Christians, the Commandments, and Political Leaders in a Nasty Social Media World

Photograph © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor. Used under CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

In the wake of a General Election and a Hung Parliament, everything's very political in the UK at the moment. But this is NOT a political post. Rather, it's a pastoral one. Because, as a pastor, I want to speak to Christians about how we react in this nasty social media age to those who are legitimately set in governing authority over us.

Lots of things are doing the rounds on Twitter (and I imagine it must be at least as bad on Facebook too, though I try and keep away from there as much as possible!), whether they be comments or memes, about Mrs May, and now, to a lesser extent, Mrs Foster as well. Now, Mrs May is an elected MP, leader of the largest party in Parliament, and has been appointed by Her Majesty as her Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury. Mrs Foster is the most recent First Minister of Northern Ireland, leader of the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fifth largest party in Parliament, and an elected MLA. They are both the legitimate holders of positions of governing authority.

Now, not everyone in the country votes for the Conservative and Unionist Party or the Democratic Unionist Party. So, clearly, not everyone in the country agrees with the political positions of either Mrs May or Mrs Foster. However, there is a significant difference between principled disagreement and cruel disrespect.

Although so many prominent voices have been raised against trolling on social media in recent years, it seems that with this election it has suddenly become socially acceptable to essentially troll the Prime Minister (and now Mrs Foster and the 10 DUP MPs as well).

Now, much as it alarms me that our society suddenly tolerates such hatred and bile in the place of reasoned political discourse, the reason I raise the issue here is because, as a pastor, it alarms me even more when I see Christians joining in in sharing the circulating memes.

In the fifth commandment, the Lord tells us: Honour thy father and thy mother. The Heidelberg Catechism sums up how Christians have always understood this commandment:

Question 104. What does God require in the fifth commandment?
Answer: That I show all honour, love, and faithfulness to my father and mother, and to all in authority over me; submit myself with due obedience to their good instruction and correction; and also bear patiently with their infirmities: since it is God's will to govern us by their hand. 

Honour and respect for the Prime Minister - even if you disagree with the Prime Minister's politics - is part of our keeping of the fifth commandment. This doesn't mean that the Prime Minister will always be right, but we are to faithfully and patiently bear with his or her infirmities, for, as the catechism points out, it is God's will to govern us by her hand.

In the ninth commandment, the Lord forbids us from bearing false witness. Yet so many of the memes and comments being passed round do just that.

Jesus summed up the whole law with two great commandments, the second of which is that 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Matthew 22:39). Irrespective of whether a person holds political power or not, politicians are our neighbours too. And cruel, trolling, or untruthful memes and comments do not show love for our politician neigbours. It doesn't matter how much you think Tories are "evil" or how "loony" you think the Left are. Because, there isn't some abstract thing that goes by the name of the Tories or the Left, of Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, Unionist, Nationalist, or Green. There are only people who belong to, or work for, or vote for those parties. And those people are your neighbours whom you are called to love.