The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield was famous for quipping, “I get no respect.” That line showed up in some way, shape, or form in most of the films he was famous for. Dangerfield typically played the role of bumbling but loveable idiot, who somehow managed to come out on top. But even though he came out on top, he still “got no respect.”
We struggle with the not only the idea, but the practice of respecting others. People who have been granted authority and positions of leadership certainly feel this regularly. Policemen are spat on. The flag is dishonored – and in so doing, the people who fought to defend the very freedoms that flag stands for, are dishonored. Teachers are not respected or revered for their role in educating children. Parents are spoken to and treated with absolute insolence by their own children! Even pastors are not immune to receiving not only the subtle but blatant forms of contempt that have become so prevalent in society today.
Hatred and vitriol seem to fill the hearts of people and it appears to be pouring out in record fashion. Feelings guide every action and reaction, and these heart-filled emotions are often not very pretty. This should be no surprise though, for even Jesus speaks of this truth in Matthew 15:9 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.”
Last week, while driving to visit a shut in, I saw a group of people holding signs supporting one of the presidential candidates. The car in front of me threw a cup of sweet tea (living in Florida, I’m assuming it was sweet tea) at one of the sign bearing individuals (who was wearing the garrison cap of a veteran), soaking him with the sticky beverage. As they sped off, the offending driver gave them all the middle-finger.
Instead of dialoguing and debating differences, instead of discourse and discussion with those we disagree with (whatever the disagreement might be), it seems that the go-to reaction in our society today is to name call and attack. To disrespect and dishonor. Ad-hominem rules the day, unable to argue a point, we attack each other instead. It certainly was the approach modeled in many of the debates leading up to the election.
Last night (Wednesday) I came home late from teaching confirmation classes. I flipped on the TV with the hopes of unwinding from my long day and was instantly greeted by images of people protesting the democratic process and recent election. I saw signs filled with profanity laced messages, youth cursing into the camera for effect, and even a paper mâché representation of President-elect Donald Trump hung in effigy. It looked like something from a Third-world nation, not America. I certainly don’t recall such behaviors or such hatred in previous elections, it makes me wonder how far education and society has digressed.
Facebook has become a veritable cesspool of insult and attacks. And it seems to me that there is not a whole lot of love or respect for our neighbors (no matter who they are), going on today, and even less for those who bear official offices of leadership.
The Apostle Peter speaks of the authorities over us and the importance of honoring them and using our freedom not for evil, but rather in service to God and our neighbors. His words in 1 Peter 2:17 are especially pertinent I believe:
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
We may not always like our elected officials. In my lifetime we’ve had some good ones and some that weren’t my favorite. We may not always like the things that our neighbors stand for or champion. But we are still called to love them and respect them. We are commanded to honor them and pray for them.
St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome (where rulers were doing some pretty horrific and terrible things), “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” – Romans 13:1-8
We need to find ways to better love our neighbors and respect and honor those who are in positions of authority over us. Those in authority also need to respect and honor the offices they have been granted, understanding the tremendous weight and expectation that rests upon them in their office. A wise WWII veteran once said, “we might not always like who the president is, but we must respect the office of the president, as it is bigger than any one person.” The same can be said for many offices and positions of authority that exist in this world. We may not always agree with or even like the person who bears the office, but the office itself demands respect and honor. And it is our duty as Christians to do just that, whether we like it or not.
It’s time to turn the tables, to fight against a culture of insolence and unruly impertinence. Though it may seem only natural and all too easy to disrespect our neighbors, the people we disagree with, or the authorities that are placed over us, the reality is, that it’s high time that we give them some respect and love our neighbors, treating them with the same courteous decency that we ourselves would wish to be receive.