May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you. Psalm 25:21
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:12
You have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever. Psalm 41:12
Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. Hebrews 13:18
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep families quarantined in their homes, the level of irritation and distrust among Americans toward their local and federal governments is on the rise. It is certainly understandable for us to experience increased frustration since there seem to be conflicting reports at the federal and local levels as to how long the current strategy of social distancing will remain intact. Some are questioning the validity and effectiveness of the quarantine. Others are suggesting a conspiracy of global proportions for political purposes. And others are assigning evil motives to figures of authority such as mayors, governors, and presidents.
To be certain, asking questions of our nation’s leadership and corrective curiosity toward the actions of those in power is an important part of the spirit of America. Not only do we have the freedom to inquire, disagree, and call for change, but we also have a responsibility as Americans to do so. Thus, no American should blindly accept the decisions of our leaders simply because they are leaders.
And yet for Christians, the manner by which we make such inquiries and ask such questions carries with it enormous implications for the commission of the church of Jesus Christ and the manifest glory of God.
When this period of social-distancing began several weeks ago, I was incredibly pleased (and somewhat shocked) at the relative ease by which Christians and churches followed the direction of our government officials to cease physical gatherings at the church building. No doubt, the primary concern for pastors and churches was and remains the new commandment to “love one another.” And yet, this was done in conjunction with our governor’s decisions for the well being of our Commonwealth.
But I am sensing some unraveling. And for those to whom I have the privilege of pastoring, and for others to whom I am honored by your reading this article, I am gently exhorting us all to consider our integrity and honor in bearing the name of Jesus as we work through the issues in front of us.
Because there are issues. Two quick examples:
- Not surprisingly, a few leaders have gone too far with their language and actions toward churches who are trying to comply with the distancing mandates while also worshiping together. For example, I believe Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was unwise to announce the involvement of law enforcement against congregations that held “drive-in” worship services. There have been some other similar examples. Thankfully, I believe on the whole, most governments have been acting appropriately toward houses of worship.
- The irony is difficult to miss as Governor Andy Beshear is doing what I believe is an excellent job at providing leadership during the Coronavirus crisis, and yet as he passionately leads to save as many Kentucky lives as he can, he also permits the state’s abortion clinic to remain open as an essential business.
I would never suggest that Christians should ignore these kinds of concerns. Wearing the name of Christ does not mean wearing a mask of indifference. But our awareness of and attention to these and other concerns will only be honorable to God if they are honorable to God. In other words, sinful attitudes and actions, even for a just cause, are displeasing to the Lord.
The Psalmist of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament understood the power of integrity and honor. David knew that he must not forgo his integrity in the midst of a crisis and was very willing to wait on the Lord (Psalm 25:21). Peter was unwilling to compromise his Great Commission witness which meant he was also unwilling to compromise his integrity (1 Peter 2:12). For the Christian, integrity is a gift of grace that comes from the Lord Jesus, and we are upheld by God as we cling to the integrity of Christ.
What does this look like practically? Here are a few ways to maintain your integrity and honor without ignoring the issues:
- Recognize that mistakes will be made during this process. A wrong decision by the mayor of Louisville or inconsistencies by the Governor must not elicit ugly, vilifying comments from the church, nor should we be quick to assume the deterioration of the 1st Amendment. For me, religious liberty is a primary issue. As a pastor and homeschooler, these kinds of freedoms are essential to my life and are given to me not by the state, but by the Lord. I keep a very close eye on news pertaining to religious liberty (and is one reason I am so thankful for the ERLC of the SBC). But even with my passion for this topic, I must not be quick to overreact and relinquish my integrity in the process.
- Avoid the expectation that every Christian should match your level of passion and attention to the details. I am beginning to see social media threads where Christians are doubting the salvation of other Christians because they are not doing x, y, or z. There are plenty of Christians who are thinking well about these issues without sharing it every day on Facebook. (The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint. Proverbs 17:27).
- As I have already established, we must ask questions and hold our leaders accountable. But God has placed governments in place and one of the clear commands from our Lord is to pray for them and submit to them (Romans 13:1-2). Sadly, the unbelieving world understands evangelical Christianity to be a world of extreme partisan language instead of extreme prayerful language when it comes to government leaders.
- Ask yourself the question – will the Facebook message I am about to post or the article I am about to share provide a meaningful, honorable word to the issue at hand while maintaining my integrity in Christ? In other words, just ask the simple question, “Why am I posting this?”
- Avoid conspiracy theories and predictions. Things like, “just you wait and see, so-and-so is only doing this because they want such-and-such to happen.” Friend, you will lose credibility with those kinds of things, and a loss of credibility means a lessening of your witness for the gospel.
- Ranting on Facebook does not bring change. Take your convictions to the voting booth. Contact your local representative with your concerns. Start a blog and write well-articulated, researched articles for people to read your thoughts and reflect on. Write letters to leaders in government. And so forth.
- If you are a leader in the church – a pastor/elder or deacon or Sunday School teacher – then this applies 10-fold. There is no excuse for stirring up division among the saints at any time, but especially during times of crisis (Titus 3:9-11).
Semper Fidelis. Always faithful. Always faithful to Christ first. No matter the issues, no matter the crisis, no matter the frustration. Christ first with integrity and honor.