Band of Brothers is a television series depicting the true-to-life WWII story of the Easy Company of the 101st Airborne division of the U.S. Army. This unit was one among many who parachuted into France before the historic D-Day landing on June 6, 1944. In the series, we see Easy Company from their basic training days all the way to the war’s end.
The main character of the show is Dick Winters (real guy who lived what the show depicted). His commanding officer in basic training is overbearing, incompetent, sycophantic, and universally disliked. Winters and the other men of Easy Company have to put up with him- he outranks them.
Later, after Winters has distinguished himself in combat and as a leader of men, he receives a series of promotions. Eventually his rank rises above that of the basic training CO (who BTW lost his command to Winters, never went into combat, and became a supply officer). At one point they encounter each other as Easy Company is in transit. The old CO– now outranked and bitter– fails to salute Winters. In a truly great scene, Winters stops the guy and says, “Captain Sobel… we do not salute the man, we salute the rank,” and makes him snap the salute.
I thought about this scene during a recent discussion about how Christians in America should view the presidency. (John Dobbs blogs about this here.) Take a few minutes to read 1 Peter 2:13-25 and Romans 13:1-7. Should we be engaged in publicly slamming and disrespecting our elected officials? (Not speaking about civil and constructive dialogue here- just the mean spiritedness that seems so prevalent in almost any discussion about politics and presidents.)
Can you imagine how the idea of “Honor the king” sounded to first century Christians? The Roman Emperor and the cult of Emperor worship sanctioned by the Roman state represented everything they opposed and at times severely oppressed them. Yet Peter says give him honor? Could it have been a salute the rank, not the man type thing?
In fact, honoring the king is a reflection of our submission to God. Our willingness to do this- even if it goes against our grain– is another way for God to be glorified to community in us. Why else would we do this except out of our relationship with God? Only in Christianity is this kind of ethic found. Many other religions would seek to rebel and overthrow (Jewish zealots in Palestine then- radical Muslims now) a government they dislike. This is not God’s call for us. Rather we challenge governments and culture through transformed lives- as peacemakers, through meekness, purity, and living out the values of the kingdom as Christ did. God will- through his justice eventually make right all of the injustices that exist (where is the Roman empire now?). Like the Revelation martyrs- we may be asking, “how long” until this happens (Revelation 6:9-11). But until then God asks us to love our enemies, honor and pray for government officials and forms of governments (even those we do not like), turn the other cheek, think more highly of others than we do ourselves, take care of the most vulnerable among us, etc.
It is a difficult, humbling, totally against-our-human-nature call, but God is not asking us to do anything he has not already done himself.
I may disagree with and oppose the policies, politics, and even the lifestyle of a president. I certainly can engage in civil discussion about all of this and vote for or against him (something the first century Christians could not do, BTW). But while I may not necessarily salute the man, God has called me to honor the position. When I do I reflect that my true citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven.