Dear Mr(s). President:
I write this well before the election, because I don’t want you to think that this letter is overly personal. The things that I say and the prayer that I offer applies to you whether your name is Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
I must be honest. I have some serious doubts about your ability to handle the job. You were not at the top of my list when this process started. I have some major disagreements with many of your positions on the issues and challenges facing America. You and I look at life, faith, family, and leadership from very different perspectives.
But though we disagree in many ways, I want you to know something that is personal and important and that I hope will be very encouraging to you.
I will pray for you.
I pray that God will give you wisdom. I pray that God will help you to lead this country effectively. I pray that you will be able to deal with the many issues facing this country and the entire world. I pray for your safety and for your family and your health. I pray that I will be pleasantly surprised with your ability to lead this nation effectively and that you will be a highly successful president.
Once the election is over and you are inaugurated, I will accept you as my president. I will not call you names, nor will I lie about you or put you down in any way. When I disagree with you—and I know I will, because I have strong opinions about many things and that is my right as a citizen of this country—I will do so respectfully.
You are the President of the country that I love. I pray that you will be worthy of that position and that you will be an excellent leader.
With God’s love,
Pastor Jack Marslender
I admit it. I was getting cranky and frustrated—and maybe even a little bit angry—during this very strange presidential election. The lies, the filth, the innuendos, and the name-calling by the candidates were deeply disturbing to me. And the angry posts from believers (and friends) on Facebook were getting to me. I was ready to post a few angry responses and statements on social media of my own, against my better judgment.
Instead, I did what I challenge everyone to do when we’re growing angry and frustrated.
And as often happens after I stop-and-pray, God changed my thinking and reminded me of some very important perspectives for believers:
The political world is getting mean and ugly and downright dirty; we can’t afford to sink to that level.
Some voters are zealous evangelists for their candidate; we must be zealous for Jesus.
Some voters are discouraged and disgusted; we have hope in the gospel of Christ.
Some issues are dividing the generations; Jesus bridges the gap between young-and-old.
Some issues are dividing black-from-white; Jesus unites different colors and cultures.
Relationships and friendships are being broken; Christians can stand together even during disagreement.
Politicians and voters often hate their opponents; we must love our enemies.
Politicians are spreading lies; we must tell the truth.
Politicians live in a world of innuendos, putdowns, one-liners, and trash talk; we must be kind.
Politicians are spreading dirt and filth; we must spread love.
Politicians claim they can bring peace through strength or negotiation; we know there will never be peace until we find it in Jesus.
Politicians declare that their opponent is flawed and sinful; we agree because it’s true for all of us.
Candidates declare that they can fix what ails our country; we know we can accomplish far more on our knees than any president can from the oval office.
Politicians claim that this is the most important election in history; God choosing me (and you) is far more important.
Political parties claim disaster if their opponent wins; no matter who wins God will still be God and His work will still remain.
I will, of course, still vote. And I will still have strong opinions, most of which I will not share publicly, because I have better things to talk about. But I will refuse to be consumed by the world of politics. If anything consumes me, I want it to be my love for God, my love for all people, and my desire to follow Jesus and do His work.
I respect your right to take a stand by choosing not to stand during the National Anthem. I admire the fact that you have a social conscience and the desire to speak to the issues of our day. I recognize that we still have some serious racial divides and issues in our country. I’ve read enough of your tweets to know that I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, but in America, we are allowed to speak our minds and to take appropriate actions to communicate what we believe.
I know that not everyone enjoys it, but I appreciate athletes who use their status to speak and do more than just play ball and make a dollar. There are many causes to promote, many stands to take, many evils to point out. And you had a right to make your point.
But having the right to do something doesn’t mean that it is the right thing to do. I, too, have the right to speak my mind, so I want to respectfully tell you why I disagree with your actions, and why I encourage you to stand respectfully the next time you hear the National Anthem:
Standing during the National Anthem shows respect toward those who have served our nation and for the nation itself. It doesn’t mean that you agree with everything the nation has done. I would stand and show respect at the singing of any National Anthem in any country. When in Canada, I would stand respectfully during their playing of their anthem. If in Russia, I would do the same. I expect the same courtesy from any of our own athletes and from visiting athletes. Disagreement–even strong disagreement–doesn’t have to lead to disrespect. And I think that your actions showed a great degree of disrespect for America, for those who have served America, and for all Americans.
I don’t know you personally, but it would seem to me that the United States has treated you very well. You have worked hard and are reaping the rewards of that hard work. Young black men in previous generations may not have been able to reap the rewards of that work, so we are changing. It’s slow, and it’s not across the board, but we are changing. We are far from perfect and we have many remaining issues to solve, but our nation has given you an incredible opportunity. Should you not be able to respect a nation that has given you that opportunity?
Your apparent disrespect offends the many people who would otherwise be your allies. Many good people of all skin colors who love our country despite our sins are working hard to overcome racism in our country. I happen to be a white pastor of a predominately white church. I preach strongly of the evils of racism and call our church to take a strong stand against the evils of racism. But we can accomplish more with mutual respect than we can with shows of disrespect.
And though my church is predominately white, the basketball league I administer is predominately black. I work with young black athletes on an almost daily basis. I don’t always understand them. And they don’t always understand me. But we’re working hard to love and respect each other. I expect them to stand at attention during the National Anthem. I expect them (even if they’re not believers) to take off their ball caps and bow their heads during prayer. I expect them to listen respectfully when I speak. And I do the same to them. Even when we disagree, we work on the basis of mutual respect. Your example of disrespect will just encourage disrespect on a local level.
So continue to speak what’s on your mind. Take a stand. Make a strong point. Make me think. Challenge me. Tell me where you think I’m wrong. Call out our leaders (and even pastors) when we’re wrong. And I will do the same.
But let’s do so with at least a base level of respect. Stand respectfully during the playing of the National Anthem. Set an example of a man who can state his opinions boldly and forcefully, and yet still show respect for his nation and his fellow countrymen.
I respect your desire to take a strong stand, but I believe you will accomplish much more if your strong stands are combined with respect for our nation and our people.
Pastor Jack Marslender, First Southern Baptist Church of Avondale