Rulers we can respect: Sunday takeout

Great thought-provoking content by Pastor Ryan Sunday about the need to elect leaders we can respect, no matter what their party affiliation.

Bipartisan Christianity

The thing about Christianity is that it tends to enforce bipartisanship: you’re supposed to treat everyone graciously, for starters, and measured against the Bible, both of our American parties fall short. The late Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon represented this kind of gracious bipartisan spirit and is much missed.

The unfortunate thing about how we practice Christianity in politics is we create political “proof texts” against which we measure our candidates. For many years, it was their posture on abortion. Today, it tends to be adultery (personal) and taxes (they’re supposed to oppose them).

Christians and taxes

Oddly, I haven’t found any Scripture that opposes taxation, even taxes levied by oppressive occupying powers. Jesus recommended paying Caesar his tax. Zacchaeus and the soldiers John met continued to do their jobs of collecting taxes, but ceased to extort surpluses for personal gain. Solomon had a treasury full of wealth gained by taxation, tribute, and warfare. Nehemiah declined to receive taxes but this was a personal decision not to take funds he was allowed to acquire for his service as a governor for occupying Babylon. (Sort of like a soldier who serves as a “peacekeeper” living off personal wealth instead of accepting his salary.)

The scripture some consider germane (and I wouldn’t argue it) is that a borrower is the slave to the lender. They contend that our spending policies as a nation have made us slave to other nations who hold the IOUs for our national debt.

The slave of the lender

I would suggest that while this is true, we became enslaved to other nations long before our government spending became a serious issue. We have been enslaved to Middle Eastern governments by our appetite for oil since the 1950s. We began selling our businesses in earnest to international corporations based offshore in the 1970s. Because we are unwilling to tax ourselves for infrastructure, a toll road in Indiana is now operated by an overseas business consortium. Our production chains are so globally engaged that a tsunami in Japan became an earthquake for US product delivery. We have been “expatriating” profits to “post-office-box” headquarters for US corporations located in other countries at an increasing rate over the last decade. Borrowing is enslavement, don’t get me wrong. Still we are enslaved in many other equally insidious ways to governments and businesses around the world.

The adultery issue, as a litmus test of a political candidate, is a bit of an unfortunate misdirect. The conservative Christian part of the US population appears to be the only part of the world population that expects sexual fidelity from its leaders. The rest of the world accepts the “understanding” that powerful men have with their wives … and is puzzled that we don’t understand it as well.

‘To see ourselves as others see us’

That’s not to say that adultery among leaders is good. It’s just to say that it’s sometimes useful to consider how people in other places assess our perspectives. We see, as the Word tells us, incompletely and only in part. Different views give us a way to rethink our priorities and gain greater light. So at the same time we see adulterous leaders as a great national scandal, friends overseas are raising other issues.

Perhaps the most dramatic example in recent years of how the American perspective on American politics differed from the global perspective was the election of George W. Bush. The election was close, as we all recall, and hung — quite literally — on a few chads in the state of Florida, where, as it happened, his brother Jeb was governor. It was eventually determined that the initial result, which gave the Florida ballot to Al Gore, was incorrect and Bush won, which gave him the Presidency.

The international commentary went something like this:

“The son of your former President is running for President. And your former President, before he was President, was head of your Secret Police. And since the election hangs on the result in the state where his brother is Governor, it is taken care of.”

Sounds impossible? Not to much of the world. And now, not so many years later, people around the world are dismayed to hear American political discourse where no fact seems to have value, where people seem ready to believe anything if told to them by someone they credit, where — in just one example — the number of people who believe their President is a foreign national continues to grow. They see a strong potential for America to begin creating a home-grown version of the Weimar Republic in the next several years, although they don’t know yet exactly what an American Nazism would look like.

At a time when we imagine that people around the world are laughing at our adulterous politicians, it is worth understanding what they really are talking about. The President of the United States is a leader in the world community — or so we have always hoped. What character will it take for the American people to elect and support a world leader?

Which political leaders have gained your respect in the last 50 years? Why?

About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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