Somewhere over the past couple of decades, civility seems to have gone missing in much public discourse in the USA. Whether we listen to the political Right or Left, we hear shrill and intemperate voices charging national leaders with immorality, illegal actions, lying and cover-ups. Both sides have been represented in the melee and neither side has been spared from accusation. How ought Christian citizens to think, speak and react under such circumstances? Does Scripture provide applicable light?
It is clear, of course, that no human being, regardless of worldly position, is exempt from God’s moral standards. Earthly rulers govern at God’s pleasure and under his ultimate authority (John 19:10-11; Rom. 13:1). “The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whom he wishes” (Dan. 4:17). Those who govern are responsible to God for their leadership, whether by personal example or by acts of state. No dark secrets will escape final judgment. Hiding one’s sin, or denying it, is the opposite of repenting which is the only path to forgiveness (Psalm 32:1-5).
From time immemorial, God’s spokesmen have confronted kings and governments with divine truth, even at the cost of their lives. The prophets Samuel (1 Sam. 15:10-23), Nathan (2 Sam. 12:1-15), Elijah (1 Kings 21:17-24), Jeremiah (Jer. 26:1-15), Amos (Amos 7:14-17) and John the Baptist (Mk. 6:17-29) all come to mind. In each of these examples, God sent a particular person with a specific message to confront the guilty official or public figure. Each prophet addressed the subject directly and willingly faced the consequences of his own truth-telling. They did not start a whispering campaign about suspected wrongs or delight in reporting sins known to be true. We remember also that God’s prophets (including the Son of God himself) said far more about justice, compassion and mercy than they did about sexual conduct, as important as that certainly is.
The imperial court of first-century Rome was notorious for lascivious perversions of every sort, as well as for murder, lies and political intrigue. Yet Paul urged Christians to pray for their rulers, to pay their taxes and to regard with honor the office which God had entrusted to those wicked people (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-3). Jude, the Lord’s brother, warned believers not to make railing judgments against those in authority, but to recognize humbly our own relative position before God who judges all (Jude 8-9). Our rulers — and their critics — will answer to God one day for what they do and say: officially or unofficially, in secret or in the open. Meanwhile we do well to follow the advice of James, another of the Lord’s brothers, to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19).