Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Honouring your (venal and corrupt) leaders

The New Testament requires Christians to honour, submit to, and pray for their secular leaders.  These are commands, not options.  But how do you apply them when your leaders are clearly corrupt?  For those of us in the UK, this is obviously not a hypothetical question.

First up, let's think about the apostles' time and ours.  What is different and what is the same?  Well, the leaders of the Roman world were typically corrupt.  They abused their power hugely.  So not very much has changed on that front; we can't pretend that the NT commands are only valid when our leaders are good.  Leaders weren't good when the apostles wrote those commands.  On the other hand, there are differences.  The apostles urged believers to submit to their political leaders, but of course those leaders were autocrats.  Whether you honoured them or not, they were going to do whatever they wanted, and the average person had no means whatsoever to sway their decision making.  For those of us living in modern democracies, there is therefore a difference.  We actually have a responsibility towards our leaders which Peter and Paul did not have: to hold them accountable, and to exercise our suffrage to do that.  That is a real change.

So what does it look like to honour our leaders today, especially when they're just not great?  Here are some thoughts.

1. Honour your leaders by remembering that their authority comes from God.  The Lord Jesus told Pilate - Pilate! - that it was only God who gave Pilate any authority at all.  Our secular leaders are, whether they know it or not, God's servants.  They exercise a fundamental human calling in creation.  We are not called to honour them because they have earned our honour, or because they deserve it, but because they have authority from the Lord.  This does not mean that our secular leaders are above critique; the Prime Minister is not the Lord's Anointed, unable to be touched.  Consider that in his providence God sometimes give bad leaders to a nation; sometimes it is what a nation deserves.  Reflection on that might lead us to prayer for society more widely.  But whatever the reason in God's hidden providence, these people are in power.  Honour them.

2. Honour your leaders enough to critique them well.  In our cynical age, and with the facilitation of social media, it is very easy to respond to bad leadership by being dismissive and sarcastic.  A throwaway tweet, a shared meme.  This is particularly easy in our party political system if the current leadership is not of your tribe.  As citizens in a democracy we should critique our leaders; as Christians, we should do so in a way which properly engages the issues and doesn't just scoff.  It is worth remembering that political leaders have to make difficult choices, often with no obvious right answer.  Honour them enough to pray for them to have wisdom, even as you criticise constructively.

3. Honour your leaders enough to treat them as moral agents.  Take their choices seriously.  Don't assume 'they would do that' because of their ideology or their party.  Don't assume they are trapped in the machinery of government.  Don't just shrug, because we all know politicians are no good.  These are human beings, who are making real moral decisions.  Be shocked and appalled where necessary!  It does not dishonour our leaders to view them as people capable of doing good and evil.  Honour them enough to pray that they would make good choices.

4. Honour your leaders enough to consider their eternal destinies.  We mustn't fall into the trap of thinking of political leaders purely in terms of the impact their choices have on us or on others.  Think about the people in leadership themselves.  They will enter into judgement.  Eternal life is at stake for them.  Particularly where leaders are corrupt, honour them enough to pray that they would repent.  This may also means praying that they would resign, since that would surely be a part of repentance for a political leader.

Today is a depressing day for British politics.  We can still honour our leaders, even if right now that honour looks like criticism and a call for repentance and resignation.

1 comment:

  1. A mans a man By R. Burns,
    Is there for honest Poverty
    That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
    The coward-slave, we pass him by,
    We dare be poor for a’ that!
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
    Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
    The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
    The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

    What though on hamely fare we dine,
    Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
    Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
    A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
    For a’ that, and a’ that,
    Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
    The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
    Is king o’ men for a’ that.

    Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
    Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that,
    Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
    He’s but a coof for a’ that.
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
    The man o’ independent mind,
    He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

    A Prince can mak a belted knight,
    A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that!
    But an honest man’s aboon his might –
    Guid faith, he mauna fa’ that!
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
    The pith o’ Sense an’ pride o’ Worth
    Are higher rank than a’ that.

    Then let us pray that come it may,
    As come it will for a’ that,
    That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
    Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
    For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
    It’s comin yet for a’ that,
    That Man to Man the warld o’er
    Shall brithers be for a’ that.