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Empathy and Charity: How Christians Can Respond to Election 2016

3. Honor and pray for our President.

Regardless of how you voted, we as Christians must be committed to honor, pray for and respect all of our political leaders. The Apostles Paul and Peter and even Jesus himself command us to do so (1 Timothy 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:17; Mark 12:17). You do not have to like your President to seek his good, honor him and love him well. You need not have cast a ballot for him to recognize him as President and support him. Loving our neighbor applies to our leaders, too. (By the way, this is not a command simply for Republican Presidents. This should characterize our attitude toward President Obama as well.)

Honoring your President does not mean sparing criticism where it is warranted. Just the opposite: We honor people by telling them the truth, even when that truth is uncomfortable. We can do so, however, from a posture of honor and respect and with an olive branch in our hands, as Peter commands us (1 Peter 2:17).

The church must continue to be a voice “speaking truth to power,” respectfully calling President Trump to a higher standard. We do not represent our Savior well or love our President well if we ignore sin. We must continue to hold Trump accountable for the ways his public words and deeds are both dangerous and potentially harmful.

We must do more than simply call out Trump’s sin, however. We should pray for him. Trump is not the Enemy, just as Clinton was not. We need to be praying and asking God to give Trump wisdom, so that he may help the cause of justice and righteousness. God puts kings on their thrones, and he tells us that he can turn their hearts like water in the palm of his hand (Proverbs 21:1). He can use any leader, and we should pray that he will use President Trump to further peace and preserve religious liberty in the days to come (1 Timothy 2:1-4; Jeremiah 29:7). The effectual fervent prayers of righteous people have great effect, even in the midst of impossible political circumstances.

4. Be cautious about appointing yourself God’s spokesman.

I’d encourage us to be cautious about declaring definitively God’s intentions in this election. I’ve already seen social media filling up with some declaring Trump as “God’s answer to the prayers of his people,” and others declaring him to be the “judgment of God on America.” A better posture is to encourage Trump where he works for justice and pursues righteousness, and speak against him where he promotes injustice. It is almost never wise to appoint yourself God’s spokesman about contemporary events. (That has led to several devastating chapters in history!) Based on what you see in Scripture, stand with righteousness and against injustice wherever you see it.

5. Don’t abandon politics, even when it’s impossibly messy.

Don’t let the next time you care about politics be the year 2020. Part of the reason we ended up with two candidates that most of the country disliked (and that were unfit for office) is that so few people involved themselves early on. Only 14 percent of registered voters came out for the primaries, with only 9 percent of them casting a ballot for Clinton or Trump. Our turnout for local elections is even more dismal, even though the impact is often more immediate and more influential.

I know the past year has left you wanting to disengage from politics and run away. Don’t do it. As G.K. Chesterton said, when you love something, its goodness is a reason to love it—but its “badness” is a reason to love it all the more. It is because we love our country that we should continue to pay attention to politics, even if it becomes increasingly messy. For many of us, God may even want us pursuing politics as a calling.

6. Repent of making politics an idol.

This is always the danger of politics. So at the present moment, you’re liable to think Trump will save us. Or that he will completely destroy everything. But he doesn’t have the power to do either. He may make the United States great, or he may ruin our country, but he can never save and he can never truly destroy. Don’t make the mistake of elevating politics to the throne of your life. If you do, you’ll be utterly crushed when things don’t go your way. It’s fine for you to be disappointed right now. It’s not okay for you to be dismayed.

For many of us, politics has become an idol. It is too important to us. It consumes our emotions and dominates our agenda. We think of it as ultimate power. Yesterday I heard a Republican pundit on Fox News fret about the possibility of Hillary Clinton gaining “ultimate power.” Ultimate power? How absurd. Our President can’t lift a finger without the permission of Almighty God. The powers of the most powerful nations are, as Isaiah says, a drop in the bucket, working according to the overarching purposes of the Almighty God (Isaiah 40:15; Ephesians 1:3-21). As John Piper says, one day America and all its Presidents will be an obscure footnote in the annals of history; but Jesus will reign on his throne forever and ever. To adapt a phrase from Martin Luther King, Jr., the arch of history is long, and it tilts toward Jesus.

Don’t let politics dominate your agenda. We in the church have a mission far greater than politics. We are building a kingdom that can never perish, making investments in the souls of people that will last longer than any political kingdom. When we show more concern over politics than evangelism, we have gotten off course.

As our friend Joby Martin says, “If you are more concerned over who won this election than you are lost souls being saved, you are probably a citizen of the wrong kingdom.”

Don’t let politics determine your most binding allegiances. In the church, we have a unity that goes deeper than divisions in politics. The only way to find unity amidst division is to have something that unifies you that is deeper and more significant to you than all that divides you. For us, that “thing” is Jesus and his mission. He died to save sinners in every nation, starting within our families and communities, and our job is to preach his gospel and extend his kingdom irrespective of the political climate of the nation we happen to live in. This nation is not our true home; the United States has never been, and never will be, our primary kingdom. Thus, our unity goes way beyond a theory of taxation or strategy to fix the economy. Disunity happens in the church not because we care about politics too much but because we care about Jesus and his church too little.

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.