Is The Character of a Civil Leader Crucially Important to His Task?

When it comes to the world of mixed martial arts, you’ll hit someone in one of two ways. The first occurs in the gym while sparring. Here the idea is to sharpen each others’ skills without intentionally crippling the other. The second happens in the ring. Here the intent is to take your opponent’s head off.

The thoughts I am about to share fall squarely in the first category. I want to punch past the defenses of my friends, landing significant shots. But I also want to throw a thankful arm around my training partners as soon as the coach calls time.

With that in mind, I want to strap on my gloves and invite the two hosts of Freewheeling with Loop and Lou onto the mat in order to challenge what they have said about character in the episode Voting and Morality.

For brevity’s sake, I’m not going to outline their views as articulated in that episode. All I will say is that while listening to them discuss the issues of character, competency, and civil leadership, my head was bouncing around as if attached to a wild spring. In a word, I was going bonkers.

Needless to say, I think that when it comes to our evaluation of civil leadership, as a candidate worthy of occupying a particular office, character is crucially important. And more importantly, I think the bible calls us to highly value character in this regard.

At this point, allow me to bullet some thoughts by way of reply:

Competency Dying the Death of a Thousand Qualifications

One of the good men made the bold claim (to which the other essentially agreed, but after detailing a few caveats) that competency is what crucially matters in his assessment of a civil leader. And not so much character.

Now the funny thing about this statement is that it was essentially abandoned by noting a number of key qualifications. Thus, I submit that we are presented with a bold assertion that is then fundamentally emptied of its meaning.

What do I mean?

I would submit that competency is crucially informed by character. And when that is admitted (which it was), then the entire enterprise of more highly valuing competency over character crumbles.

A few illustrations are in order.

Let’s suppose there is an extremely competent babysitter who nevertheless has a habit of stealing things from your home. Here we would never dare suggest that the competent babysitter’s character isn’t crucially important to her job.

Let’s imagine an extremely competent sea-faring captain who is nevertheless tyrannical in his leadership of the crew. When the crew becomes fed up with being treated like dirt and they whisper tales of mutiny, planning the demise of the captain, doesn’t his character become the decisive factor in the equation?

Similarly, if a man like President Clinton is willing to abuse his power with women, and utterly fail in the area of self-control, having no serious regard for the covenant he made with his wife, thereby displaying flagrant unfaithfulness and distrust, then should we be at all surprised to learn that such a man is willing to lie under oath? Don’t they go hand in hand? Isn’t it a mere outworking of his bent character? And when we see how Hilary handled those women, are we at all surprised to learn about her many other failings (Clinton Foundation, national security, etc. etc. etc)?

If we can’t trust a person, or if we think they will spin off into flights of rage, or lie to cover up evil, or stomp on people to accomplish their agenda, or toy with justice to do some so-called greater good, etc., etc., then it matters little how competent they are, if their expertise is hijacked by sin.

This is true in all areas of life. But especially for those who wield power! After all, if history has taught us anything, it is that competency in the hands evil leads to atrocity.

Now again, all of this was granted by my friends, to which I am glad. But it remains to be asked whether or not the innumerable examples of character flaws that could be cited, which would impinge upon the idea of competency, shouldn’t sink their particular emphasis. Why de-emphasize character when it plays such a pivotal role in your thinking? Or conversely, why emphasize competency when its value is so wildly contingent upon the character of the person in question?

But Aren’t All Leaders Sinful?

Yes, of course. So the real issue should center on what constitutes disqualifying sins, not a blanket demarcation and hierarchical structuring of competency and character. Both are absolutely critical. So why not just say that?

In the case of some, I think they feel compelled, these days, to play up conservative gains (through Republican competency) when Trump’s character genuinely threatens his credibility.

Someone like myself finds so many aspects of Trump’s character to be so loathsome, and of such a nature as to inevitably diffuse into other areas of life through the proverbial toppling of dominoes, that I think it folly to grant such a man the privileges and power of such a high office. Now someone might want to disagree with me for the sake of tribalism or conservative gains to be won at this juncture. So be it. That could make for a good conversation. But the point remains that this balancing act exists, and that we have to weigh it against the backdrop of our assumptions and worldview.

In the end, we all have our lines that we draw. The question is why do we draw them where we draw them?

After all, if we were presented with Stalin and Hitler as Presidential candidates, I think we can all agree that we would strongly consider voting for neither. But then again, some Evangelicals would probably vote for the devil himself, if he said the right things.

So What About the Bible?

And here the Bible surely has a thing or two to say, when it comes to the importance of character and leadership.

I think we need only ask Solomon… a competent king if there ever was one who nevertheless plunged a nation into troubled waters. And quite naturally, this king had a few things to say about the effects of sin, the paths of blessing and curses, and a host of other issues that would directly relate to civil politics.

My simple question would be this: Do you think the Proverbs have anything critical to add to this issue of character and leadership? And if so, how greatly does it value character? Or to state it differently, how much does righteousness contribute to preferable outcomes (both nationally and personally)?

But if we don’t ask Solomon, surely we could consider the many other kings detailed throughout Israel’s history. I think this would be a good question: Granting their peculiar role in a theocratic nation, was their character nevertheless critical to the health of the nation? What if we asked Samuel what he thought about King Saul?

I cannot see how the question of character and the concomitant duties of political office can be divorced in any meaningful way. Here I would ask those who think it can be meaningfully divorced to explain why they think it so.

But let me press on to two other quick points.

When it comes to the qualifications of an elder and a deacon, one might want to say that a civil leader does not have to embody those attributes like that of an elder, but would we dare say that a political leader would be better off not displaying those qualities? In other words, will a nation be better served if a civil leader embodies, to some decent degree, those traits?

Surely the answer is yes. But if yes, then aren’t we forced to acknowledge the significance of character with relation to political leadership?

Moreover, one of Paul’s critical points centers on a Christian leader’s ability to manage his own house well. He reasons that if such a man can’t manage his own house, how will he care for God’s church?

Now while the officers of a church are called to reflect a high standard, that of Jesus Christ himself, the standard is nevertheless relevant to all leadership endeavors.  Thus, if a presidential candidate shows himself to be a failure in the home, should that give us pause concerning his ability to manage a nation?

I say yes.

And lastly, what should we make of the nature of sin itself? Has not history taught us that sin yields chaos, unrest, sorrow, and pain, to just name a few? And in the case of those who especially embody the unregulated presence of unholiness, is there not greater manifestations of chaos, unrest, sorrow, and pain? Thus, shouldn’t we feel compelled to say that when a person’s character is rotten, the strength of that rottenness will coordinate both with the extent of their reach and the degree of their power?

If so, then shouldn’t we be particularly mindful of the character of those who lead nations?

I say yes.

And while we have been called to submit to the governing authorities, as outlined in Romans 13, both to the righteous and unrighteous, I do not see how that passage overturns anything stated above. Character is incredibly important. Especially when competency itself is a character trait.

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