For most of my years—both as a pastor and a theology professor—I have been careful to not mix politics with faith. I have kept political voices out of my sermons, in part because my hope is not found in what emanates from Washington. Further, I have found little in common with the Far Right, as well as the Far Left. What I have sought to do is my biblical, and civic duty—to faithfully pray every day for our leaders, no matter who they, no matter their party. It’s our God-given responsibility to “pray for kings and all those in authority, that we might live peaceful and quiet lives in godliness.”
But something has changed in me. A tipping point maybe. I’m sorting this out. Maybe it’s a combination of the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the lack of incarnational connection with the church, the ugly death of George Floyd, and the national meltdown. And then there was the picture yesterday of the President holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. I did not find this a comfort. I actually found it disturbing. My faith felt cheapened—used.
I am sure there are those who are saying—“Thank God for a President who, in difficult times, symbolically took his stand by the church.” And a part of me is grateful. I am grateful for your stand for life in the womb. Your determination to protect religious freedom. Your concern for law and order. Your commitment to appoint conservative judges. But there has been such a disconnect due to the ongoing rhetoric. The thinness of character. I find myself wincing at so much of what is said, as well as the tone behind so many of the words.
Here’s what I am asking—is the Bible that you hold before a camera merely a prop? Was this all staged? If you—or any politician—holds this book in your hand, my hope is that you are making a bold statement. You are saying this book is your authority for faith and practice. You are convinced that the wisdom and the life found in its pages can transform a soul and get us through the night.
But given the lack of discipline and judgment—the mean-spiritedness behind so many of the tweets, I find myself exasperated. Why aren’t you and others practicing it? Why aren’t you and other leaders bringing us together? If you want to step out of the White House and make a statement, why not make your way to the grieving family of George Floyd and show them the love of Christ? Better yet, why not invite them to have dinner with you, without the press? Why not go before the protestors—those who are peaceful–and share their angst and empathize with their grief?
If you are saying that this book is your reference point, why not ask a nation to humble itself before God and ask for his help? Why not admit your own helplessness without his strength rather than try to impress with your image? Otherwise, please don’t carry it if the intent is to use it merely as a symbol.
Too many of our leaders today are empty suits. It’s not that we expect perfection, but there is a level of gravitas that has been absent for too long—in both parties. It’s easy to hold a book in front of the press. It’s much harder to sit still and receive its words, contemplate the heart change required, the level of righteousness it calls for, and the humility it demands. There are more than enough stories of self-obsessed leaders to learn from—Ahab, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod—as well as be warned.
I’m certain there are some in government who don’t place the Bible on their desks to impress. They do enter the quiet on their knees to receive its life-giving words. They are seeking God in these days as perhaps they never have. They are praying for those they differ with, all with the aim of showing both dignity and respect. I have to hope a number of them grace the halls of congress.
Still, I find myself longing for a voice who does not need to command the news every day. Someone who will show empathy, measure one’s words, and make geopolitical decisions that reflect wisdom and understanding. Someone—just someone—who has been given the privilege of office to carry out what God requires of a leader—to bring justice to the powerless and mercy to the marginalized. Someone whose godly interior aligns with a godly exterior.
I believe most all of us are desperate for leaders who will act with ruthless honesty—when dealing with conflict, making tough decisions, keeping promises, and measuring self. Leaders with the kind of integrity that do not trim their principles or ideas to please. Leaders who take seriously the words once written of another President:
“It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man”