Can We Criticise Leaders We Pray For?
Let’s read the verse first.
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
– 1 Timothy 2:1-4
Where in these verses does it say don’t criticise politicians, Prime Ministers or Presidents? Read the whole book if you like. There’s no variation to the plain reading of what this verse is saying even after absorbing the wider context. It says to pray for those in authority. If you feel you can’t pray for somebody you disagree with that’s one thing.
But if you disagree with someone in authority because their policies conflict with the Kingdom of God and you fail to raise, discuss and share your concerns, that’s a whole different kettle of fish, and there are lots of Scriptures about that.
“Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy.”
– Proverbs 31:8-9
“Learn to do good;
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”
– Isaiah 1:17
We can pray for those in authority as Paul exhorted Timothy, and at the same time be vocal participants in public debate.
Allow me to offer a logical rebuttal of the eisegesis of 1 Timothy 2:1, based in Scripture of course.
Firstly, I’m sure all Christians agree that Jesus is eternal, and the Word of God, and that the Word of God is eternal. John 1 makes this beyond dispute. So when Paul wrote to Timothy, it wasn’t the first time Jesus heard it. He always was the Word, including 1 Timothy 2:1, during His earthly ministry.
Secondly, Jesus basically character assassinated the Pharisees and they formed the biggest political party in Judaism in His time on earth. Rome occupied Israel and had a local Governor, Herod, but the Romans commonly allowed all conquered people to rule themselves. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious and political leaders of Jewish society, and their policies were the law – which Jesus hated – which Jesus criticised.
Question: did Jesus fail to follow the Word He knew and manifested because He criticised those in authority? Or was He well able with the same Spirit that now indwells His Church to both fiercely criticise social leaders and pray for them effectively and compassionately at the same time?
It’s a rhetorical question answered with “of course”. Of course both Jesus and we His people can pray for those in authority as Paul exhorted Timothy, and at the same time be vocal participants in public debate.
In fact, I submit for your prayerful consideration that a better reading of 1 Timothy 2 indicates that God’s goal is for us all to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence”. It’s also that “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”. Is that limited to Gospel Truth? I doubt it very much. I believe it’s all Truth, otherwise we wouldn’t also see multiple offers of wisdom from God throughout Scripture.
Vocal criticism of leaders and political participation do not detract from a peaceable life, godliness, Truth and wisdom. In fact they actively support and help achieve these things.
But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s test the opposite ways of interpreting this verse with a historical application.
“The ultimate test of a moral society is
the kind of world that it leaves to its children.”
This man gave his life opposing the government of his day. He was born in 1906, the grandson of a preacher at the court of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. In 1920 he announced his intention to also become a minister and a theologian, and graduated from the University of Berlin at 21 before becoming an assistant pastor, and later a lecturer in Theology.
Meanwhile, Hitler rose in power, and the economically depressed Germans embraced his charisma and accepted his hatred of Jews. Many in the Church remained silent, or even endorsed Hitler as an answer to prayer following Germany’s defeat in World War I.
Although many German Christians opposed Hitler and even formed a denomination, the Confessing Church, around their common rejection of any other authority alongside the Word of God and their first allegiance to Jesus Christ, it didn’t last very long. Even the Confessing Church became reluctant to speak out against Hitler. Bonhoeffer saw that even moral persuasion was losing its effectiveness, and he became physically involved, helping Jews escape the government’s oppression while employed in the German secret service – a double agent.
We know the history of 1940s Germany, and the tragic impact the democratically elected government had on German society and the entire world. What if more of the Church had not been reluctant to criticise evil & immorality? Would there have been more martyrs like Bonhoeffer? Undoubtedly, unless perhaps they could have even prevented the rise to power of evil. But many projected their will on God, and one pastor even said, “Christ has come to us through Adolph Hitler¹.”
Was Bonhoeffer wrong to criticise the elected authorities, the government & leaders that persecuted Jews? Of course not.
It was completely Christ-like to criticise both the policies and character of Bonhoeffer’s political leaders and government authority – even though he was commanded to pray for those in authority. Hindsight was of no use to Hitler’s victims. Those Christians that failed to oppose Hitler publicly failed to love their neighbours, and clearly did them harm. It has always been the Church’s role to resist unrighteous government from its first appearance, and to be the prophetic voice to society.
Participation in politics actively fulfils the second greatest commandment which Jesus identified: to love our neighbours. This isn’t just a command for those with a “special calling”, it’s a command for all followers of Jesus. It may be your calling to be a leading voice like Bonhoeffer, or a pastor who rightly identifies unrighteous government to be opposed. We are all called to at least be the Christian who rallies behind and supports righteous government with whatever opportunities are within our reach, including (but not limited to) prayer. The consequences of the Church’s silence are as severe as they are predictable.
Rise up, Church! Awake, sleeping Giant! Let us determine together to never again let unrighteous and immoral ideas or policies, candidates, politicians or government take comfort and confidence in our silence.