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A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on September 19, 2010

I Timothy 2:1-7
Almost every day I’m flabbergasted by the increasingly rough and tumble world of American politics. Incivility abounds marked by the changing of the seasons. This isn’t fall, it’s the season of political attack ads. This is the nature of politics but when is enough … enough?

 The Apostle Paul says it simply:

I urge supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so …we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

Paul tells Timothy in a strained and punitive time with the imperial Roman government that a believer should focus his or her energies of prayer asking God to bless and keep the leaders of government. There’s no distinction made about the political views of those leaders and nothing said about the quality of their leadership … just the admonition to pray for those who lead our country.

It strains our understanding that in the Christian Scriptures we would be urged to pray for leadership that was punishing brothers and sisters in the faith as if we were handing them over to the God of Creation for supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings rather than opposing them for the injustice they support. But the spirit of Our Leader who commanded us to love those who hate us indicates we should say a good word to God on their behalf.

I

We were flying home from our vacation a while back and I had saved the day’s USA Today to read on the plane. What I discovered on the editorial page drew me in. I read some unusual facts for an editorial of a newspaper like the USA Today to include:  More than half of Americans polled believe erroneously the U.S. Constitution established America as a Christian nation. Further, 3 out of 4 who identify themselves as evangelical or Republican believe the Constitution establishes a Christian nation and about half the Democrats and independents believe similarly. In short, 65% of the Americans polled believe the nation’s founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and people are less likely to say our Constitutional freedom to worship covers religious groups they consider extreme.

Senior Scholar Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center says, “The strong support for official recognition of the majority faith (Christianity) appears to be grounded in a belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, in spite of the fact that the Constitution nowhere mentions God or Christianity.” One-third of the respondents believe the religious views of the majority should rule and over a fourth of our fellow citizens would deny the Constitutionally protected freedom to worship (guaranteed by the First Amendment) to any group the majority considers “extreme or on the fringe.”[1]

The scariest number in Haynes’ opinion is that only 56% agree that freedom of religion applies to all groups “regardless of how extreme their beliefs are.” That’s down from 72% just 10 years ago. Seems tolerance from those of the majority point of view to minority religious groups has slipped noticeably in the age of terrorism in this post-9/11 era.

II

Since we’re worshiping today with two flags flying in our churchyard perhaps we should consider we have two texts in front of us. The first is, of course, the Bible. The Bible as you know was written in a variety of forms especially as the people of God who are struggling their way through life relate to the governing authorities of their time. In actuality, there are only a handful of centuries in which the people of God described in the Bible were in charge of their own form of government. In contrast, there are large chunks of time that describe how these people survived under the harshest of terms from others who governed them, sometimes with respect and at other times as if they were the lowest of slaves.

The second document before us could be our own U.S. Constitution. I believe the Evangelicals have it all wrong. The heart of our politics is not the biblical worldview, whatever that is. The heart of our democracy is not even God and it’s certainly not anything said by the big-haired preachers no matter what they say. The heart of our politics is found in the temple of democracy. That temple is so all-inclusive people of every faith or no faith gather in peaceful co-existence and equality. In the temple of democracy, the highest and the lowest among us have a voice and a vote … at least that’s how I see it.

In the temple of democracy, we have the freedom to disagree on how our government is being run. That’s why we have political parties who run candidates for political office seeking our votes to support them granting them the right to represent us. We Baptists are First Amendment supporters because it’s the bigger picture we should support. In the temple of democracy, both government and church are better served by maintaining a respectful distance between them.[2]

As Christian citizens, we’re compelled to recognize the larger hand of God who mysteriously blesses our leaders and wants us to partner with that divine blessing by praying for them.

III

Timothy was a young man living under the flag of Rome and Paul (a Roman citizen) had taken him under his wing and was especially fond of him because of the faith of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Paul refers to Timothy affectionately as “my child” and “urged (him) that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high places, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (I Timothy 2:1-2, NRSV). It’s the New Testament that tells us to support our leaders with prayers and intercessions and gratitude. This resonates with what Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1, NRSV).

Interestingly, the first century when these words of Scripture were penned was a time when it was dangerous to be identified as a believer and follower of Jesus. The Roman government ruled the world with an iron fist and there was always the possibility a Christian could be thrown in prison, or persecuted violently or even killed. In the Book of Hebrews we read the believers of that day were hunted and tortured. They were stoned with rocks until dead. They were sawn in two and tempted to renounce their faith. They were put to death with the sword and wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins. They were destitute, afflicted and ill-treated. They wandered in the deserts and in the mountains foraging for food to sustain them. They hid in caves and in holes in the ground to escape being captured. How did they do it, we wonder?

And yet, Paul advises Timothy to remember to pray for the leaders of the Roman government. What’s more, he says those leaders were placed there by God and were established by God. See the rub? Our historic position as Baptists has been that we have labored diligently to protect our First Amendment protection rights … not only for ourselves, but also for others. The principle of protection must be offered for all or it cannot be offered for any, even if they are the dominant religion.

What does it mean to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings?” We offer supplications for specific needs our country’s leaders may be facing. Being a politician is fraught with temptations most of us cannot imagine. Money and power are seductive and our leaders must serve above those things.

  • We ask God to support them in the face of those temptations.
  • We offer prayers for their well-being and for wisdom.
  • We ask God to give them strength of body, strength of mind and strength of character in order to rule justly so that the good of all is sought.
  • We offer intercessions when we know someone must stand in the gap to pray for them.
  • We ask God to help our leaders see the big picture, not just the partisan politics that only serve a few to the detriment of others.
  • We offer thanksgivings for those times we know they have served freely for the good of all in our land and around the world.

Freedom is much too scarce in our world and much too valuable to leave it to rot unattended. It demands our best efforts to name the goodness of God in that form of government that has wisely seen to it that there is a wall separating the government from religion and religion from the government. Let’s fix in our hearts that when we think of it, we’ll lift up a prayer to God to give our leaders the wisdom they need to do the job they’ve been given to do. It’s for their good and also for ours.

[1] First Amendment Center, “’07 survey shows Americans’ views mixed on basic freedoms,” http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news

[2] This is an insert from the essay, “The Temple of Democracy,” which appeared in Baptists Today, November 2008

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