Can Christians in Clear Conscience Criticize the Commander-in-Chief?

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By Scott Hyland, CP Contributor
April 26, 2013|9:08 am

Hardly a week goes by without some new controversy surrounding the President and his practice of leapfrogging Congress with executive orders. Having many friends serving in various ministries, I am frequently involved in discussions over whether or not Christians are justified in criticizing our leaders. Recently, one local pastor went so far as to apologize to his congregation for referring to President Obama as a "godless leader." A division exists within the church over how Christians should respond to leaders who consistently establish policies that are inconsistent with biblical principles.

Some Christian leaders try to make the argument that believers should merely view their earthly existence as tourists passing through this life and, therefore, ought not to involve themselves with "politics." They rightly believe that followers of Christ have a primary duty to share the Gospel while serving the needs of others. But they question how involved one should be to correct secondary responsibilities such as sociopolitical injustices or even whether they should try to address them from the pulpit. If they concede that we do have a collective responsibility to correct moral issues that plague our society, then they must be willing to confront those who contribute to the progress of moral decay regardless of their position, including the President of the United States.

However, the question arises, "Can Christians in clear conscience criticize the Commander-in-Chief?" This requires a little digging into Scripture. The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul both instruct believers to honor the king and to be subject to those who are in power. However, do these apostolic commands disqualify believers from speaking out against the evil conduct of a leader? Many precedents are set within the biblical record, but for the sake of brevity, we will set forth some examples that definitively answer these questions.

Since the apostles encourage believers to honor the king, and since the apostles were Jewish, our question may be best served by examining the political commentary within the book of Kings found in the Jewish Scriptures. Traditional Jewish scholarship ascribes the chronicling of these books to priests who were contemporaries of the kings. These priests highlighted the major accomplishments of each king but also made a special point of summarizing the reign of each leader by evaluating his conduct with one of two general statements: Either "He did good in the sight of the Lord," or "He did evil in the sight of the Lord."

Priests were not limited to simply confronting political figures from the safety of their sacred halls, nor were they the only ones who made bold assertions directly in the presence of kings. Countless prophets within the Scriptures are on record for confronting the poor conduct of a king. In fact, when Elijah's protégé Elisha is summoned into the presence of both the King of Judah and the King of Israel, he says to King Jehoram, "As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look at you nor see you." (2 Kings 3:14)

Unfortunately, these brave examples are swept aside by some Protestants because they are contained within the pages of the Jewish Scriptures and they feel that these writings prior to the advent of Christ no longer apply. However plenty of examples are recorded in the New Testament as well. John the Baptist, who like Elisha, came in the spirit of Elijah and was a distant protégé, lost his head due to confronting King Herod over the issue of marriage (Matthew 14:1-13; Mark 6:14-29). Later, when this particular Herod heard of the news of Christ's fame, he came to his own false conclusion that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. When Jesus was told by some Pharisees that Herod wanted to kill him, he responded by using a derogatory term to refer to the king by calling him a fox (Luke 13:32).

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Can Christians in clear conscience criticize the Commander-in-Chief? If we are encouraged to follow the example of the Apostles, who followed the words of the prophets, priests, and our King, the answer is absolutely, "Yes!" But this also provokes a further, more specific question, "With which conduct did they primarily take issue?" John the Baptist lost his head because he was simply echoing a recurring theme that even his mentor was forced to confront. What was it? It was the distortion of marriage which historically results in all kinds of sexual misconduct and finally culminates with leaders endorsing the slaughter of innocent children. (2 Kings 17:7-18)

Therefore, Christians can criticize the Commander-in-Chief, especially when he endorses policies that specifically undermine the conservation of marriage and the sanctity of human life (2 Kings 8:12). Consequently, if I was compelled to evaluate the current conduct of the Commander-in-Chief based upon this criteria alone, I would have to conclude, like so many others who have gone on before us, that "He did evil in the sight of the Lord." My conscience is clear, is yours?

Scott Hyland is a writer, author, and educator. His latest book, The Five Laws of Liberty: Defending a Biblical View of Freedom.
 

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