Once again, the UK has found itself in a crisis of leadership. Once again, our Prime Minister has been forced to step down following months of controversy, in what is (once again) becoming a disturbingly predictable season of uncertainty for our country.
The Government itself has had a rocky decade, with its leaders dropping like flies and our Prime Ministers changing like the weather; this seems anything but the “strong and stable” government the Conservatives promised us years ago! Both online and in the media, Brits from all walks of life are becoming more and more vocal towards a government which has frequently been described as “shambolic“.
Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s a reason I’m not a politician. I do not envy anyone in the slightest for taking the reigns over what has been a difficult few years for our country. I’ve watched PMQs over the past couple of months watching Johnson endure a near constant barrage of personal attacks, scything questions, and unyielding calls for him to resign. They have been relentless, and have no doubt taken their toll on the man.
As a Christian, I believe vehemently in justice. I also believe in being generous and loving towards the unlovable – especially those I dislike! These two things can sometimes seem to be at odds, especially in this “age of outrage”, where to defend or even slightly empathise with someone is often seen as the equivalent of giving them your full support (which, of course, is nonsense).
Through it all, the question I’ve been reflecting on more and more in recent months is: is it right for Christians to speak up against our (if the Bible is to believed, God-given) leaders? If so, how far can we go? When it is it appropriate to speak up? And if we are all sinners, do we have any right whatsoever to voice complaints against those in power?
While the answer may seem obvious, in practice very few people seem to be able to do this well.
On one hand I see Christians who are quick to condemn without giving any second thought to gentleness or nuance; on the other, I see cries of “do not judge” whenever anyone gives off even a whiff of disproval. If social media is anything to go by, it seems we’ve become quick to either pounce on those we disagree with, or let our important opinions and views go unannounced due to an admirable desire to remain meek and humble.
In this post I want to look at what the role of the Christian should be when examining and perhaps even challenging unjust leadership in worldly institutions. Later on in a future post I’ll ask the same question in regards to leaders within the church.1
To do this, I’m going to ask 2 questions. Question 1:
1. What should our attitude be?
Before looking at what we should say or do, we first need to look at our own hearts and attitudes.
Several times in Scripture, Christians are instructed to pray for those in power. Some may balk at this, but if early Christians were able to pray for the Roman Emperors and Governors who at one point were very much out to get them, and if Jesus himself prayed for those who crucified him even as he was being crucified, I think it’s not too big of an ask in 2022 for us to pray for those in power in our country – even the ones we dislike!).
I will never preach my political views from the puplit. I will always encourage people to pray for those above us, though, regardless of how much we disagree with them, dislike them, love them or loathe them.
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul says to Timothy:
“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”2 Tim 2:23-25 (ESV, emphasis my own)
Those verses may have been written to a church leader, but I think the principles stand for all Christians. Yet give me 5 minutes on social media and I’ll be able to find you 100 examples of where these verses go unheeded.
In our interactions with those we disagree with, Christians must clothe ourselves with kindness, gentleness, and patience, without being quarrelsome. Too many Christians make “foolish, ignorant controversies” the focal point of their faith, and it does far more damage than good.
Christian: don’t be like the world.
You can pray for God’s blessing and wisdom on political leaders you cannot stand.
You can pray for the salvation of abusive worldly leaders without supporting them.
You can pray for God’s blessing over those whose values seem to be directly opposed to your own.
As Christians, our attitude should be one of humility; our disagreement should always be charitable. Filled with gentleness, looking for ways to encourage, quick to forgive, slow to make assumptions, and always ready to give the benefit of the doubt. We should be praying regularly for those above us, especially those we disagree with, often remembering the mercy God shows us each day.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.Proverbs 29:11 (ESV)
That doesn’t mean we have to be pushovers, however. Which brings me to my second question:
2. Do Christians have any right to speak out against our leaders at all?
Quite simply; yes. I think we do.
In Luke 13:32 Jesus calls Herod, the Roman Ruler of his region at the time a “fox” – slang for a liar, deceiver, or wicked man, referring to Herod’s cunning and treacherous nature. Jesus himself was not shy about declaring the truth about Herod’s character.
Jesus was also not shy about condeming the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day) for their wicked and unjust practices.
God’s public anger and wrath against unjust leaders in the Old Testament (using prophets to publicly speak against them, plagues to judge them and dogs to shamefully lap up their blood when they perished) isn’t exactly subtle.2
In his letters, Paul publicly rebukes several spiritual leaders who had gone off track.
These are but a few examples. So while the Bible certainly calls us to love and pray for those in leadership – no matter how wicked they are – there are many descriptive examples of Godly men and women (and God himself) speaking out against corrupt leaders in their day.
Striking the Right Balance
God is sovereign. On that, the Bible is clear. Nothing happens without his knowledge, or without his allowance – but that doesn’t mean he morally approves of everything that happens. The Bible says all have sinned, but that doesn’t mean God approves of sin. The Bible may say God is sovereign in appointing leaders, but it doesn’t mean God approves of everything they do. This potentially mind-boggling train of thought is worth a whole blog post in it’s own, which I don’t have time to go into today (maybe in future) but if you’d like to read more about it, this Relevant article does a fairly good job of unpacking it.
With all of this in mind, I think it’s okay to speak out against corruption and political injustice when we see it. I think it’s okay to speak out against wicked practices, and I absolutely think it’s okay to speak out against rampant inequality.
The problem is that it can be difficult for us to strike the right balance between gentleness and speaking up. Some Christians focus so much on the loving and honouring part that they may not say anything out against injustice at all, even when God may be calling them to use their voice. Others will go too far in the other direction, abandoning any semblance of love, charity and generosity to spit venom at those they disagree with at the slightest opportunity. (And for the record: separating issues and people into categories such as “woke” and “unwoke” is entirely unhelpful and utterly foolish. That’s of the world folks, not of the Kingdom).
Christians have a God given impetus to use their voice for good. Proverbs 31 instructs God’s people to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Christians are good at this, but some seem to be selective about doing it, especially when it comes to politics and hot-topic issues.
In fact, I don’t think it’s entirely unjustified when critics of Christianity point out that Christians tend to “pick and choose” what parts of the Bible we focus on. You’ll see plenty of Christians speak harshly and with hateful vitriol on topics like abortion and the LGBTQ+ community, but look for those willing to even speak up against policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and you’ll struggle a bit. It’s not as if the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about the latter either! Part of the problem is that very few Christians actually know how to engage well with non-Christians on these topics.
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.Proverbs 15:28 (ESV)
Lovers of Truth
Christians should use their voice. But the way we use it should be different to the way the world does. The world loves to pounce at the slightest whiff of controversy or outrage. The world loves to attack, slander, lie and hate without listening. The world loves to react to headlines without actually reading the articles.
Christians should be set apart in the way we do these things.
We should be slow to speak and quick to listen. Willing to give the benefit of the doubt and to hear and understand the other side’s story. We shouldn’t just take things at face value, but weigh up the information given before speaking.
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)
Unfortunately this is difficult in an internet culture where 95% of the most visited “Christian” Facebook pages in the US were controlled by Eastern European bot accounts. And if my own Facebook/Twitter feeds are anything to go by, Christians are as bad as everyone else (maybe even worse) at believing false information and speaking up on it before ever considering whether what they’re saying has any truth to it. I’ve heard plenty of pastors and speakers, in services or at conferences, give into sensationalism, sharing “shocking” statistics, headlines or anecdotes that, with a little research, are found to be mostly nonsense, or at least wildly overexaggerated.
Christians are to be lovers of truth, promoters of truth, and defenders of truth – however unpopular it is. Sharing dodgy information or political tripe from social media is not the way to do this. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy to “rightly handle” the word of truth – Biblical or otherwise. Sharing false information to make a point does not honour God; it actually damages our Christian witness.
Unfortunately, it’s much easier to take a false or sensationalist headline and get a reaction from it than it is to actually do a little bit of research and see if what we’re sharing has any weight to it. If we want our voices to have an impact, we have to make sure we’re speaking actual truth.
Once we’ve taken the time to do our research, listened to and understood arguments from each side, are convinced that we have the correct information, and that what we’re saying aligns with the Bible – then we can speak up.
So Christian: use your voice. Send letters to politicians, join in organised marches (including relevant non-Christian ones), and join in protests with a good conscience. Don’t be afraid of speaking out against injustice, but watch how and what you say when doing it.
Let your voice be used for good; the good of this world (which God created, loves and still thinks is “good”), the good of your neighbour (believer or not), the good of the oppressed, the good of our witness, for the glory of God, and the advancement of his Kingdom.
By the way, I’m aware I’ve not said much about challenging leadership within the church. That’s important too, but there are a few further considerations that need to be taken into account – I’ll talk about that in a future post.
Finally and most importantly, if ever in doubt, let Christ be your example:
Christ, who spoke up against injustice while praying for those who were unjust towards him.
Christ, who preached a message of repentance and judgement while being known as the “friend of sinners.”
Christ, who’s main focus wasn’t the political powers of his day, but on his coming Kingdom, the urgency and importance of repentance and salvation, and of the sovereignty of God throughout it all.
Christian: use your voice – but be set apart in the way that you do it. For in the end:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments! If you found this helpful, please feel free to share it.
- For the record: no, I’m not going to talk about the Nazis, or Dictators, or even Roman Emperors. Plenty has been said about living under those kinds of leaders already (and I refuse to succumb to Godwin’s law). ↩
- Please note that some of these examples are descriptive, not prescriptive – God sending plagues against his enemies doesn’t mean Christians are called to send plagues against ours! ↩