Morality in Government: A Worldwide Crisis

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Morality in Government

A Worldwide Crisis

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Recent events in Pakistan have highlighted a worsening problem that affects many countries around the world.

It is difficult for people living in an affluent Western democracy to understand how people thousands of miles away can want their democratic government overthrown and replaced by military rule. Yet that's exactly what happened in recent months in Pakistan. It was a phenomenon my wife and I experienced in several African countries in the 1970s and '80s. Yet the fundamental problem of morality in government is far from confined to these areas.

The sad fact is that democratically elected governments around the globe can become casualties, often as a result of corruption permeating their societies. The checks and balances we take for granted in the West either are lacking or don't always work in other areas of the world. Of course, if we are honest with ourselves, they don't always work in our own countries either. The entire European Commission of the 15 democratic nations of the European Union had to resign not long ago after disclosures of multiple corrupt practices.

Corruption has always been a major problem, and no governmental system can fully protect its people from it. What leaders often fail to realize is that corruption in any system puts the entire system at risk, that the common people can take only so much before they overthrow those who exploit and abuse them.

What is the primary cause of corruption? It's simple: greed. Sometimes it's a lust for power. Whereas government should be oriented toward the benefit of those who are governed, often the emphasis is on self-service, with the leaders helping themselves first.

The Bible tells us "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). More than 3,000 years ago, when the Israelites rejected God's rule and wanted a king so they could be like the other nations around them, God warned them what that would mean. Through the prophet Samuel He gave them notice that they would have no end to the increased burdens the king would place on the people in the form of confiscatory taxation and wasteful, excessive government spending (1 Samuel 8:11-18). This has certainly been the case in recent times regardless of the form of government.

The corruption cycle

Pakistan's democratic government was apparently overthrown for being so corrupt. Across Africa, in the four decades after independence from the colonial powers, democratic governments have often been overthrown by military forces because they thought there was no other way to bring the curtain down on the endless corruption of governmental officials. But, soon after taking power, the military itself often became corrupt, so the people demanded a return to constitutional government. Eventually yet more corruption followed, leading again to a military coup. The cycle never ends.

Some countries in Asia and Africa are bywords for corruption. The endemic problem is difficult for westerners to grasp. It affects every aspect of life. For example, withdrawing money from your own checking account might not be accomplished without a bribe to the bank teller; buying a postage stamp to mail a letter may require a gift to the postal clerk; a permit to conduct business requires bribes at every level; needed medical attention becomes available only when a bottle of whiskey is produced; a judge perverts the course of justice depending on which side gives him the most money.

It never ends. In some countries, it is estimated, people lose up to 80 percent of their incomes to bribery and corruption.

Western democracies don't fare much better. Financial and sexual scandals afflict governments regularly, causing people to lose respect for their leaders and with them the governmental system itself, placing the nation at risk.

The lack of morality in government has become a worldwide problem. No nation is immune. Sexual and financial scandals plague many governments. In Britain, for example, as Paul Johnson wrote in the Nov. 22 Daily Mail: "Each time the public thinks that British politics have reached the slimy bottom of sleaze, there is always another cesspit waiting around the corner . . . British politics have reached perhaps their lowest point in more than 50 years."

Only two months earlier he had written: "The truth is that all politicians need watching all the time. When political morals are in decline, as at present, and politics is becoming corrupt, the need for invigilation [watching over] is more pressing" (Daily Mail, Sept. 22).

The only governments that don't seem to suffer from these problems are those that strictly control news, thereby covering up the immorality and corruption taking place.

What will it take to end corruption?

What will it take to put an end to immorality and corruption in government? Sadly, it won't end until there is a change of heart in leaders.

People need to come to understand that government exists to serve the people, not to control and exploit them. God says leaders have a responsibility to serve, that governmental leadership exists for the benefit of the people. (Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

If we want a perfect example of leadership, we can find none better that Jesus Christ, who set leaders everywhere an example of selfless service.

In Matthew 20:25-28 He contrasted the typical leadership of the unbelieving nations—including the Romans who ruled over Judea at the time—with the kind of leadership God expects: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

We see in this passage that professing Christians are to set an example of service when in positions of authority in government, that those who hold higher positions must set an example of service to those under them in authority.

Similarly, the one at the top must set the highest possible personal example in moral conduct. People are influenced greatly by their leaders. Presidents, kings and prime ministers set the trend for their peoples. The people should not expect perfection, because all have sinned (Romans 3:23), but leaders should set a much higher standard than the average person, since their positions give them influence over far more people.

Throughout the history of ancient Israel the Bible records that, when the people had a good king, they followed God; when they had a king who turned away, the people went right along with him. Nations suffered the consequences of sinful acts by those at the top.

One of the most familiar examples of this is Israel in the time of the first four kings, Saul, David, Solomon and Rehoboam. The sins of each ruler led to periods of violence and bloodshed. You can read accounts of this in the two books of Samuel and the first book of Kings.

Reading further, you will find that the peoples of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah repeatedly followed the personal example of their leaders. The result of their sin was the captivity of both peoples, taken as slaves into foreign lands.

Nations, like individuals, may postpone the consequences of sin. But eventually all will reap what they have sown.

Lessons from ancient Israel

King Solomon, who later turned away from God, began his reign with promise. Recognizing his limitations as a man of about 30, he turned to God to ask for the gift of wisdom to be a proper ruler. God was so pleased with Solomon's attitude that He gave him both wisdom and material prosperity (1 Kings 3).

This would be a good place for any leader to start. In many Western nations leaders are sworn in or crowned in a partially religious ceremony in which the Bible, the very Word of God, is used. Yet how many afterwards consult the Scriptures before making major decisions?

The ancient kings of Israel were commanded to write out a personal copy of the law, the divine manual of ethical behavior, and to read and rule by it (see Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Of course, few really followed its advice.

Taking a Bible to church but never reading it, or neglecting to follow the counsel given in it, is of no profit to anybody. Is it any wonder that people lose respect for their leaders when they see such hypocrisy among them?

Solomon's three biggest problems were overspending, excessive taxation (1 Kings 12:4) and his desire for women (1 Kings 11:1-6), which led him away from worshiping God. Things haven't changed much. We often find the same weaknesses in leaders today: the love of money and the ardent pursuit of extramarital relationships.

These sins have brought declining respect for government employees and governmental institutions themselves. But leaders have only themselves to blame. Rather than admit their sins and repent, they blame political opponents or point to the fact that virtually every leader has had similar problems.

Such excuses are meaningless. God holds each person responsible for his actions (Philippians 2:12). We are tempted by the same temptations common to humanity (1 Corinthians 10:13). If some in society manage to control themselves, then all can.

Coming: a perfect government

The Bible predicts a time when the world will at last live under a perfect government, where bribery, corruption and sex scandals will be unknown. This prophesied era will see real justice when nations abide by God's code of morality, living by His laws. This will bring fairness and righteousness for all people under ethical laws and government. The event that will usher in this time will be the second coming of Jesus Christ, who will return to earth to establish His righteous rule over the nations.

Speaking of this era, Jeremiah 23:5 foretells a time when "a King [Jesus Christ] shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth."

This does not mean government cannot improve now. Beneficent rulership requires moral guidance and a willingness to accept a standard code of sound values that has a proven record of effectiveness. The Bible has withstood the test of time, but few national leaders are willing to embrace the godly morality it teaches.

God's Word is widely available. His laws have been in effect since the beginning of time. Breaking those laws leads to suffering and the many social ills we see around us. But, when people live by them, they reap the resultant good rewards.

As with individuals so it is with nations. People follow the example of their leaders. When the leaders set an example of immorality, greed and corruption, they can only expect the people to do likewise—with the terrible consequences for their nations and society. GN