Yesterday was unusually chaotic even for American politics.
Democratic Party officials announced partial results from the Iowa caucuses at 5 p.m. EST showing Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders in the lead. Their statement came nearly a full day after the results were delayed due to reporting issues. Four hours later, President Trump began his State of the Union address.
He became only the second president to do so while under impeachment. The atmosphere in the room was unusually tense and partisan.
The president handed copies of his speech to Vice President Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She extended her hand, but he turned away without shaking it. She then introduced him, but not with the customary, “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.” Instead, she said simply, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.”
During the speech, the president honored a Tuskegee Airman and his grandson who intends to become an astronaut. He welcomed home a soldier who reunited with his family for the first time in months. The speech recounted remarkable economic good news and called on Congress to make progress on a variety of fronts.
Then, at the conclusion of the speech, the Speaker of the House stood, took her copy of the address, and tore it in two. She said later that she destroyed the speech “because it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives.” She added that she was “trying to find one page with truth on it” but “couldn’t.”
My purpose in responding today is emphatically not to advance a partisan agenda. I would offer the same response to last night’s divisiveness if the president were a Democrat and the House Speaker a Republican.
In such a bitterly divided culture, my purpose today is to consider biblical ways to deal with disagreements as a nation and as individuals.
One: Honor the position if not the person
First, we must honor the position even if we disagree with the person.
Peter instructed us: “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” (1 Peter 2:13–14). Paul agreed: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
Note that the emperor to whom they referred was Nero, one of the most despotic tyrants in Roman history.
In light of God’s word, it was wrong for Republican Congressman Joe Wilson to cry out “You lie!” when President Obama was delivering a joint address to Congress in 2009. (The congressman soon apologized, and the president accepted his apology.) It was also wrong for Speaker Pelosi to rip up President Trump’s speech.
Congressman Wilson and Speaker Pelosi obviously disagreed with the presidents whose speeches they protested. But Scripture teaches us to honor the position, even if we disagree with the person.
Two: Initiate reconciliation
Second, God’s word calls us to go to those with whom we disagree.
Jesus was clear: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). Conversely, our Lord also taught us: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23–24).
Whether someone sins against us or we sin against them, we are to go to them. We are not permitted to speak about them before we speak to them. When we discuss public figures, we must avoid slander (Psalm 101:5; James 4:11) and gossip (Proverbs 20:19; 1 Timothy 5:13), only saying about them what we would say to them.
These commitments break the cycle of retribution and initiate the process of healing. If the person will not respond to our initiative, we will know that we have done what we can.
Three: Love our enemies in prayer
Our third principle may be the hardest: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45).
“Love” translates agape, the unconditional commitment to put the other person first. We demonstrate this commitment when we pray for “those who persecute you”—the Greek syntax is translated literally, “for them as they are persecuting you.”
You know that you love your enemies when you pray for God’s best for them regardless of how they treat you. Such forgiveness obeys God’s word and will (Mark 11:25) and models his grace to a graceless culture.
Imagine a culture living by biblical forgiveness
Discussion of the divisiveness on display during last night’s State of the Union is likely to continue for days. In response, let’s model Christian behavior for a post-Christian culture. Let’s choose to honor the position of those with whom we disagree. Let’s refuse to slander them, speaking to them rather than about them. And let’s pray for God’s best for them as we share the forgiveness we have received.
Imagine the difference in our country if everyone followed these biblical principles. Now let’s model the behavior we ask others to exhibit.
With whom will you begin today?