I am too young to remember much about Margaret Thatcher and to know a lot about her role in world history. I will definitely read a biography of her at some point in the future and learn more about her life and times. (Writer’s note: I am trying to establish that I’m not interested in bickering about the legacy of her policies since I know too little about them.) When she died last month there were the inevitable outpourings of both spite and affection. In the midst of all of this, I saw several people draw attention to one mostly unremarkable interview. As the interview drew to a close, the host asked Thatcher if she would do just one small thing–stand in front of the camera and jump in the air.
Jumping in the air was a gimmick the host asked of all her guests and apparently all of them complied. But Thatcher wanted nothing to do with it. She refused to jump and refused to relent even when the host began to apply pressure (“Gorbachev did it!”). Displaying all of her little verbal and physical quirks, she responded, “I shouldn’t dream of doing that. Why should I? I see no significance whatsoever in making a jump up in the air. I made great leaps forward, not little jumps in studios. … It’s a silly thing to ask. And it’s a puerile thing to ask.” She identified that the only motive behind this little jump could be a desire to be thought normal or popular. She was having none of it.
Mark Steyn, among others, contrasted Thatcher with the President of the United States who has slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon and danced with Ellen. Many consider these silly moments contributing factors in his election to a second term. Many others consider them pragmatic actions that won an election at the expense of the dignity of the office of President of the United States of America.
Thatcher did not jump, and doubtlessly would not have danced or slow-jammed either, at least in part because she considered it demeaning. She understood that to demean herself was to demean her office. In that interview she was speaking not only as a woman, but as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (or former Prime Minister; I’m not sure when this was filmed). Even if she was willing to behave in a silly way on her own, she did not want her office to be seen as silly. She gave her trademark, “No, no, no.”
As I saw this video, and as I saw the videos of President Obama, I found myself thinking about the office of pastor. This, too, is an office that is meant to carry some kind of dignity. The Bible holds the office high–higher than Prime Minister or President–and provides a long list of qualifications for anyone who would hold it. It says that it is a noble office and that a pastor must be, among other things, sober minded, respectable and a man who manages his home with dignity. He must be upright, holy and disciplined. This is an age of radical egalitarianism in which we want to acknowledge no distinctions between one person and another, even if one of them represents an important office. And yet the Bible elevates this one office as the office of double honor.
This does not mean that a pastor needs to be superhuman or unapproachable. Far from it! The pastor, too, can play in the church softball game and he can have fun at the youth retreat. But even while he has fun, and even while he is outside of his study and his pulpit, he represents both himself and his office. The office cannot carry more dignity or respect than the office-holder. Thatcher’s little leap would have lowered the position of Prime Minister in the eyes of her nation even as it may have raised herself in those same eyes. Similarly, a pastor can as easily lower people’s estimation of his office by trying to raise their estimation of himself.
In The Christian Ministry Charles Bridges observes “The moment we permit ourselves to think lightly of the Christian Ministry, our right arm is withered; nothing but imbecility and relaxation remains.” He continues,
A sense of the dignity of our office–accurately formed, carefully maintained, and habitually exercised is therefore of the highest importance. … Dignity of character will thus correspond with dignity of station. The ‘office’ will be ‘magnified’ in perfect harmony with the lowliest personal humility and, indeed never more eminently displayed, than in the exercises of genuine humility; the man invested with these high responsibilities sinking in the dust as an ‘unprofitable servant.’
The pastor is a pastor in the pulpit or the playground, at home or on vacation. His actions always represent his office.
Thatcher did not jump, and this has been a challenge to me to ask where my desire to be perceived as popular or to be seen as very normal may contrast the soberness of the office I have been called to, where my desire to be popular may come at the expense of the office. One hundred years ago no one asked the President to dance, the Prime Minister to jump, or the pastor to zip-line to the pulpit. Today these things are not only requested but at times almost required, because when the office has lost its dignity, imbecility follows.