Monday, January 19, 2009

Question (But Don't Despise) Authority

Someone recently asked if liberals were rushing out to the parking lot with razor blades to try to peel off their "Question Authority" bumper stickers.

Having a caution about the motives and character of men is healthy, I believe. We are all trapped in a fallen world, and even the best of us fail; sometimes the worst of us achieve positions of leadership or influence. I have severe doubts about the plans and politics of our president elect, but I think he is a man of higher character than many who have occupied that office.

In the course of one week I ran across two passages dealing with this directly:

... the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries ...

2 Peter 2:9-10

Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.

Jude 1:8

In the New King James, the first passage warns against those who "despise authority." The KJV translates it, "despise government" (note, not "THE government", but the state of being under authority). The word in question is kyriotes and only appears four times in the New Testament, referring to powers and authorities which were created by God and are therefore subservient to Christ (Eph 1:20-21, Col 1:15-17), and are not to be given willful and flippant disrespect. The root word kyrios is the title for God, the Lord, but also refers to civil magistrates and those who exercise smaller dominions (such as a master toward his servants).

Both Peter and Jude point out the same worldly and sinful people who despise authority are "unafraid to speak evil of dignities". The evil here described is the word blasphemeo, and it is broader than just irreligious talk toward God. Paul uses the same term in Titus 3:1-2, again in the context of relationship to authority, when he tells Titus,

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.

The beauty of our system of participatory government, with its layers of checks and balances, is its design to even out our individual tendancies toward sin and error. A free and respectful discussion of ideas, and a respect for the leadership which is created by our electoral system, is necessary for it to work. A Biblically ordered life, even in politics, once again proves foundational to our best attempts at earthly happiness.

This is not to say never criticize or even rebuke, where necessary. Rather, speaking evil in this way is a railing, slash-and-burn kind of attack that goes beyond a Biblical admonition of even the strongest sort. "Reviling" is used in the same passages with this word; "calumniate" is a possbility suggested by the lexicon. It is the kind of attack the Pharisees leveled against Jesus first and then His disciples, and the kind of thing Christ warned against in the Sermon on the Mount.

Frankly, we've all heard it, and at some time probably engaged in it. The Left is quick to accuse conservative talk radio of this sin, and quite honestly, many radio hosts are guilty. To say the president-elect is socialistic in his policy statements is legitimate; to call him a socialist, himself, may even be accurate, though debateable. To call him treasonous would not.

Likewise, the quick labeling of conservatives as avaricious, racist, or worse, is character assassination as well, and freely indulged in liberal punditry. President Bush and his Cabinet members may have been misinformed or misguided in some of their decisions in the war on terror, and history may show a different course altogether would have been more effective. None of them, though, are war criminals, nor are they Nazis. To casually refer to the outgoing president as "McChimpy Bushitler", as some have done, is the kind of reviling that is forbidden to Christians.

We conservatives, stung by an unwelcome election result, need to watch our step that we don't fall into the same sin. There is much to be said, even strenuously, in the next few years, but we have to keep to the right side of that line.


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