Tough to love

Do I have to love politicians?

The election is behind us, but I’ve been preparing a seminar on loving those who are tough to love, and I have to admit that my response to politicians during the lead up to voting day wasn’t always loving, especially against the standards of 1 Corinthians 13: Patient? Hardly!  Kind? Rarely!  Keeps no record of wrongs? Total failure.

The greatest of these is love

Romans 13 begins by speaking of our need to acknowledge that “the authorities that exist have been established by God” and goes on to encourage us to give them the respect and honour they’re due. And 1 Timothy 2 urges us to pray for all in authority. But love them? Isn’t that a bridge too far? And what would loving a politician even look like?

So back to 1 Corinthians 13 for a helicopter view of love. I’ve already mentioned patience and kindness. But love also “always protects … trusts … hopes … perseveres …” and “does not dishonour others”. That’s not how I feel about politicians. I feel far more like punishing them for their poor behaviour and broken promises than honouring them.  And as I watched the swearing in of the new Prime Minister, I realised how little optimism I had in the whole political system that things now would be any different.  I was already deep in judgement mode.

Asking or demanding

But why am I judging so harshly? I think it is because I’m not just asking that they fulfill all their promises and act with the integrity, compassion and wisdom that I expect of a leader, I’m demanding it. Demanding of a human being in a human system what only God can deliver and hasn’t promised to deliver until the new creation. And when they don’t deliver? Judgement follows and (even if they never know it) punishment follows. I don’t just fail to love – I criticise, dishonour and disrespect.

So yes, politicians (of all persuasions!) can be tough to love, because they are flawed human beings in a flawed system. And I can find them tough to love because I demand of them what I should only be asking for. It is hard to respect and honour them, to be patient and kind and forgiving, to persevere and to hope, when it appears to bear so little fruit.

But I think it is what God calls us to do. 

And we certainly won’t be able to do it while we demand more of them than they can return.

If we allow God to comfort us when we see them fail us and fail others, and if we forgive them, then we will be in the best possible place to call them to account for their offences. Their offences shouldn’t be swept under the carpet, but neither should they bear the wrath that stems from our own disordered hearts.

So how do I do it?

So how do I love a politician whom I’m never likely to meet?

Prayerfully

Examining my own heart so that I deal with my own biases and demands. Hoping God can do immeasurably more than I ask or imagine. Believing the best and not assuming the worst.  Persevering in grace. Speaking without dishonouring. Forgiving when they fail to deliver, so that I can hold them to account without malice.

I’ll never be able to love politicians if I expect them to be God – or even to behave in consistently godly ways. But if I do heart-checks of my own and pray that God does His work in them, I’m much better placed to love them better.

This article is written by Deborah Bensted. Deborah originally trained as a Registered Nurse and Midwife, remaining in the Health Sector for some years in both clinical and public education areas. She has a Bachelor of Theology and has worked in church ministry in teaching and leadership roles.

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