Praying and Disobeying Faithfully

1 Timothy 2:1-7

Let’s get political!

On a recent trip, a taxi driver told me that, in his opinion, George W. Bush was the worst president in the history of the United States.

On another fairly recent trip, from Sewanee, TN to San Antonio, I passed a huge billboard in Louisiana with an image of President Obama on it.  Beneath the image were these words: “Obama is Satan.”

These two very inflammatory statements represent two very different perspectives.  Indeed!  But both are actually quite similar: both are inflammatory, entirely negative, and slanderous.

Why do people say such things about our governmental leaders?

Right here in today’s epistle we read something otherwise: “First of all,” Paul says, “I urge you that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions.”

Pray for our presidents, Paul says; don’t slander them.

More telling still is what Paul goes on to say, just after what we heard today, in v. 8: “I desire, then,” he writes, “that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.”

Pray . . . without anger or argument.  Huh.

“Obama is Satan.”  Do you think that statement was made without any anger or intention to argue?  Do you think that statement was made by a group offering prayers of supplication, intercession, and thanksgiving for President Obama?

What about the other statement: “George W. Bush was the worst president in the history of the United States”?  Was this made without anger or argument?  Could anyone say this who had just offered supplications and thanksgivings for the man?

Whatever else you think or do, whatever political opinion you hold, as Christians it is our responsibility to keep evil words in check (cf. Eph. 4:29).  This includes slanderous words about our country’s leaders.  When we pray for the president—as we do every Sunday!—it is to be without anger or argument.  Don’t let your personal opinions and judgments enter in!  And pray, as Paul says, that whoever is sitting in the oval office allows us as Christians to lead peaceable lives in godliness and dignity.

“But, oh!” you protest.  “Father Tim, Paul wrote those words a long time ago.  He couldn’t have known what we face today.  We’ve got a health care crisis, pharmaceutical monopolies, legalized marijuana; gun violence, school shootings, military weaponry with the capability of ending the world, Syria; the recession, a messed up welfare system; gay marriage, stem-cell research, abortion, euthanasia; the iPhone 5, alternative fuels, and Miley Cyrus.  How could Paul have known about all these issues back then, back when he wrote this stuff about praying for leaders without anger or argument?”

To which I say: Yes.  Yes, he did write these words a long time ago.  And, yes, he couldn’t have known about the hot topics of our day.

But, his day had its own share of hot topics.

Ever hear of Nero?  Nero was the Roman emperor who sewed people up in deer skins and let his hunting dogs loose on them—just because they were Christians!  Nero was the Roman emperor who illuminated his night games on the palace lawn by covering Christians in pitch, impaling them on poles, and lighting them on fire.  Nero was the Roman emperor who played his fiddle while he watched Rome burn, and then blamed Christians for setting the city on fire.  Nero was the Roman emperor who ruled when the apostle Paul, the author of today’s epistle, died in prison.

Offer supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for your leaders, without anger or argument—regardless of whether they agree with you or not on whatever the political hot topics of the day happen to be.

This discussion does bring up an excellent question, however: When, if ever, do we have warrant for civil disobedience?  Is there ever a time or place for a Christian to disobey civil authorities?  If so, what should that civil disobedience look like?

Paul tells us here to pray for our leaders.  Elsewhere (Rom. 13:1) he says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

Yet throughout the Bible—in both Old and New Testaments—don’t we see examples of civil disobedience?  Moses’ mother did not submit her baby to the government-sanctioned executioner but hid him in the bulrushes.  Later in the same story, the Hebrew midwives were commended for their disobeying the Egyptians, for sparing the lives of the Hebrew babies and then lying about it.  And what was Moses’ very call in Egypt but to defy Pharaoh until he let God’s people go?

That’s just one example, one story.  A moment’s reflection should bring to mind many others—the Judges repeatedly delivered Israel by means of civil disobedience; David more than once defied King Saul; and what of the prophets, like Daniel who was thrown to the lions?  Jesus himself engages in acts of civil disobedience—as a child, when his family flees into Egypt; and as an adult, when he overturns the tables in the Temple.  Even the apostle Paul himself: why do you think he was imprisoned in the first place?

Certainly, then, there are times and places for acts of civil disobedience in the name of Christ.  Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Christians must refuse to bow the knee to whatever false god lies in front of us; even if doing so means being thrown into a fiery furnace as a consequence!

So, what do acts of civil disobedience in the name of Christ look like?

I’m afraid there’s no easy answer here.  That’s because acts of civil disobedience are responses to something someone else has done; and those “somethings” that we respond to vary as much as the persons who’ve brought them about.  In other words, we must respond to each situation individually in ways that honor God.  Our responses—our acts of civil disobedience in the name of Christ—therefore require discernment.

So, for example, let’s say you’re pro-life.  How should you respond to the injustices you see all around you?  Bombing abortion clinics is no option, you rightly conclude.  Violence and harm bring no honor to Christ.  Quite the opposite, in fact!  So you decide to participate in a march protesting the Roe v. Wade decision.

Fine and well!  This is an act of civil disobedience, sure.  And I’m not discouraging anybody from participating in this kind of activity.  You’ll most likely not end up in jail for it; but also, you’ll most likely not get too noticed for it either.

But suppose you get more creative.  Pro-life is not just about conception to birth.  Consistency in a pro-life stance continues throughout life through to death.  Shouldn’t civil disobedience thus look like a lot more than anti-abortion marches?

Indeed!  It should include counseling to those mothers who are considering abortion.  It should include places for those mothers to turn to, either to give their babies up for adoption or for assistance in raising their babies—assistance like food and diapers and medical care and classes on nurture.  It should include outreach to orphanages and schools in other countries—like Haiti, or nearby Mexico.  Ha!  Have you ever thought of an orphanage as an act of civil disobedience in the name of Christ?

Even beyond this, a pro-life ethic has ramifications regarding euthanasia and the death penalty.  I wonder, what would civil disobedience look like here?

The point in civil disobedience—whatever injustice we oppose—is this, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We must expose injustice and make injustice so uncomfortable that it has to be dealt with.”

So, pray for our leaders without anger or argument; and, bring injustice to light, even if that means acts of civil disobedience.

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