On Tuesday Night, I sat with my family and watched the first presidential debate of the election season. And yes, we watched the entire thing, from beginning to end. Now, you may be thinking, “Why would you subject yourself and your family to that?” The short answer is “Because it is a civic responsibility.” Each of us lives in a democratic republic and that means we, the people, have been entrusted with a great responsibility to learn about the candidates, to watch the process, to listen to what they are saying and not what others tell us they are saying. But enough on that.
As a pastor and a father, I must say that this debate was a sobering experience and a display of just how low American politics has gotten. It felt like listening to elementary school children calling each other names and refusing to grow up. As Christians, this kind of behavior should alarm us in any person, especially in those running for elected office. The Scriptures paint a very high bar for any governmental official. Is we were to read the Biblical narrative and look for the qualifications of ruling officials we would find the following: wisdom, understanding and experience (Dt 1:13); ability to judge righteously, be impartial, not intimidated by anyone (Dt 1:16-17), not wealthy or having many wives (Dt 17:17), intimately acquainted with the Law of God and ruling by it (Dt 17:18-20); public servants of the poor and needy instead of serving themselves (Eze 34:3-8). If in addition, to these distinctly public servant qualifications, one adds in the qualifications for the ecclesial rulers (qualifications I would argue should be essential for anyone in leadership then the following would be added: above reproach, monogamously married, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, a teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy, able to manage one’s own house and family, not prideful, well thought of by outsiders, dignified, truthful, not slanderous, faithful (1Tim 3:1-13).
If these are the qualifications that God desires for the orderly and just administration of civil and religious communities, then what my family and I observed on Tuesday night is a long way from what the American people, or any people for that matter, deserve and should expect. Both candidates have a long way to go in conforming to the basic standards of godly leadership. Both candidates need to repent and turn to God. Both candidates owe it to this country to raise the level of political discourse and to manifest decency, respect and charity towards their opponent and the American people.
But on a more fundamental point, who is really to blame for such low standards? It isn’t just the candidates, what Tuesday night convicted me of was that the American people are to blame. We, the people, have allowed the slow erosion of decency and respectability. We, the people, have tolerated such base displays of arrogance and disrespect. We, the people, have elected both of these men to office and have given them our tacit approval to behave and irresponsible, ugly caricatures of the worst of human decency. There are some who will read these words and say – “that applies to Trump”; while others will say – “that is definitely Biden’s problem”. But I want you, a voter, to set aside your political loyalties and go back up to the second paragraph where the qualifications of a leader are set forth, then objectively and wisely compare both men’s character and behavior on Tuesday, along with the rest of their political career, to these qualifications and recognize the deficiencies in both men. We, the people, must not simply accept the candidates that are put forth, we must demand candidates that are worthy of governing our land.
As a pastor, Tuesday night was an opportunity to instruct my family in their civic responsibilities. It was also a chance to pray for God to change the trajectory of our nation, for without a change, the future of our country and political discourse is headed towards a cliff which none of us will enjoy.