On our way to one of our annual church convocations, my wife and I realized one of my lifelong dreams by visiting Springfield, IL – state capitol and home of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Going well back into my earliest school years, Lincoln has been of keen interest to me. For one reason, I grew up on Lincoln Place in my home town. For another, my mother was born and raised in Illinois, "The Land of Lincoln." Since this is the bicentennial year of his birth, I had even more reason to make a special effort to visit his hometown.
Following stops at the Lincoln Tomb and the Lincoln House, we visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum – an entire block of showcase displays, personal effects, art and video presentations of Lincoln the man. One of the exhibits that most struck me was a room lined with campaign and newspaper caricatures of Lincoln during his election races and his White House years. As I perused these posters, I was reminded that public vilification of the President is nothing new. We may think our last election cycle was especially nasty, but if we look into our history, we would realize that personal assaults on candidates are less now than in other eras in our nation's history.
It was especially caustic for President Lincoln in the months before our tragic and bloody Civil War. Besides his several personal family losses, he suffered public ridicule like few of our Presidents. The New York Times on August 29, 1903 wrote, "Lincoln was perhaps the most bitterly assailed and savagely cartooned public man of his time. One has only to search the newspapers and periodicals published while he was in the public eye to obtain overwhelming confirmation of this statement."
Does the Word of God address this issue? Look at this New Testament story: when he stood before the Sanhedrin to defend his preaching the gospel, the apostle Paul was accused of showing disrespect to the high priest. Notice his reply, quoting Exodus 22:28:
"And those who stood by said, 'Do you revile God's high priest?' Then Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people'" (Acts 23:4-5).
Unless we have served in high political office, we cannot truly understand nor appreciate the enormous pressure men and women experience in official state duties. They are, after all, human beings like you and me with strengths, dreams and aspirations – but also with human limitations. It is for this reason God commands through Scripture that Christians are to pray for and submit to them. Take, for instance, these passages:
"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Also note: "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves" (Romans 13:1-2). During his campaign, Barack Obama made several references to Abraham Lincoln. Numerous Internet articles itemize similarities (as well as differences) between the two presidents starting with their Illinois residency. Obama announced his candidacy for president on Lincoln's birthday in 2006 outside the old State Capitol building in Springfield where Lincoln delivered his famous "House Divided" speech in 1858. He rode to Washington on a train to begin his presidency, as did Lincoln, and then took his oath of office on the same Bible Lincoln did at his first inauguration. According to a CBS News article by Phil Hirschkorn, "change" was the buzz word of both of their campaigns.
When was the last time you prayed for our President (or your national leader)? These verses are commands for all citizens – Democrat, Republican, Independent or non-aligned. We owe it to our head of government to lift him up before the Almighty asking for protection for him and his family, that he govern with godly wisdom, that he exercise great humility, that he listen to wise and honorable advisers, that God's will in history be accomplished during his administration – and that the Work of the Gospel is not impeded.
For further reading and thought, I refer you to our commentaries National Day of Prayer: Are your prayers being answered? and World-changers.