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). 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, 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).
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).
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).
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). 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, 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; 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, 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; Luke 8:1). This kingdom, He said, would come at the climax of a series of earth-shattering events (Luke 21:31) during which all human life would be in peril (Matthew 24:21-22).
This kingdom is destined to replace all human kingdoms, governments and authority (Revelation 11:15; Daniel 7:14). In this kingdom, Jesus Christ will reign forever as "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" (Revelation 19:16).
But He will not rule alone. Others will reign with Him in His kingdom (Revelation 20:4, 6). He will be joined by God's faithful servants (2 Timothy 2:12), 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), 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), but He extends forgiveness and the power to transform our lives and minds (Romans 12:2). If we are willing to make that commitment, He invites us to share in true leadership in His Kingdom. GN