Whatever the outcome of today's election, most Americans will consider it one of their basic rights to complain about that outcome wherever it fails to meet their hopes and expectations. Many conversations will include terms of disrespect for the newest leaders of the land.
Our First Amendment freedom to, among other things, speak our minds about our elected officials will be exercised widely in the days following the election, and many an American Christian will join in this national sport of lampooning the leaders they voted against.
But there is nothing Christian about such a liberty.
It may come as a surprise to some of us that-though the denigration of our leaders is a liberty afforded by our society-it is not a liberty afforded by God. To be sure, the right of moral protest against unrighteousness in our rulers is one clearly derived from Scripture, and we should be grateful to live in a land where this right is acknowledged by our founding documents. Yet, where such civil liberties in the West have been accompanied by a widespread indulgence in the rhetoric of personal disdain for our leaders, the same Scriptures are being blatantly violated. The call of God in his Word is simply and emphatically: "Honor the King" (1 Peter 2:17).
The call to render honor to civil authorities is perhaps most striking when voiced by the apostles. They preached the gospel of a risen Christ who was the rightful King of all the earth, yet they did so in an era in which the highest civil authority, the emperor of Rome, was increasingly demanding of an idolatrous loyalty by his subjects. This called forth the most heroic defiance of civil authorities when necessary to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Yet, astonishingly, the same apostles retained the view that God has instituted all civil authority, and that Christians were to render respect and honor even to godless rulers as unto the Lord (Romans 13:1-7). What they recognized is that one of the ways in which God in Christ rules the world is through even pagan rulers, whose hearts are in the Lord's hands (Proverbs 21:1).
As the various ramifications of this election sink into our minds in the coming days, so also should the implications of what Paul says to the Christians in Rome: "[T]here is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). All who rise to political power, whether by means of a privileged birth, a successful military coup, or a victory at the ballot box, do so only by the providential appointment of God in heaven. This consideration alone calls for not only law-abiding submission, but also the respect and honor of our hearts and lips. We may discuss whether God has brought blessing or judgment upon our land through the various election winners, but in each case they are nothing less than "ministers of God" (vs. 6). We honor or dishonor God Himself as we honor or dishonor his servants.
Indeed, the posture of Christians toward their rulers should be something of a paradox to a watching world. Like the martyrs of the Church throughout the ages, we should be capable of a radical defiance of human rulers when faced with a conflict between divine and human authority. Yet we should also be mindful of Paul's example while on trial before the Council, when he accepted a rebuke for his strong words against the High Priest, and acknowledged the law's requirement: "You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people" (Acts 23:5). Christians should distinguish themselves among their fellow citizens for holding their leaders in the highest honor, despite even their most obvious character flaws, out of acknowledgement that they occupy their offices by the express appointment of God.
Let us distance ourselves as Christians from the irresistible American pastime of deriding our politicians. Our first allegiance is to the King of Kings, but, for His sake, we must also honor every lesser king ... whether we voted for him or not.
Nathan Trice is a pastor in Matthews, N.C.