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

A fourth principle—and it is more an admonition than a principle per se—is that leaders must surround themselves with a Prophetic Conscience. Again, for many that may sound spiritually extreme, but it is both Biblically-based, intellectually worthy, and policy sound. Political science professor Neil Reimer has written about the effects of the politically ‘prophetic,’ and touted its influence upon the policy and decision making processes alike. It is certainly Biblically-based and policy sound, as evidenced by the example of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, who in I Kings assumes the throne. However, in doing so he surrounds himself with the “prophetic” voices who told him what he wanted to hear, as opposed to those “prophetic” voices which counseled against his despotic actions involving forced conscription and the continued implementation of heavy taxes upon the people. Likewise, modern leaders such as Nixon and Clinton surround themselves mostly with handpicked friends who devote themselves to protecting the President, and giving their “undying” loyalty to his beliefs and mission, while knowingly or, in some rare instances, unknowingly steering clear of the truth. This is not true loyalty—true loyalty is based upon the Judeo-Christian tradition and law of servanthood. Rather, it is misdirected and self-serving protection from outside forces. It is typified, for example, in a Bob Haldeman, the head of Richard Nixon’s inner cadre, the point man for all inner White House operations which directly concerned the President, who wielded unprecedented power and influence over all who might come into contact with President Nixon. It is also inherent in close personal aides to President Clinton who, before they realized they were lied to by the President, initially refused to speak candidly before the Starr grand jury probing into Clintongate, forever shielding their boss from any media barrage or criminal counts that would be forthcoming if their testimony revealed information inconsistent and contradictory with previous statements made by the President or individuals who previously testified. It is actions such as these which when ultimately revealed, such as in the Watergate scandal and in the Clintongate crisis, dampen the spirits of even the most ardent supporters of our government institutions and the leaders we place in office. As is evident in Watergate, however, the Constitution works. The system of checks and balances and separation of powers worked, but at the price of the resignation of a sitting president. Must it be called upon to work again?

The Prophetic Conscience is the ultimate check and balance method. It is like a divine lighthouse, which sends a shaft of truth into a black swirling mass of lies and deceit. The $64,000 question becomes, of course, who or what is to be this Prophetic Conscience? The national media? Hardly. And bureaucracies, meanwhile, make little room for job occupations titled ‘Prophet.’ The point is this: yes, every decision maker must keep close trusted confidants next to himself. But that same confidant must also be prepared to correct, possibly even rebuke, his superior when the occasion arises.

Return to our Biblical case study. Speculate as to the condition of David and his kingdom had he dismissed Nathan’s warning, or worse had had Nathan executed. What if Nixon, who when he found out about the break-in, immediately determined the circumstances surrounding the crime, learned of the perpetrators, dismissed all those who had anything to do with it, and revealed all facts and the analysis of those facts to congressional leaders? Might he still had to resign? Possibly, possibly not. What would have been the nation and Congress’ reaction had Clinton confessed to the wrong, even as early as January 1998? Full disclosure of wrongdoing does not nor should not grant immunity from penalty, but it goes a long way in our court system, for example, to enacting leniency and even reducing penalties.

Cynics may scoff at this warning and laugh at its naivete, and its overly simplistic approach to complex and even complicated political scenarios. It is cynicism, however, that now grips the American people and the governmental system they have come to distrust and even loathe. Studies are rampant which show that young people, ages 18-25, are consistently distrustful, mistrustful, and worse, cynical about the governmental and political system they live in and under. It is old-fashioned honesty, though—that honesty practiced by our forefathers—which when fused with the Judeo-Christian definition of morality, that can and will revive trust, loyalty, respect, and even endearment without compromise and truthfulness without breach of sincerity. It is genuine frankness with the American people and, yes, even the media which can defuse the suspicion which surrounds so many leaders. Finally, it is the Biblically-based servant’s mentality and attitude that must predominate in the art and science of decision-making, today. Servanthood breeds humility and humility breeds morality, without which true leadership is impotent.

Is morality, therefore, as important a factor as traits, behaviors, and situational environments in analyzing the scope of leadership, the effectiveness of leadership potential, and the interaction between leader and follower? Absolutely and unequivocally. In fact, it is more so. Morality or the lack thereof is the essence of personal character development (candidate Clinton’s remark in October 1992 to the contrary). Without the presence and impact of morality—morality not based upon humanistic ideas of right and wrong, but upon the Judeo-Christian foundation of right and wrong—leadership falls prey to any form of political seduction, and thus lacks the institutional virtue necessary to maintain societal longevity.


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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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