Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush returned to the White House yesterday for the formal presentation of their presidential portraits. Traditionally, the incumbent president hosts a ceremony unveiling the portraits of his predecessors. Standing before a group composed largely of supporters and employees from his administration, Mr. Bush began his remarks by thanking the president and first lady “for inviting my rowdy friends to my hanging.” He noted “an interesting symmetry to the White House collection. It begins and ends with a George W.”
Mr. Obama followed, hailing Mr. Bush as a steadfast leader after the 9-11 attacks. He said that Americans would never forget the image of their president standing atop a pile of rubble at the World Trade Center, bullhorn in hand. “Plus,” Mr. Obama said as he grinned at his predecessor, “you left me a really good TV sports package.” Mrs. Obama then thanked Mrs. Bush for serving as “a wonderful model of strength and grace” as first lady and mother. In turn, Mrs. Bush thanked the first family and joked, “Nothing makes a house a home like having portraits of its former occupants staring down at you.”
Such civility is a refreshing change from the tone of politics today. A perceptive article in today’s Huffington Post warns that “negative political campaigning is crippling America.” The author believes that such rhetoric is unbecoming of candidates for high office. It prevents many good candidates from entering politics and undermines the winner’s ability to govern. We shouldn’t be surprised that confidence in political leaders is so low.
How should Christians speak of political leaders with whom they disagree? Our Lord set the example by refusing to malign the high priest or the Roman governor as they condemned him to be crucified. Apostles who would eventually be executed by the government taught us to submit to our leaders (Romans 13:1) and “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17). If we say things about people we would not say to them, we do not bring honor to our Lord and King.
Justin Martyr was executed for his faith around A.D. 165. Ten years before his death, he wrote to the emperor, presenting a profound defense of Christianity. Though believers were being martyred across the Empire, Justin presented his argument with reasonable and courteous words. He voiced his people’s desire “to be found good citizens,” clearly following the biblical admonition to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Solomon observed that “words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious” (Ecclesiastes 10:12). When you speak of our leaders today, how wise will you be?