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The Seduction of Public Leadership: Principles of Morality for Christian Leaders, by Stephen M. King

With Watergate and Clintongate, confession and interpersonal, even spiritual transparency, was not the first consideration—cover-up is. Denial, word twisting, legal maneuvering, political wrangling and lies are the norm. Why? Well, one might say because both Nixon and Clinton knew they were guilty and in order to buy precious political time they stonewalled the proceedings. (In the case of Clintongate, the hope is to drag the entire investigation into and past the November elections, hope for a Democrat takeover in the House, and then with re-assumption of the control of the House Judiciary Committee, to defuse the process, and possibly even lobby for a quick end to the Starr proceedings. With the release of the Starr report and the word from the hill that impeachment proceedings will begin soon, a quick end in favor of President Clinton seems highly unlikely). The point to be made is that “responsible purgation,” although it may sound spiritually corny, and immediate resignation in the case of President Clinton, is the only true and viable alternative, not only for the betterment of civil society—for example, to help squelch the growing political cynicism and distrust among the citizenry—but for the personal and soulish renewal of those who committed the acts or crime.

Furthermore, the terse phrase recorded in II Samuel is not the end of David’s repentance; to this historical account must be added his lengthy self-cleansing of the soul, found in Psalm 51, where David appeals to his God by saying in part, “Have mercy on me…blot out my transgressions…cleanse me…and I will be clean… Just as impressive, however, as David’s attitude of repentance, is the fact that the prophet accepts it, saying in another phrase: “The Lord also has put away your sin.” David is not to die as punishment for Uriah’s murder, but his son is to die, his daughter raped, the son who raped her killed by another son, who will later embark on an unsuccessful coup attempt, and then himself be killed, as well as the political machinations continuing unabated and unbridled, until David is described in I Kings as a lowly, sullen, and even defeated man. However, even in his last days he has words of wisdom for his son Solomon, words that ring forth with clarity, conscience, and commitment. He admonishes Solomon, as king, to uphold the Higher Law, and not to fulfill the lustful desires of his heart (which Solomon did not obey), or deception and destruction would surely follow (which they did). In other words, in allowing David to live, God affords him a much better opportunity to repent and admonish his successor than if he were to simply die. This Biblical account strongly suggests that personal righteousness is far greater to God than holding on to personal political power.

The modern Watergate and Clintongate-conscious reader is left wondering, though: Where is the justice in all of this? Shouldn’t David be unseated, dethroned, and impeached?! There should be a veritable witch hunt. Uncover the scandal, get to the bottom of everything; let the citizenry know, for it is their constitutional right to know. Perhaps God knows something we do not—that if perfection were the plumb line by which all leaders are measured, we would not have any leaders. Possibly, the Bible is ultimately less vindictive than are we progressive modernists. Perhaps God understands the difference between true Godly judgment and ungodly condemnation. Even though David is told that his kingdom will be racked by war and insurrection as a result of his sin, and that his household would endure the pain described above; he is still allowed to rule.


What political and moral lessons can we learn from this expose of King David and its comparison to modern political crises such as Watergate and Clintongate? Several modern theorists of leadership studies contend that a ‘moral ethic’ is critical and even necessary before prudential leadership, not crisis leadership, is carried out. James McGregor Burns argues that while leadership must be both transactional (i.e. exchanging of resources) and transforming (i.e.determining personal desires), he is concerned that leadership, if separated from ethical parameters, is merely a form of management, and politics deteriorates to simple methodological technique. It is leadership guru Warren Bennis who has more recently argued that the most successful leaders are those who are both introspective and client-oriented. Further, Leighton Ford calls for a transformational leadership style tailored after the teachings of Jesus Christ; a leadership style which fully commits, instructs, and ultimately empowers followers. So, what principles can we learn and apply?

The first principle to glean is that successful public leadership is less dependent upon bipartisan approval of ideological whims and ideas, successful political arm twisting, political cajolery and one-upmanship, than it is upon the fulfillment of ideas and decisions based upon Judeo-Christian morality, social responsibility, servanthood, and fulfillment of the judicial ethic. Although David was anything but the epitome of virtue, he possessed a humble heart. He recognized personal failing not as a rationalization for ineptitude but as an admission of selflessness.

A second principle, as the actions of Nathan demonstrated, is that private confrontation of error is far more important than continual evasion and even denial of the revealed facts. The consequences of David’s sin were evident in the judgment of his actions. But one says, “This is the United States of America in 1998. We have the First Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees its citizens freedom of press. Further, we are a republican democracy, governed both by law and majority (and plurality) vote, not an authoritarian Middle Eastern regime. There are no comparisons here.” This is correct in the understanding of the differences between ancient Israel and modern U.S. forms of government. It is incorrect, though, in the misunderstanding that the human condition has not changed over the last four to five thousand years, and that transcendent principles of the Judeo-Christian ethic are still very much applicable. Sin is sin. Crime is crime. Whether based upon Mosaic, Roman, or British common law, crime is punishable.

It is not. This reveals the third principle: that all three political and personal crises—Bathshebagate, Watergate, and Clintongate—demonstrate aptly that consequences of sin are inevitable and inescapable despite, and sometimes because of, attempts to deny, hide, or rationalize the committed sin. [The verdict is still out on Clintongate. As of this writing, however, the pressure of continued stalling, cajoling, and evading by the Clinton administration of the press, the Republicans, and ultimately the American citizenry appears to be at a standstill. Still, President Clinton continues to defy his harshest critics by maintaining respectable polling numbers for job performance. (Of course, his critics argue that the public is so content that the economy is running along at a good clip that the President could do just about anything he chose and still be acceptable in the eyes of the public.)] Regardless of the impending verdict in the finality of Clintongate, admission of guilt does not excuse the criminal or immoral action, but it does provide something less tangible and more beneficial for all parties involved: a clear acceptance of right and wrong and good and bad based upon Judeo-Christian principles.

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About the Author: Stephen M. King, Ph.D. (University of Missouri-Columbia), is Associate Dean of Academics, Chair of Department of Government, History, and Criminal Justice, and Professor of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is the author of God and Caesar: The Biblical Keys to Good Government and Community Action (Xulon Press, 2002) and co-author with Bradley S. Chilton of Administration in the Public Interest: Principles, Policies, and Practices (Carolina Academic Press, 2009), as well as writing and being a contributor to numerous books and articles about Christian faith and politics, administrative ethics, public management, and public policy. In addition to his extensive background as an educator, he has experience in pastoral ministry and overseas mission work. Regent University Faculty Page.

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