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It was shaping up to be a normal Labor Day barbecue—until I made the tragic mistake of opening my mouth. People were busy cooking, cleaning, and setting up and I overheard a discussion about one political issue or another, ” . . . I can’t wait to get Obama out of office; he’s so evil.”

Now, I’m not a huge Obama supporter, so I don’t know why I felt I need to speak up. I casually said, “Oh come on, he’s not evil.”

In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea.

What happened next wasn’t a discussion; it was an eruption. The passion and vehemence with which they argued that he was an incredibly evil man set me back.

Christian character assassination

I hear it in our church foyers, coffee shops, and proudly displayed across our social media channels. Disrespectful and mean-spirited demonization of political leaders by Christians. And it isn’t just coming from the right. . . liberals are just as likely as conservatives to make diabolic caricatures of those they disagree with.

We’re not talking about reasonable dialog around political issues. We’re talking about the misplaced passion turned into venomous character assassination. Hatred masked as political debate.

It doesn’t help that we’re so quick to perpetuate false stories and hoaxes via Facebook, Twitter, and email that help to bolster our strongly held fervor.

It’s a travesty that the people who should be carrying the banner of hope and and value of others are so ready to spread distrust and hatred.

Offering hope instead of gloom

I don’t care how passionate you are about politics, or how bad you think things are. We’re called to better behavior by people who endured much worse.

Roman leadership was a who’s who of the fiendish and power mad. From Augustus Caesar (who reigned at the time of Christ’s birth) through Nero (who put Paul to death), Rome was in a rapid moral free fall.

Around the events in the 12th chapter of Acts, Caligula Caesar was in power. Caligula was a violent and sex-crazed madman who turned the Roman senate into a brothel, is rumored to have had incestuous relationships with his sisters, and tried to have his beloved horse, Incitatus, installed as a member of the senate. He was killed after a brief three-year term.

After a reprieve of one fairly normal reign in Rome, one would come to power who made Caligula’s regime look reasonable . . .

That devil Nero

Nero murdered his way to the throne eventually forcing even Seneca, the philosopher who educated him, to commit suicide. In his quest for power he killed his stepbrother and even his mother.

In A.D. 64, a fire broke out in Rome damaging nearly 75 percent of the city. Rumors began circulating that Nero had torched the city intentionally in order to rebuild a more opulent Rome. To quell the negativity, Nero took advantage of the suspicions most Romans felt toward Christians and blamed this fledgling religious group.

As the historian Tacitus tells us in his Annals (XV.44):

And so, to get rid of this rumor, Nero set up as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius.

Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of charioteer or drove about in his chariot.

All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even towards men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.

It was Nero that was in power during the latter part of Acts (chapters 19 and onward), most of Paul’s epistles, and Peter first letter.

How do Christians respond to authority?

It is in light of this kind of dramatic and dangerous first-century leadership that Jesus encourages us to be peacekeepers, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, and offer our coat when someone want to sue us for our shirt. (Matt. 5)

It’s during Nero’s reign that Paul tells us:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Tim. 2:1–2)

It is during trying and troubling times that Peter tells Christians:

For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:15–17)

“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose.” (1 Peter 3:9)

It’s time to take our call seriously

If those that we look up to as writers of sacred Scripture have so explicitly communicated the sort of posture we’re to exhibit to all (even those in authority), who are we to ignore it. After all, they demonstrated the same patience and kind perseverance in the face of brutal persecution and real depravity.

Somehow we think it’s okay to point fingers, call names, and devalue others because we don’t like their policies.

When I talk to many Christian friends about Scripture and sin, they tell me that, unless they’re given good reason not to, they take Scripture literally. Yet, in spite of a very explicit and constant call to demonstrate honor and charity to others, they seem to feel a freedom to not bother when it comes to political leaders from parties they don’t endorse.

It’s got to stop. The spirit we carry into public discourse is as important as the message. In fact, the message can either be empowered by our graciousness or diminished by our condescension and patronizing behavior. And I know which one Jesus expects from us.

Can you relate to the experience that opened this post? Tell me about it in the comments.