I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 (NIV)
Yesterday morning, I was reading a devotion by The High Calling called “Have you Prayed for Any Kings Lately?” We don’t have any kings in the United States but we do have a President and other leaders who are in authority. I actually pray on a regular basis for our leaders – local and national – as well as the leaders of other countries. Reminded to do so after reading this devotion, I added them to my morning prayers.
My prayers usually go something like this: “Lord, I lift up leaders and those in authority in our country. I pray that they look to you for wisdom and not to the powers of this world. May their hearts be devoted to you above all things and may that lead their actions.” Since it was the 4th of July, I added prayers for our country. I began to pray, “Dear God, may the hearts of us as individuals also be devoted to you.”
But then I stopped and thought about this prayer.
With the Supreme Court decision last week (Hobby Lobby), social media traffic has been heavy. I struggle with the Court’s decision, because I value the freedom of religion we have in this country. Yesterday, I almost wished the Jehovah’s Witness who visited me a Happy 4th but then remembered she doesn’t celebrate government holidays. I may not agree with her, but I can respect that she is faithful to what she believes. But she’s an individual.
I just don’t think corporations are people. I’m a CPA by training, so I understand how and why corporations organize as “individuals” legally. If you have 1,000 shareholders, a partnership structure makes no sense, especially in a manufacturing or retail environment. Because a board makes the decisions on behalf of the shareholders regarding regular operations of the company, it functions more like a sole proprietorship (single owner) than a partnership. But this doesn’t make it a person.
I respect families and business leaders like Hobby Lobby who integrate their faith with their business practices. But the purpose of their business is not to express their faith. If it were, they would be a non-profit. We can argue that employees who don’t like their position (or Chik-fil-a’s decision not to be open on Sundays) can find different employment. But this isn’t really true.
While some of these jobs may not require significant skills, they may be located on the only bus line that doesn’t require a transfer (or two), is within reachable distance of the children’s school for a single parent, or doesn’t require a pay cut to start over in a new organization. (While I don’t agree with World Vision’s decision not to employ individuals who are in same-sex relationships, they are a faith-based non-profit organization and have the right to do so. I don’t see how this particular exclusion impacts their mission but that’s a different conversation.)
So back to my prayer.
What I didn’t pray for – and can’t pray for – is for our devotion to Christ to be embodied in our government. Do I want our leaders to be faithful Christians? Yes. Do I want the decisions they make to be consistent with God’s character? Yes. Do I want individuals to love their neighbor as much as themselves? Yes. Do I want this to be law? No.
Just like a for-profit corporation, the mission of the government is not to express “its” faith. As soon as faith becomes law we move into punitive action. Discipline and correction in the Church is meant to be corrective and restorative. It should happen in community and by intimate community as part of mutually accountable relationships. When we become a theocracy, we jeopardize freedom in Christ and lose the intimacy of community. We hold as guilty those who do not believe as we do rather than entering into relationship with them. We stifle doubts and needed debate on how we live our faith. We begin to focus more on enforcement than worship.
As we pray for our country and our leaders this 4th of July weekend, I hope you consider praying for them as individuals rather than only in their official capacity. As we give thanks for our freedom, I hope that our prayers include freedom for all peoples. And may the peace of Christ be known in our hearts lead our individual actions so that justice may roll like a river and righteousness like a never-ending stream (Amos 5:24).
God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ is the ground of the peace, justice, and freedom among nations which all powers of government are called to serve and defend. The church, in its own life, is called to practice the forgiveness of enemies and to commend to the nations as practical politics the search for cooperation and peace. This search requires that the nations pursue fresh and responsible relations across every line of conflict, even at risk to national security, to reduce areas of strife and to broaden international understanding. Reconciliation among nations becomes peculiarly urgent as countries develop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, diverting their manpower and resources from constructive uses and risking the annihilation of mankind. Although nations may serve God’s purposes in history, the church which identifies the sovereignty of any one nation or any one way of life with the cause of God denies the Lordship of Christ and betrays its calling. – The Confession of 1967, PC(USA)
Note: I'll be with a group of middle school students next week at The Great Escape. I'll see you in a week, and your prayers are appreciated.