FIRST-PERSON: Whatever happened to old-fashioned respect?

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)--Since I began blogging as a ministry tool, I have felt that my subjects for readers should be about the missions and ministries of Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists. That has been the motivating philosophy behind my modest endeavors in this sphere of influence.

As a result, I have not sought to set forth a personal political agenda, nor have I tried to become a social commentator on the secular trends in our society. There are far better thinkers and writers than I who can do this kind of work. However, I have a concern burning in my soul about the apparent loss of old-fashioned respect in our culture. Granted, I may be voicing a generational or even a Southern bias in offering this perspective, but here goes.

Recently, California pastor Wiley Drake made some unimaginably unwise comments about President Obama on a network radio talk show. Now, I realize that Bro. Drake is a shoot-from-the-hip kind of fellow, and I also know personally that statements can be taken out of context and sound worse than intended, but his comments have been verified by Baptist Press and Fox News.

What did he say? I don't want to repeat his viewpoint in verbatim form. I ask you to go to Fox News radio archives for the actual statements. Bro. Drake, in essence, called for imprecatory prayers against the well-being of the president as a means of expressing his political opinion about Mr. Obama.

Don't get me wrong; the president has espoused views with which I strongly disagree. His political perspective does not reflect mine in some major ways. However, as a Christian, I am to respect him and pray for him. Bro. Drake needs to read Paul's admonitions concerning praying for those in authority. Further, he should think about his Christian witness and those he seems to want to represent in the Southern Baptist family.

In the last several months, I have traveled abroad to the Ukraine and the United Kingdom. In both places, people asked me personally and in public venues what I thought about President Obama. My responses have always been predicated with a respectful appreciation for the office by saying, "As an American citizen, traveling abroad and living and traveling in my own country, I want you to know that I pray for my president." I have spoken kindly about Mr. Obama's dedication to his family and my concern for his well-being. I was utterly amazed to come home and hear the horrific comments of Bro. Drake. I will be praying for him as a brother. My prayer is that Wiley Drake will come to see that such outlandish statements are not only wrong, but such words hurt the cause of Christ.

Recently I've noticed other illustrations of disrespect from our culture. David Letterman's inappropriate attempts of making a joke at the expense of Sarah Palin's family is so disrespectful that I can barely contain myself as I write about what he said. Again, I will not repeat the comments verbatim. Doubtless, you have heard them for yourself. David Letterman and his writing team need a real wake-up call concerning decency and respect for the young and impressionable among us. I know he is in a ratings war with Conan O'Brien, but how far will someone stoop just to get a point ahead of his competitors? I don't watch Letterman, and I won't criticize those who do. However, this man needs to learn from this huge mistake and pledge never to jump across that line of disrespect again.

In South Carolina, Rusty DePass, former Richland County GOP chairman, misused his Facebook page when he made unflattering remarks about Michelle Obama after hearing a news report that a gorilla had escaped from the zoo in Columbia, S.C. After the Republican activist's comment was exposed by a blogger, DePass quickly deleted his Facebook page, but the ensuing controversy led to DePass issuing an apology to Mrs. Obama and resigning his job as a real estate broker. This incident should remind us about stewardship of language. One slip of the tongue, pen or keyboard can wound others and damage our own reputations. We should embrace a more Hebraic view of words that recognizes that words spoken can't be taken back. (For a biblical illustration of that truism, see Genesis 27 when Isaac spoke a blessing to Jacob thinking it was Esau.)

Sen. John Ensign of Nevada has admitted that he failed to honor his vows of marriage. Standing before the microphones addressing the media and the nation, he called it the worst mistake of his life. This is not the first time that someone of a high profile who has been in a lofty position of leadership has had to admit such a failure, and for certain it will not be the last. For Sen. Ensign, his plans for a bright political future have been dimmed by a lapse of respect for his marriage vows. Again, this is another sad example of a loss of old-fashioned respect for fidelity in marriage. Sen. Ensign can learn from this experience and so can all of us. We need to regain a sense of old- fashioned respect for the institution of marriage.

The last illustration may appear to some as the weakest one. To me, however, it is a big issue. Forgive me if I offend anyone for feeling that Sen. Barbara Boxer crossed the line of respect into disrespect recently. The senator was hearing the testimony of a brigadier general concerning the military situation in the hotspots of the world. The general referred to her as "ma'am" at least once, perhaps several times. This annoyed the senator from California, and she then said in a real snippy fashion, "General, I wish you would call me senator and not ma'am. I worked hard to earn this title."

Indeed, Sen. Boxer has worked hard for her job, and I realize that she is proud of her accomplishments. I do not want to assume that the title of "senator" should be demeaned in any way. Yet my father, a World War II veteran, always taught me to refer to ladies, younger and older, with the deferential terms "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am." This has been embedded in my DNA since my childhood. In the military culture, anyone who is a superior is addressed with the deferential expressions "yes, sir" and "no, sir" for the males and "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am" for the females. In other words, the general was being respectful of the senator, even though he did not use her title. The senator, it seems, was being disrespectful to the general. More than likely, the general had used the expressions "yes, sir" and "no, sir" as he addressed the male senators.

Wiley Drake, David Letterman, Rusty DePass, Sen. Ensign and Sen. Boxer are not the only ones who cross the line; we do too. Every time we express road rage or fail to exercise common decency, we lose that perspective of old-fashioned respect.


Rick Lance is executive director and a state missionary with the Alabama

Baptist State Board of Missions. This column first appeared on his blog.

Download Story