Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 1 Peter 2:13-17
Elections often sprout angst, unrest, and degrees of emotional release. Donald J. Trump’s election as the Forty-Fifth President of the United States still feels different. We are in the midst of protests that have careened into riots and reports of intimidation and beatings. Frankly, we do not know precisely what is happening. The clutter of social media, the heated nature of other media coverage, and the venting from both sides makes it tough to see the terrain clearly. On top of this, people are responding to a Trump presidency well before Mr. Trump has become President.
The Word of God cuts through the fog of uncertainty. We already know how we, as believers, ought to respond to President-Elect Trump. We are commanded, not encouraged, to honor, respect, and pray for Donald J. Trump directly, and we are to obey the laws that come out of a Trump administration unless those laws compel us to sin. While President Trump is not officially our president, he is the president in waiting. We may as well get used to it.
What this means:
#NotMyPresident is ungodly. Somehow, Paul did not supply us with a #NotMyCaesar option. Besides, you do not get to designate your president at this point. God has already taken care of that for you.
Rioting against, railing about, and stoking strife regarding Trump more than suggests dishonor and disrespect. Of course, one might argue, Donald Trump is bigoted, repellant, disgraceful, and dangerous. (I am not arguing those things.) Again, do you think Tiberius, Nero, and Caligula might have fit those descriptions? Against that backdrop, Peter exhorted believers to “honor the emperor,” and Christ admonished us to render to Caesar as he was due. We do not honor and respect because the person occupying the office is personally worthy of respect. We honor and respect the person occupying the office because God has placed them in authority over us, for “this is the will of God.” This is equivalent to treating others better than they deserve in interpersonal situations. Honoring and respecting your leaders is roughly the political version of turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile. It is not a testament to the justice and goodness of the leader or the situation, but a testament to our allegiance to God and his transcendence of the regime.
For those who are fearful of what Trump might do, I get it. I join your trepidation. He very well might register Muslims, deport all illegal immigrants, and encourage ignorance and hostility. If he does those things, we have options. We should probably wait, however, until, you know, he actually does those things. Regardless, fear should not be our primary orientation to the political order. Our acknowledgment of God’s will should comfort us, even as we find ourselves beset by a complicated, or possibly even dangerous reality.
You need to pray for Donald Trump’s success whether you like him or not. Yes, we can argue about what “success” means, but in 1 Timothy 2, Paul tells Timothy to pray for all people, and “for kings and all who are in high positions.” He even tells Timothy the attitude of these prayers. They are made in supplication, which demands humility. They must be intercessory, which requires them to be in the place of another, not ourselves. They should be prayers of thanksgiving, for God has blessed us in spite of our current circumstances. We should humbly pray on behalf of Donald Trump and be thankful to God’s provision, for his will will be done, regardless of who occupies our earthly thrones.
What this does not mean:
None of this requires us to sublimely swallow whatever a Trump administration might do. We are able to disagree with and resist, as the system allows, Donald Trump’s actions. The American system is full of opportunities to show disagreement. It contains avenues for political, legislative, and judicial remedies when we are confronted by bad policies and bad laws. We should embrace those to their fullest extent as they are needed. However, we MUST utilize these methods while showing respect, honor, and obedience. In other words, we can disagree and respect at the same time. We can litigate and honor.
And, yes, this should be our attitude whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat. President Obama commands the same honor, respect, obedience, and prayer as President-Elect Trump. We cannot allow our partisan preferences to obscure our biblical commands, for those who demonstrated the same attitudes toward President Obama–dishonor, disrespect, and disobedience–deserve the same condemnation as those today who are refusing to extend basic, Christian courtesy to Mr. Trump.
Sound impossible? Sound odd? Sound like you might stick out? Welcome to the Christ-centered life.