Growing up I was blessed in so many ways. My parents were both politically active, advocating for the stranger and for the oppressed. As a baby I went door-to-door (in their arms!) campaigning for George McGovern. They took me along to marches and in all their work included me and taught me many beautiful things.
I think it was sometime in the 90's that a new phrase, a new way of referring to the president came into being, "leader of the free world." For those who had been raised during World War II, calling a president "leader" sets off alarm bells. Moreover as theological students they had both learned that there is only one "leader" or "Fuhrer," and that is Jesus, and Jesus alone, not Hitler, not Roosevelt and not Stalin; both Karl Barth and Bonhoeffer taught my parents this lesson, a lesson they would never forget. The Queen herself rightly bows to a foreign prince, the Lord Jesus. But my parents' concern, a concern I share, goes further.
What is a president? A president is someone who presides over the national conversation; much like a skilled hostess, a president can turn the conversation this way or that. The office is powerful as such, but not imperial. I'm glad that in our day and age, the phrase, "leader of the free world" seems to be used less than it once was. We don't want to forget that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
The apostle Paul says, "let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God...those that exist have been instituted by God." Paul lived in an Empire. The authorities instituted by God were the emperors, governors, centurions and the like. But we have been given a democracy, the authority instituted by God is us. There is no other way for Americans than democracy; if we resist we resist to our own hurt, even as the apostle warns.
A young man I know and esteem, once indicated to me that he would like a dictator in America; he had been raised in Europe and used to the efficiency of the "strongman." Democracy is sometimes not easy to understand. It must be painfully learned again and again, but God is faithful and good and he will not let us forget forever. The buck does not stop at the presidency, but right here, with me and you.
Every Sunday I pray for local and national government, but I never forget that the government is us; whatever happens, at home or abroad is our responsibility, we are the authorities instituted by God.