I’m like a lot of people in America right now: I don’t think much of politicians. It seems to me that the new batch is even worse than the old ones. And the old ones where bad enough. I don’t get the impression that many of them have the sorts of qualities most extolled in scripture. The “fruit of the Spirit” has been far from conspicuous (Gal. 5:22-23).
Sure, there are politicians who are quite public about their faith. They use God-words and speak of their personal devotion to Jesus. They may participate in prayer meetings. Some are big promoters of displays of official ceremonial religion: God in the pledge, God in the national motto, posting the Ten Commandments, orchestrated prayer in school and so forth. But while they push the appearance of religion in public life, they seem to use this as a substitute for the practical reality of biblical faith, something sorely lacking in the policies they pursue.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Jesus ever provided a political platform he wanted his disciples to adopt to run the nations of the world. I don’t think there can be such a thing as a genuinely Christian nation. The only Christian nation is that Christ-centered nation without geographical borders: the church (1 Peter 2:9). Still I wish those politicians who draw attention to their Christian faith would allow something that looks a bit like Jesus to seep into their stated vision of how things ought to be. It seems to be missing. The very politicians who use the most God-talk seem to be the ones least influenced by the priorities of Jesus or the highest values of the Hebrew scriptures.
I was reflecting on Psalm 72 earlier today and it struck me that this is a prayer politicians ought to ponder and that we ought to ponder as we evaluate politicians. While the prayer is for an ancient king, and Senators, Representatives and the President are not kings, still they have the responsibility to govern. This Psalm points to the qualities that make a leader praise-worthy. We should note both what is included and what is excluded in the text. The prayer asks God to lead the king in ways that will result in “prosperity for the people” (vs. 3) and abundance in food so the people may be satisfied (vs.16). Further, the prayer asks, “In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound” (vs.7).
But what is this leader who is responsible for governing the nation supposed to actually do? The Psalm is very clear in its emphasis. He is to “judge your people with righteousness” but note that a particular class of people are given special attention: “and your poor with justice” (vs. 2). These words are directly linked to the prayer for prosperity. In this same vein, the prayer continues, “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (vs. 4).There is no suggestion that the righteous leader should give similar attention to the interests of the strong or wealthy. This strikes me as a significant omission, not one found in contemporary American political leaders.
The Psalmist can’t seem to emphasize enough the importance of the leader’s attention to those who are less advantaged: “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight” (vs.12-14). There is no way to govern “righteously” that neglects this focus. Of the leader who does the sorts of things he names, the Psalmist prays,”May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun” (vs.17). Where do we find leaders of this quality who govern with the emphasis this scripture commends? Do we have any in either major party? They seem to be missing in action. I think we should pray for our nation and pray in particular that leaders with the qualities the Psalmist applauds will step forward.
Craig is minister of Royal Palm Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Coral Springs, Florida, Co-Moderator of Disciples Peace Fellowship and a brand new Granddad who is willing to show pictures of his amazing Grandson if you want to see a few.
By Craig M. Watts