It is a presidential election year in the U.S. I know I am stating the obvious because it has been one of the most interesting run-ups to an election in my lifetime. It was only two short months ago that there were five viable candidates for the presidency. Yet the fascinating aspect was that none of the five had a positive popularity rating. Even now as we are down to the two presumptive nominees–neither one has a positive popularity rating. It clearly feels like “we the people” are having to choose between the lesser of two evils.
How did we get to this point?
Are we getting the leaders we deserve?
In a word, “Yes.”
Leaders create culture, and that culture must be sustained by future leaders. If it is not sustained then that culture will reverse the role and create the leaders it desires. When we ignore this fundamental truth we should not be surprised by the results. But in a democratic society where our leaders are elected officials, it should not surprise us that we ultimately get a reflection of ourselves. Every election year we demand character, but we don’t express character. Our leaders are a reflection of who we are. Here are three reasons why.
Civil Over Sacred. Civil means those things that relate to the citizenry. It is climate and culture established by law that is deemed appropriate by citizens. Sacred means holy, that which is highly valuable and important. We are rushing headlong towards ensuring that there is no such thing as moral constants. Postmodernity has come home to fully roost.
We are rushing headlong towards ensuring that there is no such thing as moral constants. Truth is in the eye of the beholder and you may not challenge my truth.
The problem is that we know this axiom is not true. We know this at our core. Or we would not be demanding change. When we refuse to believe there are moral absolutes we are left with the excruciating reality that civility comes unglued. You see, sacred is necessary for civil to function well. Sacred holds civil together. When sacred vanishes civil loses its moorings. Civil runs to the loudest voice and the most aberrant one. Romans 1 in the Bible plays out. Leaders begin to lead in the direction of “the greatest civil good”–except there is not “good” anymore. There is no baseline for “good.” “Good” is just a notion, a fancy, and individualized construct.
Leaders begin to lead in the direction of “the greatest civil good”–accept there is no “good” anymore. There is no baseline for “good.” “Good” is just a notion, a fancy, and individualized construct. “Good” is good for me, not for we. We desperately need leaders who value the sacred, knowing that this will actually lay the strongest foundation for the common good.
Immediate Over Consequential. I read an editorial the other day that talked about two markers of our current culture that betrays us into a false sense of moral security. Today we live by the twin principles of “consent” and “no immediate harm”. The first means that as long as there is some form of consent (this mainly lies in the eye of the initiator) any and every behavior is acceptable. The second means that if there are no immediate harmful consequences the first choice of “consent” is affirmed. This was clearly the thinking behind Brock Turner’s actions that led to a sexual assault.
This is thinking only in the context of “now.” This is not wisdom on display that says, “If I go down this path, this is what will happen in the near or distant future.” This is life at our fingertips. This is “on demand” reality. This is snapchat reality–it will disappear as soon as I have been satisfied. This is stupidity at its cynical best–to believe that our choices never have lasting consequences.
Leaders fall prey to this immediacy too. Do whatever it takes to get elected now. Say what you need to say–and if it proves ineffective, change your position. It doesn’t matter if you are a habitual liar, a racist, or an expedient pragmatist.
The problem is we know this axiom is not true either. Choices and actions always have consequences. We will always reap what we sow. It cannot be otherwise. Galatians 6:7-10 stands tall as unavoidable truth and why we must seek ultimate good. We desperately need principled leaders who demonstrate integrity and understand consequential thinking.
One Dimension Over Two. Culture screams that we are simply one-dimensional beings. We are no more than flesh. Therefore our highest good is our own pleasurable experience. Whatever brings us the most pleasure is worthy of being pursued, because there is no other dimension to take into consideration or which we might be harmed.
Again, we know deep down in our hearts–oh, wait a minute, there is no such thing. We are just flesh.
Deep down we fully understand that we are at least two-dimensional beings–body and soul. And every choice we make with our bodies fully impacts our soul. It cannot be otherwise. It is the reason we ache when we harm others or we are harmed. It is the reason we ache when we make choices towards ourselves that are only about bodily pleasure void of any moral compass. It is why Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart . . .” We actually long for eternity–this is where our soul relishes its fullest expression. We need leaders who fully understand that we were created for more than physical pleasure. We need leaders who understand and lead in such a way that every person’s soul is valued and honored.
Peggy Noonan wrote and insightful piece in her weekend column for the Wall Street Journal about the presidential election. She stated, “It is probably the case this year that most voters see the issue of character as null and void–neither candidate is admirable in that area. You can say that the old standards have been swept away, that when it comes to character we’re a changed nation, that Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton are the result of that decline, and that you pick from among the candidates on offer.” That is the leadership that our culture has created.
This is not just about politics. This is about good leaders in every realm of society–including the church.
We will always get the leaders we deserve.