Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:5-7
One of the things that defines a culture is its communication patterns. And, by “culture”, I don’t just mean ethnicity. The legal profession is a culture. The world of healthcare is a culture. The businessworld is not only a culture unto itself, but consists of lots of subcultures as well. Being a distinct culture, each of these arenas has its own patterns of communicating. There is a way of talking that has evolved and that must be learned in order to fit in. Everyone knows this intuitively.
With the GOP debates this past week, we in the U.S. are entering into a season of politics (“season” means 16 grueling months of seemingly interminable mudslinging). Politics is a culture unto itself, with its own patterns of communicating. It is a culture which has become so pervasive here on social media, it almost defies having a “season” any longer. And the patterns of communication born out of our adversarial, two-ideology political culture have invaded (and superseded) virtually all other cultures, including the church. If I want to “fit” in this culture of Fox news versus MSNBC news, I must wear my agenda on my sleeve and lead out into every discourse wearing my colors proudly. I must learn pointed and outright mean-spirited ways of disparaging the other ideology, making it appear irrational and ridiculous. Of course, I may quote scripture (if I must) as long as I keep it a mere secondary source of wisdom and not a primary source, lest I be labeled “crazy” and marginalized…in other words, I must always speak from behind the mask of my political ideology, never allowing any “higher” ideology to detract from or complicate my brand. I must be willing to speak in negative terms about my opponent, and especially about anyone speaking from the other ideology. If I do not voluntarily do so, the media will force it out of me…indeed, the POPULACE will force it out of me. Frankly, the entire political machine, as a matter of survival, will force it out of me.
If my ideology is not currently holding office, then this culture requires that I dishonor and disrespect whomever does hold the office. I can refuse to do so, but I will refuse to do so at my own peril. Simply put, I will no longer be a part of the culture…I will no longer sound like I know what I am talking about. I will be considered weak and spineless and soft and out of touch. To many of us, of course, that is a totally unacceptable lot (i.e., that anyone might conclude I am not brilliant and articulate and amazingly connected to the pulse of the nation). These patterns of communications are the patterns of the political culture, and I must learn them well and use them well in order to fit this culture…
Unless, of course, I am a Christ-follower.
In that instance, as a follower of Christ, I have an entirely different set of rules for communication. They are about honor and respect and speaking only words that are helpful for building others up. For Christ-followers, the boundaries placed around me by scripture are much higher than any cultural norms, and screaming outside those boundaries is, well, pretty much destructive of my entire reason for being on this planet…to help people see Jesus. Simply put, scripture speaks rather clearly against the very patterns of communication which have become the hallmarks of political discourse.
That is not to say, of course, that we Christ-followers cannot disagree (even strongly) with decisions our government makes. I believe Peter and John made that point clear in Acts 4. Paul would later do so as well. But Jesus and John and Paul would also be quick to remind us that there is a level of civility and honor and respect we owe our governing leaders and we should conduct ourselves accordingly, in a way that points people to Jesus.
And so, here at the beginning of a 16-month season of rants, I think a gentle reminder to all of us is in order: honor and respect the offices God has placed over us. And let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only that which is helpful for building others up. And finally, hold your breath, everyone. 16 months is a long time.