You may have heard the phrase, “turnabout is fair play.” If your opponent on the soccer pitch, football field, or basketball court is illegally pushing, shoving, and elbowing you, then it’s only fair that you can push back, right? Turnabout, as they say, is fair play. And as long as it’s not against the law, immoral, or physically harming anyone, then that principle might work fine at least for ball games and boardgames. But what about the game of politics?
Frank and I had a podcast on this topic too. Check it out at:
When Your Opponent Cheats, What Should You Do? | with Dr. John Ferrer
How far should we take this idea of, “turnabout is fair play?” A gentleman from Nigeria by the name of Austin sent us a question about this last week.
“Imagine that you’re in the ring of boxing with an opponent who is breaking all the rules and nobody is calling him to order, would you keep following the rules? To be more specific, this analogy is to capture the imbalance of political power between the muslim north and the christian south of Nigeria. As I’m sure you already know, the survival of Islam is hinged on political power and domination. Our muslim brothers are extremely political, while the christians are, for the most part, passive. But besides the political docility of the christians, our muslims don’t really play fair. For example, muslims go as far as registering underaged voters. This is one of the major reasons northern votes beat southern votes in federal elections, not that the number of muslims is above that of christians. There’s a lot more of their shenanigans that I’d rather not name here. The situation is far uglier than I’ve decided to capture at this present time… So, how do you see this? How do you play fair with an opponent who doesn’t play fair?”
Austin is clearly concerned for more than just apologetics. He yearns for justice. Beneath the looming weight of political corruption and injustice, he is staring down one of the largest militant fronts of modern day Islam. He’s rightfully concerned that religious and political opponents have rigged the system. Of course, he wants to do something about it!
If his opponents in the Muslim north are cheating and abusing the system to stay in power, then perhaps Christians in the South can use the same tactics to stand against the spreading Islamic caliphate. The Christians would have good motives. The other guys cheated first. So, is it okay to lie and cheat if the other guy is doing it?
In short, no.
While I sympathize with Austin in Nigeria, I can’t condone that behavior. He’s asking a practical question, of whether the “ends justify the means.” That axiom is the centerpiece of Utilitarianism[i], a non-Christian ethical theory coined by Jeremy Bentham. Sure, lying and cheating might help you win elections. And you might be cheating the same way your opponents are. But the ends don’t justify the means. The means need to be justified themselves.
Moreover, lying and cheating won’t preserve the integrity of the church or showcase the light of Christ to the world. Now, we’ll get into some exceptional cases later. But at this point, if you aren’t literally being forced lie and cheat, then you shouldn’t lie or cheat.
Perhaps the best starting point for unpacking that answer is to do a heart-check. Ask yourself: Do you fear and love God more than anyone else?
“Do you fear and love God more than anyone else?”
By that I mean, do you fear God as the sovereign judge and King more than you fear anyone else? And do you love God as your heavenly Father, more than you love anyone else? When we can answer this heart-check with a resounding “Yes!” then we’re in a good position to face hardship and do the gritty work of apologetics.
This heart-check was Peter’s advice to first century believers. Apologists love to quote him in 1 Peter 3:15b, “always be prepared to give an answer.” But just before that classic call to defend the faith, Peter sets it inside a persecution context. In verse 14 he says, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” Answering how to do that, Peter says to put Jesus first. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord” (vs15a). The surrounding passage, 1 Peter 3:9-17[ii] reinforces this point saying, “do not repay evil with evil,” “or insult with insult,” “repay evil with blessing,” “keep [your] tongue from evil and lips from deceitful speech,” and “suffer for doing good” rather “than for doing evil.”
That’s easy for you to say
Of course, it’s easy for me to say all this. My job, my family, my way of life, are all safe. There are no political enemies or religious invaders beating down our door. My home church faces no real danger of conquest, at the hands of radical Muslims, militant Hindus, or even snarky atheists. It’s easy for me to tell folks to endure persecution heroically when it’s their persecution and not mine. That’s why I’m not speaking on my own authority. Apostle Peter said it first. I’m just agreeing with him. If I ever face persecution like my brothers and sisters in Nigeria are facing, I pray I’d have the courage to take my own advice, I pray I would follow St. Peter in honoring Christ as Lord and suffering well.
“Love and honor Christ as Lord, then suffer well.”
How do we do that?
At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Okay, be righteous and don’t ‘sink to their level.’ I get it. But how do we do that?” That’s a great question. I’m glad you asked! Stay tuned for part 2 where I explain seven principles we should all follow when our opponent isn’t fighting fairly.
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Dr. John D. Ferrer is an educator, writer, and graduate of CrossExamined Instructors Academy. Having earned degrees from Southern Evangelical Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he’s now active in the pro-life community and in his home church in Pella Iowa. When he’s not helping his wife Hillary Ferrer with her ministry Mama Bear Apologetics, you can usually find John writing, researching, and teaching cultural apologetics.