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Monday, October 10, 2016

Grace and Simple Etiquette -- Respecting the Office of President of the United States

A long time ago by my view, we Americans were taught to support the President of the United States. This support did not mean refraining from disagreement or from voicing opposing views. It simply meant we should respect the office itself. This esteem comes from accepting the popular choice for leadership of our great country.

Some argue that the office is not a disembodied thing without an occupant and that “respecting the office” is just an empty phrase. I understand that view. In fact, in his farewell address, Jimmy Carter summed up that spirit when he said that he “will lay down his official responsibilities in this office to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of president, the title of citizen.”
However, in this age of spin and slant, it seems that partisan opinion causes so many to have no regard whatsoever for the position of the most powerful leader in the free world. In fact, Carter was not criticizing the office of the presidency; instead, he was rightfully reminding us that the people put a candidate in this position. In this regard, the citizen is always “superior” to the president.

When we constantly belittle the office through excessive partisanship, we also lessen the authority that the office deserves. Partisanship can go too far. And, when it does, our system of government becomes gridlocked and grinds to a grievous standstill. Nothing gets done while people unfairly blame every ill on the president. This incessant rebuke can morph into total distrust – distrust of the man, of the office, of the government itself. Is our political system so warped that what is best for the country becomes less important than partisan gain? It seems to be that way.

In very simple gestures of honor, we used to be told to address the president by title and to capitalize the word President when used alone in reference to the person who held the title. No longer do these matters of style and custom seem to matter. The title “President Obama” is infrequently used today, and not because of concerns for brevity. We all know that many equate the surname Obama with divisive connotations born from partisan views. Admittedly, not using the title and capitalizing a reference are small tokens of disrespect, but they represent real signs of lack of etiquette, something from which we could all accrue benefits.

Then, there are those critics who claim presidents, themselves, have no respect for the Oval Office. Enter the sex acts of Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. I offer no defense of this behavior. None. Yet, is it fair to judge all presidents by some regrettable actions of one? Is it wise to throw the presidential baby out with the dirty and perverted bath water? The presidency is the like commission of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and other great leaders to which we own so much gratitude.

Do we have a duty to respect the office? I recently read a very interesting post by ethicist and theologian Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, about Christians and their need to honor the President. Dr. Moore says ...

“Many of us have some disagreements with the President. As a conservative Christian, I believe unborn children have certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, and I wish President Obama would work to protect them. I believe freedom of conscience is the preeminent right in a civil society, and the Administration’s incursions on religious liberty are troubling. I don’t plan to back down one bit on these matters, even as our forefathers Isaac Backus and John Leland relentlessly stood up to the founding generation of leaders on behalf of religious freedom and human dignity.

“We are going to disagree with the President on some (important) things; there will be other areas where we can work with the President. But whether in agreement or disagreement, we can honor. Honor doesn’t mean blanket endorsement.

“I am always amazed by those Christians who will dispute the command to honor, arguing that 'kings' in our system are the people, and therefore we’re called to honor the Constitution but not elected officials. But the Scripture doesn’t command honor simply for the ultimate authority (which is, of course, ultimately God, in any case). Humanly speaking, the ultimate political authority in the New Testament context was the Emperor. And yet, the Apostle Peter specifically calls the people of Christ not only to show submission to the emperor “as supreme” but also to “governors” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). The Apostle Paul calls on the churches to pray and to show thanksgiving for “kings” (plural) and for “all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

“Paul imitated this when he showed due respect to the governor Felix, referring to him with the honorific title “his Excellency, the governor” (Acts 23:26), even as he appealed his way up through the political process of the Roman Empire of his time. Paul showed thanksgiving for Felix, despite his part in a system with which Paul disagreed at some important points, for his “reforms” for the common good.

“Behind that is a more general command to “honor everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17), to pray for “all people” (1 Tim. 2:1). We are to not only pay our taxes but give “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7).

“Christians, above all people, should pray for and show respect for our President and all of our elected officials.”

(Russell Moore. “Christians, Let’s Honor the President.” November 07, 2012.)

Moore adequately expresses the Christian duty to respect the office. I feel his approach is so preferable to those who have resorted to name calling and other forms of ugly behavior to denigrate our presidents.

Jeff Schweitzer, Ph.D and former White House Senior Policy Analyst, says he need not even cite the ridiculous references for all the accusations that President Obama is a secret Muslim, or a non-citizen, or a radical Christian who hates America. Instead, the overall theme is that the President is a traitor. And vile attacks have included the following (collated by Geoffrey Stone) …

• “Dump This Turd” (with image of Obama)
• “Somewhere in Kenya A Village is Missing Its Idiot”
• “Pure Evil” (with image of Obama)
• “I’m Not Racist: I Hate his White Half Too” (with image of Obama)

• “Obama is a lying, racist, American-hating socialist”
• “Obama, Kenya believe him”
• “B.O. Stinks”
• “Dinglebarry” (with image of Obama)
• “Obama: One Big Ass Mistake America”
• “Obama Bin Lyin’”
• “2012: Don’t Re-Nig”
• “Two Things Coal and Barak Obama Have in Common: 1) There both Black [sic]; and 2) Americans should BURN BOTH” (it should be apparent that grammar is not a strong suit of the stupid)
• “Vote the right guy, the white guy”
• “Chairman Oba-Mao”
• “It’s True, I Do Hate America” (with image of Obama)
• “Barak Obama the Antichrist”
• “Obama makes me throw up in my mouth”
• “Obama Hates America”

(Jeff Schweitzer. “The Conditional Sanctity of the Office of the President.” The Huffington Post. January 29, 2015.)


Where is any thread of dignity for President Obama in these attacks. They are sick. Many are outright racist.

People seem to prize above all their protected American commitment to free speech. They employ the philosophy that “my right supersedes any limits of respect and common dignity I might owe to others.” In other words, using emotion and “By God, my Constitutional rights,” they willingly say things – even despicable, grossly offensive things – simply because they can.

Those who raise generations of future conservatives and liberals that deny the obligation to respect the office of President of the United States feed the hungry wolf of blind contempt. Perhaps believing that name calling and other bullying tactics are akin to changing despised political correctness, they enforce their approval of personally attacking all opponents because they have different views. This is simply unwarranted disrespect – the same kind that guarantees continued partisanship and contempt will flourish.

In the case of the President of the United States, one should reflect upon the duties of the office before attacking the personal character of the occupant. That elected official has sworn to an oath that we all agree deserves our respect:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

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