Civility in the public square (I): O.B.A.M.A.  

Posted by Denis Haack in , ,

It is hardly news to note that America’s political public square is less than civil. We may use different terms to describe the status quo, but words like shrill, unkind, combative, and argumentative are often invoked. I know enough history to realize this is not an entirely novel phenomenon. It seems that people have long been deeply exercised over politics, and have reflected that in their rhetoric. And I know enough of Holy Scripture to be convinced that our rhetoric as Christians—about politics and anything else—comes under Christ’s Lordship.

Recently I noticed an acquaintance—in Facebook’s terminology, a “friend”—had under “Likes and Interests” clicked on:
            O.B.A.M.A. (One Big Ass Mistake, America)

About which I offer a few reflections.

1. Let’s keep this in perspective--it’s just a click on Facebook. True enough and so easy to do that many clicks are done with minimal reflection. As Christians, however, we do not believe that the ease in doing something removes our responsibility for having done it. And for blessing or for curse, our Facebook profile is a public statement before a watching world.

2. Is this not a direct violation of Scripture? “Show proper respect to everyone,” St Peter instructs us, “fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). The emperor in power when the apostle penned these words was Nero. We may not like a particular President or agree with his policies but we are forbidden to be dismissive or disrespectful. Bible believing Christians would be a lot more believable if they actually took their Bibles seriously.

3. One of the great errors of our day is the marriage of conservative ideology and evangelical Christianity. Perhaps you find that this political ideology most closely matches your convictions as a Christian. Even so, we must always be careful that political convictions not seem to become an aspect of the gospel. Talk to young adults who are non-Christians and a significant number are unwilling to seriously consider the claims of Christian faith because they cannot imagine voting Republican. The gospel is faith in Christ, not faith in Christ and conservatism. Regardless of the arguments in favor of conservatism, this state of affairs amounts to nothing less than adding to the gospel, of placing a (political) stumbling block in front of non-Christians hearing the good news of Christ. How we touch on politics—even on Facebook—reflects intimately on how a watching world hears our gospel.

4. The gospel, like the Scriptures themselves, begins with Creation. And Creation teaches us that all people are made in God’s image. All people. Including President Obama and those who voted for Obama. This is not merely a poor application of this article of faith it is a practical denial of it.

5. The fact that people are made in God’s image means we Christians should take the lead in demonstrating civility in the public square. To the extent we don’t, to that extent we are being conformed to a fallen world, squeezed into its mold (see Romans 12:1-2).

May we as Christians live in the political arena as followers of Christ, demonstrating a proper respect for each person as a creature made in God’s image. May our clicks on Facebook be thoughtful demonstrations of lives lived intentionally. And as Os Guinness argues so convincingly in The Case For Civility, may we exhibit civility, even in politics, to the glory of the One we serve as King who loved his enemies unto death.

This entry was posted at Monday, July 12, 2010 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


excellent points. thank you.

July 12, 2010 at 11:41 AM

i just read

what was even more interesting was the comments.
most/many were/are uncivil

July 12, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Have you read How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative? Same kind of theme--thanks for your comments

July 12, 2010 at 12:47 PM

Thanks for a great post brother. I argued in seminary with a professor that you can't deny the direct political results of a pushing religious right in, if nothing else, seeing two conservative supreme court appointees under GW. That alone offers measurable results affecting every aspect of our society and culture. I'm not convinced that an extreme civility in politics resulting in what we are now seeing take place is the right answer either. Truth has to be stood for and with passion. Had our founders not done so we might not be free to have this open and very civil discussion.

July 12, 2010 at 2:22 PM

Politics feels like it falls into the same category as driving: I think, "He/she can't hear me, so what I say doesn't matter." In both instances it's a stupid assumption, and I'm the one who is worse off for it.

July 13, 2010 at 9:00 AM

I'm new to this blog, so just came across this post. I'm a rather conservative Christian who is not convinced that the democratic process is all that grand. Who's to say that the masses determine morality? In a world packed with what scripture calls sinful people, that's a rather frightening prospect, really. Options? Likely none. It's up to us to live godly lives in whatever political system we find ourselves.

July 21, 2010 at 10:24 AM

Thank you.

July 25, 2010 at 7:09 PM

Well, did you complain likewise when they referred all the time to "Bushitler" and "Ronnie Raygun"?

Did you know that Tiberius then Seneca as regent were in power in Rome when that was written?

Did you know that Barack Hussein is not King, but is a servant of the people in this Republic? (even though he constantly acts ultra vires as though he were an absolute despot)

I don't use the OBAMA acronymn thingy, but I cannot support his anti-Christian policies, nor will I submit to my servant as though he were my god-emperor.

August 9, 2010 at 12:40 PM

Stephen: Thanks for commenting.

Yes, I did and do. My concern is the lack of civility not which Party happens to be in the White House.

Scholars disagree about the dating of Peter's first epistle, and perhaps I should have noted that. I tend to think the best argument is for a date in the early 60s AD, which would put Nero in power. My point was not who was king but that even anti-Christian or non-Christian kings were to be honored.

Yes, Obama is not a Roman emperor but president of a republic. If Christians were to honor the king in the first century, then certainly we must honor those who hold the office of president today. It is not something they merit, but a faithfulness we must render before God, who remains sovereign.

Your comment that Obama "acts ultra vires as though he were an absolute despot" causes me to question the seriousness of your position. If such terminology is to apply to what Obama has done, no words would be left to describe the depredations of a Pol Pot. Such talk does not clarify but instead makes the discussion more difficult since words no longer seem to carry their normal meaning.

I will not comment on your last point since it is off topic. I am not writing about how Christians should submit to leadership with which they disagree but how we should talk about such things in the public square.

August 9, 2010 at 2:08 PM

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