Does morality matter? In recent weeks and months, the world has been treated to the spectacle of poll after poll showing that, while most Americans disapprove of revelations about the president’s private behavior, they approve of his job performance by a wide margin.
Time after time Americans have seen television commentators, legal analysts and people on the street assure us that it’s nobody’s business what elected officials do in private; the only thing that matters is how they do their job.
Does moral leadership matter? Can lack of moral values and exemplary leadership coexist? What are the consequences of strong political power without a moral foundation?
Where Have All the Leaders Gone?
Nations everywhere seem to be drifting dangerously out of control. Russia is close to economic collapse, its government perilously unstable. Her neighbors, including many of the former Soviet republics, are understandably anxious and nervous. There is nothing quite like a collapsing superpower armed with thousands of nuclear weapons to give cause for concern.
Many Asian countries that were economic powerhouses in the global economy only a few years ago thrown out of work, plummeting overnight from relative prosperity to poverty.
Some Asian countries face food shortages in the coming months. People naturally look to Japan to pull Asia out of its economic straits, but Japan is crippled by its own governmental stalemate and is hardly in a condition to help others.
Nearby, India and Pakistan rattle their newly developed nuclear sabers at each other while Iraq and Iran quietly pursue the development and acquisition their own nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals. Meanwhile, much of Africa remains mired in perpetual poverty, crippled by corrupt and incompetent leadership.
The list of world problems goes on and on. At a time of many global crises, where have our leaders gone?
The generation of leaders forged in the fires of the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War has largely passed from the scene. In the last two U.S. presidential election, voters chose telegenic baby boomer Bill Clinton over World War II veterans George Bush, a former U.S. Navy carrier pilot; and Bob Dole, a former infantry officer who lost the use of an arm on a battlefield in Italy.
The Daily Mail of London recently headlined an article, “Where Is the Leader We So Badly Need?” It observed: “It seems hard to believe that only ten years ago we still enjoyed the authoritative certainties of Thatcher and Reagan, and that we could still also believe in Gorbachev. That now seems a vanished world, about as distant from our present discontents as the era of Bismarck and Disraeli.”
Times have changed and not for the better. If this is what we can expect from our current crop of administrators and heads of state, what will be the quality of the next generation to assume the reins of leadership?
Good Intentions Aren’t Good Enough
For thousands of years nations and their leaders have wrestled to create a government that would provide the most good for the greatest number of people. The longest-lived governments have been monarchies in which absolute power passed from generation to generation within families. Many such dynasties lasted for centuries. Tragically, these were often long-lived simply because of their absolute control over their subjects.
Administrators and forms of governments rise and fall. This century has seen the spectacular rise of a new form of government—communism—and its equally spectacular collapse. Communism promised equality for all. But it was destined to fail because, in rejecting God, it lacked a moral foundation.
History shows that many forms of government have started with good intentions, only to fail as weaknesses become apparent. In most cases the failure came down to the moral downfall of the leader or the general populace. Often, of course, the leader was a reflection of the people—and vice versa.
This is evident in the present American predicament, with poll after poll showing that most Americans want their president—an admitted liar and adulterer—to remain in office.
Tolerance of Evil
What does this say about the American people? As The Times of London observed: “There are many men who belong to Bill Clinton’s generation and identify with him … There are many women who are indulgent towards his sexual escapades. There are many black people who see him as a sympathetic President. These people do not want to believe the evidence; they want to explain it away.”
Economist and writer Thomas Sowell noted remarkable ironies and inconsistencies coming to light in the reactions of the American people to revelations of presidential behavior.
“… The polls of the past several months make it hard to be optimistic about the American public’s understanding of the society in which they live or the dangers in that kind of society,” he wrote. “Consider some polls. The public has a far more negative view of Monica Lewinsky than Bill Clinton. Since it takes two to tango, why would you blame one more than the other—and especially the one who is younger and who has no power and no responsibility to the nation at large?
“[Special prosecutor] Kenneth Starr’s approval ratings have barely made it out of the single digits. He is far more disliked for bringing out the truth than Bill Clinton is for lying … Susan McDougal’s stonewalling on Bill Clinton’s part in the Arkansas fraud has been magically transformed into something noble by the media. More important, the public has bought it. Hey, obstruction of justice is not so bad if she’s a spunky gal …
“What will matter very much—and perhaps tragically—is if the public has degenerated to the point where it can only react emotionally to what is right under their noses, rather than understand how much this country’s freedom and well-being depend on the rule of law.”
Are There Moral Absolutes?
Such findings point not just to a president but a nation dangerously adrift from its moral moorings. The gradual acceptance of moral relativism—that moral absolutes do not exist—shows up in the many comments that it doesn’t matter what the president does in his private life, that it’s nobody’s business, or it’s just between him and his wife.
Such sentiments ignore a leader’s fundamental responsibility to properly lead his people. What does it say when the nation’s highest elected official, the head of the executive branch of the U.S. government, charged with enforcing the laws of the land, is accused of numerous felony offenses? More important, what does it say about a people and other government officials willing to excuse such behavior?
Some 4,500 years ago another nation faced a crisis of government. Shaking off the shackles of slavery, that nation had the opportunity to do things right. Its people were promised peace, stability and prosperity in their homeland if they would build upon a proper moral foundation.
After giving the ancient Israelites His law—the national constitution that would ensure the blessings of peace and prosperity—God exclaimed, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
American King James Version×). God knew their adherence to this moral foundation would be key to their success and survival as a nation.
God understood the crucial role of leaders in a nation’s success. He literally laid down the law to the Israelites; He gave specific instructions for the nation’s head of government was to follow to keep it on the moral path.
“… When he has taken his place on the seat of his kingdom,” God instructed Israel concerning its head of state, “he is to make in a book a copy of this law … And it is to be with him for his reading all the days of his life, so that he may be trained in the fear of the Lord his God to keep and do all the words of this teaching and these laws: so that his heart may not be lifted up over his countrymen, and he may not be turned away from the orders, to one side or the other: but that his life and the lives of his children may be long in his kingdom …” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20 Deuteronomy 17:18-20 18 And it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brothers, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the middle of Israel.
American King James Version×, Bible in Basic English).
Adherence to this law, God promised, would result in national leaders who would not exalt themselves—would not be “lifted up”—over their people, men who would fear God and lead their people in righteousness and truth by example.
Influence on a Nation
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah around the time of the downfall of the kingdom of Israel, God noted that evil had spread through all levels of Israelite society. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores …” (Isaiah 1:5-6 Isaiah 1:5-6 5 Why should you be stricken any more? you will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
American King James Version×).
God identified the nation’s leaders as the source of corruption. Rather than providing proper leadership, they were leading the kingdom to destruction. “For the leaders of this people cause them to err, and those who are led by them are destroyed” (Isaiah 9:16 Isaiah 9:16For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed.
American King James Version×).
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God added this sad footnote: “An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so …” (Jeremiah 5:30-31 Jeremiah 5:30-31 30 A wonderful and horrible thing is committed in the land;
31 The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will you do in the end thereof?
American King James Version×).
People had not only come to accept corrupt leadership, but to love it. In God’s view, this was “astonishing” and “horrible.”
For their sins, God allowed His people to be taken into captivity. The prophet Hosea condemned the “spirit of harlotry” that turned them from God (Hosea 5:4 Hosea 5:4They will not frame their doings to turn to their God: for the spirit of prostitutions is in the middle of them, and they have not known the LORD.
American King James Version×). Their leaders failed them miserably. Rather than providing moral guidance and proper example, they appealed to people’s base instincts and impulses. The result was national disaster.
Abraham Lincoln recognized that the greatest dangers to a nation often come not from external threats, but from within. “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected?” he asked. “I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher” (emphasis added).
We are witnessing a national debate over right and wrong, whether adultery and lying are serious crimes and sins and whether they can be glossed over because of the popularity of the perpetrator. Where will it lead? If Bible prophecy is an indicator, conditions like those that Isaiah and Jeremiah described are likely to be the outcome.
Paul, describing trends leading up to Jesus Christ’s return, wrote: “But be certain of this, that in the last days times of trouble will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, uplifted in pride, given to bitter words, going against the authority of their fathers, never giving praise, having no religion, without natural love, bitter haters, saying evil of others, violent and uncontrolled, hating all good, false to their friends, acting without thought, lifted up in mind, loving pleasure more than God …” (2 Timothy 3:1-4 2 Timothy 3:1-4 1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
American King James Version×, Bible in Basic English).
Paul describes an utterly self-centered society in which people have no regard or use for moral values. Rejecting God’s standards of conduct, they will set their own standards using their own reasoning—reasoning that ultimately leads to suffering and death (Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
American King James Version×; 16:25).
Such a society may not be long in coming when Americans find reasons to excuse adultery and lying and alleged perjury and obstruction of justice in their highest elected official. In fact, we might ask ourselves if it isn’t already here.
A Different Kind of Leadership
Regardless of how bleak and uncertain conditions look on the national and world scene, God gives us encouragement. He promises a future government vastly different from any we know today.
Regrettably, although the specific accusations are unprecedented, the leadership crisis affecting the United States is not. All too many leaders succumb to the seduction of power and office. Some use them to enrich themselves and a circle of friends and associates. Some use their authority to oppress others. Some allow prestige and honor to warp their perceptions, leading them to believe they deserve power and rule over others. These are problems typical of powerful leaders.
But it will not always be this way. “You see that the rulers of the Gentiles are lords over them, and their great ones have authority over them,” said Jesus Christ to some who were eager to rule over others. “Let it not be so among you: but if anyone has a desire to become great among you, let him be your servant; and whoever has a desire to be first among you, let him take the lowest place: even as the Son of man did not come to have servants, but to be a servant, and to give his life for the salvation of men” (Matthew 20:25-28 Matthew 20:25-28 25 But Jesus called them to him, and said, You know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority on them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered to, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
American King James Version×, BBE).
Jesus burst the bubble for His disciples. Rather than using power to gain more power and prestige for themselves, to put themselves above other men and women, Christ said that true leadership has one purpose: to serve others. This kind of leadership, He said, differs from the way most humans react when given power over others.
Jesus Christ exemplified that kind of true leadership. He taught people the solid foundation of God’s law, which would help them avoid suffering the painful consequences of sin. He encouraged them to surrender to God in heartfelt repentance, no longer to live only for their selfish desires. He exemplified what it means to dedicate one’s life to serving others.
Promise of True, Righteous Leadership
He also brought a message of a transformed world to come—an earth extraordinarily changed by the arrival of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15 Mark 1:14-15 14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent you, and believe the gospel.
American King James Version×; Luke 8:1 Luke 8:1And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,
American King James Version×). This kingdom, He said, would come at the climax of a series of earth-shattering events (Luke 21:31 Luke 21:31So likewise you, when you see these things come to pass, know you that the kingdom of God is near at hand.
American King James Version×) during which all human life would be in peril (Matthew 24:21-22 Matthew 24:21-22 21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. 22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.
American King James Version×).
This kingdom is destined to replace all human kingdoms, governments and authority (Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
American King James Version×; Daniel 7:14 Daniel 7:14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
American King James Version×). In this kingdom, Jesus Christ will reign forever as “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16 Revelation 19:16And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
American King James Version×).
But He will not rule alone. Others will reign with Him in His kingdom (Revelation 20:4 Revelation 20:4And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
American King James Version×, 6). He will be joined by God’s faithful servants (2 Timothy 2:12 2 Timothy 2:12If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:
American King James Version×), men and women who have dedicated themselves to learning and practicing godly rulership as defined and exemplified by Jesus Christ.
Resurrected to eternal life (Revelation 20:6 Revelation 20:6Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
American King James Version×), they will help administer God’s righteous government in paradise on earth in service to mankind.
God is fully aware of the weaknesses and peccadilloes of people, regardless of their lot in life. He knows we have all sinned (Romans 3:23 Romans 3:23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
American King James Version×), but He extends forgiveness and the power to transform our lives and minds (Romans 12:2 Romans 12:2And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×). If we are willing to make that commitment, He invites us to share in true leadership in His Kingdom. GN