, I have written a pledge that I reaffirm on every election day. I have tried to live it out under the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. Whoever occupies the Oval Office on Inauguration Day, these are the particular things I pledge to do:

1. I will pray for him sincerely.

I will not pray imprecatory prayers against him. I will pray for his salvation. Believing in faith, I will pray for God to direct his heart like channels of water in His hand (Proverbs 21:1). The candidate for whom I voted needs this no less than his opponent, and God is no less powerful enough to do this with the opposition candidate than He is with the candidate for whom I voted.

2. On every occasion when I can, I will praise good things he has done.

And whoever he is, he will do some good things. In my lifetime, I’ve experienced just as many leaders who were perfectly wrong as I’ve experienced leaders who were perfectly right.

3. I will look for opportunities to pass over criticism of bad things he does.

There are so many biblical justifications for this, but consider just one. As a leader myself, I appreciate it when others grants this grace to me, and I am commanded to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I will look for these opportunities (and some measure of good faith is required here), but I will not always find them. I myself criticized President Obama over his administration’s record regarding religious liberty, and I’ve written op-eds criticizing the Trump administration’s record on immigration. These things not withstanding, I’ve tried to save my critical voice for the moments that were most important.

4. Where I must criticize, I will do so with civility.

When those important moments arise, even then I want to acknowledge Christ’s lordship over what I say or write. This doesn’t mean that I will lessen the strength of my convictions, nor does it preclude making my urgently or forcefully. Rather, it simply means that I need not abandon respect in order to take up the task of dissent.

5. I will not tell jokes that are demeaning of him, nor will I encourage others in sharing such jokes with me.

There’s a long history of presidential humor in our nation. Some of my earliest political memories involve watching Mark Russell. But American political humor has turned dark. Too much political humor from the Left has become classist, as though every Republican is an uneducated rube. Too much political humor from the Right, especially since the early days of the Obama administration, has become racist or nativist. Most jokes, to at least some degree, occur at someone’s expense. Just as I need not abandon respect to engage in dissent, neither must I do so to have a good time.

6. I will not slander him by listening to, sharing, tweeting, or posting conspiracy theories about him.

What’s a conspiracy theory? If you can’t find a printed daily newspaper or a TV news channel reporting it, the odds are very high that it’s a conspiracy theory. In general, I urge my church members not to repost or forward anything except in the rarest of circumstances. If it isn’t worth investing the time to do your own research and write your own message, why is it worth you friends’ time to read it? Slander is not a Christian virtue.

7. Whenever I can do so without disobeying God, I will obey him.

Yes, fiery furnaces come with some regularity for God’s people, and I’m not restricting that category solely to life-and-death situations (which, indeed, even the original fiery furnace turned out not to be). Not only will we sometimes have to give voice to dissent, but we’ll also sometimes have to put feet to civil disobedience. Such moments, however, ought only to be a last resort, and a people who are prone sometimes to put into this category something like refusing to wear a mask is a people who need to give more careful reflection to the Christian doctrine of submission (hint: it’s not just for other people).

I believe this to be a worthy pledge, but I acknowledge that at several points it requires that I exercise some good judgement in knowing, for example, whether this is a “pledge 3” or a “pledge 4” moment. When I have in me a good heart of submission to God’s will that is eager to obey in good faith, I trust canon of scripture and the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide me. When I do not, there is no pledge that can constrain my warring passions. May it be said of God’s people that we make this kind of citizen—the kind whose loyalty and godly patriotism are no thin disguise for self-interest but instead consist of an unwavering commitment to the teachings of the Bible.

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