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How should we respond to leaders we disagree with?

How should we respond to leaders we disagree with?

Never have I seen a nation so honoring and proud of the role of President and yet so dishonoring and undermining of the President himself as the United States.  


Recently, I saw a Facebook post by a Christian disrespecting the current President and comments which were equally disrespectful and it caused me pain and gave me much to think about, especially seeing as my first reaction was to judge them, just as they had judged the President!

I find it easy to understand how non-Christians can passionately, openly, disagree with and undermine political leaders, but I find it bewildering to see how quick Christians can be to pick out any reason to disrespect the leaders in a high and mighty, ‘told you he was no good’ attitude.  Then I realized it is so ingrained in many American circles, even Christian ones, that many people do not even realize that it is wrong. 

Then I realized the plank in my own eye and that I might not have a problem dishonouring political figures, but it was not so long ago that I have struggled to respect and honour other people in leadership over me and how the body of Christ struggles so much to be honoring to one another.  


When a leader has offended you and you choose to remain with that offense, it doesn’t matter what the leader does right, the things he or she has done wrong are reason enough to drag his or her name through the mud.  Suddenly it is as if God has given us the personal job of judging and bringing down the leader and condemning them to hell forever. 


It is easy to point out the things that are wrong in those who are in leadership of us - teachers, sports coaches, pastors, parents, managers…  It is easy to find all the things we disagree with and to share them with others.  In fact the enemy will give us plenty of reasons to turn offenses into reasons not to respect if we just listen to his poison and feed those thoughts.  


It is also possible to honour people with our lips - to say the right things, but in our heart be bitter and judgmental towards them and that doesn’t please God (or those we are meant to be respecting). (Matthew 15:8)  It soon becomes obvious, though, when our hearts are not in the right place - it is difficult to hide a negative heart.  Any actions done lack enthusiasm and requests responded to are done to the bare minimum. 


It is difficult to honour and uphold leaders, especially human ones!  And the way to find out whether we really honour and uphold them is to check our attitudes when they do something we disagree with.  It is easy to love and honour and respect others when they are doing things we like, but maturity is what shines through when they do things we don’t like or understand.  Will we still honour, love (which is a verb, not a feeling) and respect them in our heart as well as our actions when their actions offend us? Will we choose to let the offense go and honour them anyway? Will we presume the best about their intentions? Can we love and respect the person without necessarily loving and respecting their decisions when it comes to sinful practices? 


One of the things we Christians love to do is judge others. Some Christians claim that Jesus did it and so we should too.  Despite the very important factor that Jesus was without sin and is destined to be the Ultimate Judge, the occasions Jesus spoke the harshest judgements were not to individuals but to groups of people.  He had a lot to say about the Pharisees as a group and their practices but when he came to speak to individual Pharisees, such as Nicodemus and Simon, we don’t see him blasting them with judgment, but bringing challenge with gentleness and love through indirect parables requiring them to come to their own conclusions.  Often we get confused between judging a group in sin and condemning the sin, and thinking we have a license to pick on and condemn an individual.  Jesus tells us to stop trying to get the speck out of someone else’s eye and to get the plank out of our own eyes. Interestingly, it is only then, when we are in a place of repentance and humility, that we can help others with their specks. 


And so, I hope you don’t think that I haven’t had a plank in my own eye about honoring leadership.  Believe me, I have and it is from that place that I now write this piece.  


When we were first missionaries in Peru we were part of a church with leaders who did many things we didn’t understand or respect.  It was easy to air those discontentments with Mark and with others and to try and justify our own point of view.  It was difficult for us to extend grace to those leaders and recognize that they were doing their best and trying to lead to the best of their ability.  We tried to be honoring and respectful to their faces, but our conversations between ourselves were not honoring or grace-filled at times.  How I lacked maturity and understanding as I sat under those leaders! How I fell into the enemy’s trap of dishonouring them in my heart and conversations!   


But should we even love, respect and honour leaders we don’t agree with? According to the Bible, YES! There are no conditions put on who we love, on who we respect or who we honour.  In fact Romans 12:10 tells us we should love one another with brotherly affection and we should outdo one another in showing honour! There is no conditional clause. Romans 13:7 tells us that we should honour and respect all those to whom respect and honour is owed - it does not mean that those who don’t deserve it shouldn’t get it.  How do we know? Because in that same verse we are told to pay taxes and revenues to whom it is owed - not because we agree with whether or not we should pay our taxes, but because that is what God is asking us to do! 


And now when I think of Political leaders and other leaders I try to put myself in their shoes and what strength they have to keep going! To continue to try and make the best decisions they can in the face of division, constant criticism and ungratefulness as well as all-out personality assassinations!  We have had people under our leadership who have found it really hard to see the positive in our leadership.  Their minds had become so wrapped up in everything we were getting wrong or they didn’t understand, that they couldn’t even say anything that they were grateful for or that they appreciated about our leadership.  And they couldn’t even recognize that the problem was much more in that mindset than in the big or little things that we got wrong (or got right but did in a way they disagreed with.)  

Spiritually and emotionally it became very draining for us.  Choosing to love someone who is questioning your every move is hard, exhausting work requiring much prayer and grace.  Constantly trying to please and appease someone who is waiting for you to make another mistake is often a pointless, burdensome task with little recognition or gratefulness.  Of course, God uses those situations to clarify his direction and guidance in our leaderships and bring us to repentance in certain areas, but with those who are stuck in negativity towards us, nothing we do is good enough and seems to only add more fuel to the fire. 


God has now enabled me to reflect on those times that I sat under leaders I struggled to respect.  It was easy to have a conversation with others airing my discontent and get more fuel for the fire from them.  Few people are strong enough to stand up and refuse to enter the discussion and those who I knew might, I might have avoided anyway! Now that we are leading out a ministry, I get to see the other side! I realize how much those leaders I dishonored were actually trying to do their best and were seeking to do God’s will and how it was me, not them, who needed a heart-check.  


I am thankful that God has surrounded us with people who do try to choose to honour our leadership and love me in spite of the things I get wrong.  Those who are mature enough to realize that I am going to get things wrong, and that I want to do things right but I might not be there yet.  Those people who celebrate my strengths and surround my weaknesses with grace. I appreciate those people who affirm me and love me and also pull me aside and challenge me on the days I need it.  I find encouragement from those who highlight how my actions may have been misinterpreted by others so I can sort out those misunderstanding as best as I can.  


So who are the people you are under the authority of right now (whether you desire to be or not!)? How is your thought life towards them? What are you grateful for about them? What practical ways can you show that you appreciate and respect them irregardless of what you think about their actions right now? How can you pray for them and honour them in your conversations with others? 

Obey your spiritual leaders and submit to them [continually recognizing their authority over you], for they are constantly keeping watch over your souls and guarding your spiritual welfare, as men who will have to render an account [of their trust]. [Do your part to] let them do this with gladness and not with sighing and groaning, for that would not be profitable to you [either].
— Hebrews 13:17 (AMP)


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