Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Can Christians Honor the President without Agreeing with Him?

Ever since the media announced that President Obama will be addressing public school students today at 12:00 EST, I have been intrigued by the outcry against it. I admit, when I first heard that the president was speaking to public school students (including two of my children), I was concerned about the specific content of the message and prayed about what God would have us do as parents. But as I investigated further and discovered that President Obama was simply encouraging children to pursue their education with passion and vigor, my concerns were assuaged. The speech (which you can read here) contains no force-fed leftist agenda or overt anti-God sentiments, as the pundits had gravely warned us. In fact, he actually closes his speech with the now-traditional presidential benediction: “God bless you, and God bless America.”

“But wait!” some Christian parents said. “It’s not the content of the speech we’re worried about; it’s the liberal, godless classroom activities that our children will be forced to do!” So I looked into those as well. The suggested classroom activities to complement the speech—which are completely optional--contain questions such as “If you were president, what would you tell students?”, “What can students do to help in our schools?”, and “Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?”

I’ve read the entire speech. And all the classroom activities. And to be honest, I don’t see anything dishonoring to God in any of it. What I do see is an opportunity to reinforce to our children a healthy respect for those who hold public office and to help them understand the sobering responsibility our public servants have to make decisions every day to improve and protect our country.

As it turned out, our school district gave teachers the option of showing the president’s remarks, and neither of our girls’ teachers opted to show it today, so this is a moot point for us. However, if all school districts had chosen to show the president’s televised remarks to all public school students today, how should we, as Christian parents, respond?

“Pull all the Christian children out of the public schools!” some would advocate. “Don’t let the government convert them to godless socialism!”

“Keep your children at home on Tuesday!” other Christians say. “Don’t let your children be influenced by this anti-Christian, left-wing-agenda-driven radical!”

If you’ve read blogs penned by Christians on this subject, in addition to the few who have shown a prayerful, careful response, you’ve no doubt read astounding vitriol from those who disagree with the current administration. Some Christians (who are supposed to be characterized by love) are publicly lambasting, berating, and even belittling our commander-in-chief.
But wait.

This is the President of the United States we are talking about here.

Granted, I did not vote for Barack Obama. And I do not agree with most of his political and economic policies.

But whether I like it or not, Barack Obama is the leader of my country. He is not only the President of the United States, but he is also the president of Jennifer Stair, citizen of the United States. And he is the president of my husband and my children. And if you are a U.S. citizen, he is your president too.

If we look beyond the vigorous, vehement firestorm of debates among Christians about whether to subject our children to the president’s address today (or whether Christian children should even be in the public school system at all), here’s the bottom-line question:

Can Christians honor the President of the United States without agreeing with him? Can we have a healthy, God-honoring respect for the office of the presidency without supporting the person who holds that office?

Listen to what the apostle Paul says in Romans 13:1–7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to 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. (ESV)

Regardless of whether you choose to homeschool your children, send them to a private Christian school, or put them in public school (which is, I believe, a decision parents are free to make as God leads them), as Christians we are all commanded to “be subject to the governing authorities” and to “pay … respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

As Al Mohler said, “Barack Obama is President of the United States. Christians must be the first to pray for this president and to model respect for the presidency, even when we must disagree with the President's policies and proposals.”

By our actions and by our words about the sitting president, are we setting an example to our children of how to "be subject to governing authorities"? Are we teaching our children how to respect and honor--without fear or resistance--those who hold authority in our local, state, and federal government, without necessarily agreeing with the people who hold that office? Certainly, as responsible citizens of a free and democratic country, we should voice our objections to our congressional representatives, attend town hall meetings, and make our opinions known. But we can do so while maintaining a healthy, God-honoring respect for those in authority, even--and especially--when we disagree with them.

Let’s face it: at some point in their lives, our children will eventually find themselves in subjection to an authority figure who holds beliefs different from our own. Whether a schoolteacher, college professor (yes, even in Christian colleges), boss, manager, or even pastor—your children and mine will someday have an authority figure with whom they disagree. As much as we want to protect them from encoutering difficult circumstances, the reality is that as our children grow up and begin making decisions on their own, they will eventually be faced with a situation in which they have an authority figure who embraces a differing political stance, religious belief, or worldview.

When that happens, how will they respond?

Will they berate, besmirch, and belittle that authority figure (the way, perhaps, they saw their parents do)? Will they retreat in fear and seclude themselves from having any positive influence in society?

Or will they, like the apostle Paul, understand how to respect and honor those in authority without fear or resistance—because they grew up in a home in which their parents modeled a God-honoring, prayerful respect toward authority figures (including presidents) with whom they disagree?


  1. Very well said. I have been thinking the exact same thing about all of this though it did not really impact me as my kids are not in school yet. Still, I believe we do need to teach our kids to have respect for our elected President though we may not agree with him.

  2. I agree, you said so well with my husband and I believe about this subject! Thank you for posting...

  3. To be clear: I am not judging or criticizing parents who respectfully chose for their children not to hear the president's address. Nor am I implying that all parents who opted for their kids to abstain are hateful or fearmongers.

    The issue is not whether we let our children view the president's speech. Instead, the issue is the ATTITUDE in which we, as Christians, respond to our nation's leader. Are we being respectful and God-honoring in our words and actions?

    In this blog, I'm addressing those Christians whose caustic vitrol of the governing authorities demonstrates anything BUT an attitude of honor and respect (see Romans 13:1-7). Yes, we can disagree with the policies of a sitting president. And yes, in a free country we can and should make our opinions known to our government leaders. If your conscience led you to opt out of his address to schoolchildren, you absolutely have the freedom to do so. But I do not see where Scripture allows Christians to exercise that freedom in a hateful, acerbic way.

    In my opinion, there is far too much dissention and backbiting in the body of Christ on this issue, as well as many others. When it comes to nonessentials in the Christian faith, there is a huge difference between asserting "I believe this" and insisting "All Christians should agree with me."

    Perhaps that's why Romans 13 ("be subject to the governing authorities") is immediately followed by Romans 14 ("Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer. ... Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding").

  4. Unfortunately it seems that you are in the minority and that is a sad state.

    A few years ago I began to be aware that my faith was more barrier than bridge and that led me to begin to withdraw from the evangelical church culture (I was a very committed, active church member - taught, served on committees, involved in missions etc.) I know there are exceptions (like you and the few who have commented here) but I wonder if you have an opinion as to what has led so many Christians to be comfortable with and advocate such unchristian behavior?

    I live in the DFW area and sometimes listen to the radio station KWRD when I drive home from work and I am appalled at some of the things that are said in the name of Christ on that station both by Christian radio hosts and Christain callers. For instance, just last week Janet Mefferd said although she didn't think Joe Wilson's behavior (when he called out "you lie" during Pres. speech) was appropriate for the setting she understood it and it made her feel good...she could not bring herself to be critical of it.

    From where I sit it seems like conservative Christians have been coerced into being the voice of right wing politics. I am interested in your thoughts?