Character and Civil Leadership: Ruminating Further

[This is a followup to my previous article]

Point One:

If we agree that sin is inherently destabilizing, misery inducing, and corrosive, and that a man’s character is the benchmark for assessing how likely a person is to indulge the sinful nature, then it follows that an evaluation of character is crucial for determining the likelihood of corrupt behavior.

Point Two:

If we agree that sin’s destabilizing, misery inducing, and corrosive qualities reverberates across the canvas of human existence (i.e., spreads like gangrene), and that this reverberation roughly corresponds to the significance, reach, and power of the one sinning, then it follows that those occupying high offices will more likely impact their sphere of influence with their sin.

Point Three:

It would seem, therefore, given points (1) and (2), that it would be a mistake to underestimate or devalue the significance of character when assessing a presidential candidate. Their sin can have far reaching implications.

Observation One:

Here it is worth noting a curious connection between sexual promiscuity and society’s general intolerance of such behavior. Why, after all, should a nation care about the Friday night romps of their president? If infidelity or sexually lewd behavior occurs behind closed doors, why make such a big deal about it if the leader is performing the duties of their job?

I think the reason is fairly straightforward. People intuitively know that sexual promiscuity is corrosive and that it signals a serious failing of character.1 And the reason that a serious failing of character is significant is because we intuitively appreciate the reality of points (1), (2). and (3). We know that such behavior is a threat to stability. We know that such behavior is corrosive; that it inevitably bleeds into other areas of life; and that it undermines trust and those other qualities necessary for making hard, righteous decisions. A lying cheat in one area will be a lying cheat in another. This is the rule of sin. And we all intuitively know it.

Observation Two:

The Corruption Perceptions Index attempts to rank countries by their level of corruption. Here corruption is defined as “the misuse of public power for private benefit.”

The bottom ten countries are as ordered:

10: Venezuela

9: Guinea-Bissau

8: Afghanistan

7: Libyia

6: Sudan

5: Yeman

4: Syria

3: South Sudan

2: Somalia

1: North Korea

None of these are shockers.

By way of graphic, here is the index of the world (lower numbers equal greater corruption):

Now the dirty little secret is that America is not impervious to corruption. We could slide into the deeper shades of orange and red. Thankfully, our system is designed to corral evil through a series of checks and balances. Corruption does not spread quite so easily. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the system has its limits. There are breaking points. And it is surely the case that the increase of corruption is inexorably tied to character. Not only of the leaders. But of the American people themselves.


Political leaders of poor character are far more prone towards cronyism, corruption, bribery, subterfuge, lying, injustice, murder, arrogance, God-complexes, unjust wars, ruthlessness, malice, covetousness, strife, and a host of other vices. And when the people of a nation are collectively unrighteous, harboring poor character, they will more readily accept leaders with poor character, brushing the faults of their political candidate under the proverbial tribal rug (See this excellent article in the National Review: Imagining Trump’s Evangelicals in King David’s Time).

As this happens- as the system continues to weaken- a country grows more vulnerable to corruption and the inevitable diminishment of human flourishing.

It is for this reason that I think character is crucially important when evaluating a presidential candidate (or any other leader of a high office).

[For an interesting and thought-provoking work on the reason why some nations prosper while other languish, see Wayne Grudem’s volume: The Poverty of Nations: A Biblical and Economic Solution.  See his outline here.]

1 Now it is certainly true that opponents also want to capitalize on the moral failings of others for the gains of their own political party. And it is also true that some simply want to punish a person for their failings. “Just hang him!” goes the cry. While all of that is true, I don’t think it erases the significance of the point I am highlighting.

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