Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Good Will

It is hard to write about anything this week other than the elections, so I hope you will excuse me for mixing politics-and-religion.

The candidate I supported for president did not win, but I found myself genuinely moved the next morning by the jubilation among black Americans in response to Barack Obama’s victory. This is a legitimate historical milestone in that regard for our country and a welcome one of which I am proud.

I like the way one conservative radio talk-show host put it on Wednesday (I’m paraphrasing): “My candidate did not win but I am not despondent. The American people have voted and I accept it. I love this country and I now have a new president. I will support him when I can and oppose him honorably when I must. But he is my president and he deserves my respect and good will.”

Of course, if your candidate did win and you feel elated, you have my congratulations and my good will as well.

The apostle Paul instructs Christians in I Timothy 2:1-3: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Christians count our citizenship to be in heaven (Philippians 3:20), but that does not relieve us of the responsibility and the privilege of serving and striving to help our country thrive. In Jeremiah 29, God tells the Israelites in exile in Babylon to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city into which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for if it prospers, you too will prosper” (29:7). We are aliens and exiles away from our heavenly home (I Peter 2:11), AND we seek the peace and prosperity of our country. Patriotism (love for and devotion to one’s country) is a good and godly thing as long as it does not devolve into jingoism (extreme nationalism) or xenophobia (fear or hatred of foreigners).

I was thinking about President Bush and wondering why two-term American presidents of the last 65 years have had such tough second terms: Truman had the frustrating stalemate of the Korean War, Nixon the Watergate debacle, Reagan the Iran/Contra controversy, Clinton the Whitewater/Lewinsky embarrassment, and now Bush the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the economic implosion in his 11th hour. It is a classic Catch-22: you can make a much more significant historical impact if you serve two terms, but you run the increased risk of a scandal or impasse that overshadows the impact you make.

This is why it takes some historical distance to fairly assess a presidency. Harry Truman left office with a low approval rating, but is now regarded with respect and affection. Indeed, he attained the third highest approval rating (since such ratings began in 1937) -- 65% after WWII -- in office and the second lowest -- 22% during the Korean War. George W. Bush has earned both the highest approval rating -- 92% after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01-- and the lowest-- 19% both during the Iraqi insurgency in early 2008 and after a bad economic week last month.

The U.S. Presidency is a tremendously demanding job. For this and many other reasons, American presidents deserve our respect, good will, accountability, fair-minded support or opposition, and prayers. Barack Obama will get all these from me.


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