Thursday, January 7, 2010

Do Not Curse the King

“Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king.” (Ecclesiastes 10:20)

There is a kind of “Sunday School” level of thinking about the Bible that takes a passage like this and jumps to the conclusion that Christians should never oppose those in positions of power.  (I apologize in advance for using “Sunday School” in this way, but I think many know exactly what I mean here.)

For example, what if, after reviewing the evidence and monitoring his pronouncements and his performance, a Christian comes to the conclusion that (let’s say, just for example) our current president is a egomaniacal ideologue who is obsessed with the pursuit of power, has no regard for moral principles, and respects neither God nor man.  Is such a conclusion precluded, even in principle, by Biblical teaching?

First of all, we do not have a king, or anything even remotely related to one.  This was by design.  But does someone’s placement, by whatever means, in a position of government make him somehow off-limits to moral criticism by Christians?

In Matt. 14 we read about John the Baptizer.  John had something interesting to say to and about a fellow called Herod the Tetrarch.  His title means that he was “king of one fourth” of what had been his father’s kingdom.  John condemned Herod because Herod had divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife.  In Luke 3:19 we learn that John reproved Herod “for all the evil things he had done” and the tense of the verb in Matt 14:4 suggests that John did this repeatedly.  Wesley summed this up quite well when he said of John, “He would not break the force of truth by using soft words, even to a king.”  In Luke 13:32 Jesus calls Herod a “fox” in a context that makes that term (which doesn’t carry this kind of meaning with us) about as negative as you can get.

We find ourselves in a very tragic situation today when Christians use superficial readings of the Bible to justify a very ‘weeniefied’ approach to those in positions of power.  While we do want to honor those to whom honor is due, the mere fact that someone is elected to some office does not necessarily make him worthy of honor.

To be worthy of honor, one must be honorable in behavior.  At this moment in our history we have a large group of elected officials at many levels of government who are not even in the neighborhood of honorable.  As Wesley suggested, we should not break the force of truth by using soft words, even to a king – or, we might add, to a president, or a member of Congress.  That would be sub-Christian.

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