Speaking So Leaders Listen

Mother Teresa Comes to Washington

“The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion . . . It is a war against the child.”

Who said those words? A flaming prolife radical who bombs clinics? No, they’re the words of a tiny, frail woman whose head could barely be seen over the lectern where she was speaking. It was Mother Teresa, and the occasion was the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last Thursday.

Standing before the president and vice- president, before congressional leaders and dignitaries from around the world, Mother Teresa called abortion the “direct killing of the innocent child.” And “if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child,” she asked, “how can we tell other people not to kill each other?” Surely, abortion is the greatest threat to peace today.

Her words brought thunderous applause, though not everyone was clapping. National leaders who favor abortion shifted uncomfortably in their seats, their eyes cast down.

And it struck me that this was not only a great speech, it was also a great illustration of the right way for Christians to confront political leaders on moral issues. Mother Teresa was invariably kind, polite, and respectful. But she did not flinch from speaking the truth surely and powerfully.

Among evangelicals today sharp words are being exchanged over the right way to respond to the current administration. Many of us are dismayed at the actions the president has taken on moral issues, especially abortion and homosexuality. He has restored funding to international organizations that promote abortion. His administration recently told states they must fund Medicaid abortions for rape and incest, overriding by bureaucratic fiat the laws of virtually every state.

How do we approach the president in a way that expresses our disagreement, while retaining a tone of respect and civility?

The key, I believe, is understanding the distinction between the office and the person. Toward the office of president, Christians must always maintain an attitude of respect, keeping in mind the biblical command to obey our rulers. God has ordained the office of ruler for a good purpose, to preserve order and enforce justice.

But Christians should never be intimidated by the person in office. We of all people should not be impressed by worldly pomp and power. Being civil does not mean being silent. We must call our leaders of both parties to fidelity to God’s standard of righteousness.

Exactly 10 years ago, I stood before the National Religious Broadcasters’ annual convention and warned Christians not to be co-opted by a conservative president, Ronald Reagan. I urged them to preserve the Gospel’s independence from any political party.

Just last week I stood on the same podium and warned Christians again not to be co-opted, this time by Christians of a more liberal political persuasion who say we should not criticize the president.

The harsh truth is that politicians of both left and right will use you, use you to get votes and then drop you. I know. I did it myself when I was in the White House.

Mother Teresa in her simple white robe and her hand-typed notes showed us the right way. Respect and civility, wedded to bold conviction.


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