Does Morality Matter Among Leaders? Some thoughts on Cultural and Biblical Standards

I recently finished reading Killing Patton by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. My purpose is not to write a review of the book, but to address a topic that has come up a lot in the Killing books, and in our culture in general. Whether it is John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, or Bill Clinton, there seems to be a torrid stream of immorality and questionable relationships that have existed among many within our nation’s leadership structure. When thousands of G.I.s returned home from WWII, Korea, or Vietnam and left hundreds of fatherless children behind them, they were simply following the example of their leaders, and reflecting the changing values of our culture. But it struck me- why were those men lauded as heroes, while their Russian counterparts (who raped and murdered their way through conquered Germany) were villainized? Is adultery a “lesser” sin than rape? Who gets to decide? Was Martin Luther King, Jr, with his mistresses, a better man than Bill Clinton? Or did Clinton just get caught? Why is JFK, who kept multiple mistresses at any given time, held up among the ranks of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln? Who gets to decide, and at the end of the day, does it really matter? Does morality matter among those who lead men and nations?

I believe that morality is vital within leadership. I don’t in any way want to suggest that any nation today can be compared to biblical Israel- no other nation has existed in a special theocratic relationship to Yahweh the way Old Testament Israel did. However, I do believe we can learn some things from the way God expected their leaders to conduct themselves. In Deuteronomy 17, long before Israel ever actually had a king, God gave Israel (through Moses) some laws governing what kings were to do once they had one. Verses 18-20 read,

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.”

This text had enormous ramifications for Israel’s kings. What were they?

  • They were to hand-copy the law. This would have required many hours and days. It showed the king how important the Word of God was.
  • They were to keep it with them and read it daily. The king of Israel was to keep with him every day a visible and tangible reminder that there was an authority above him. He was also to spend time communing with that Authority by reading His Word each day. Why?
  • Because in order to rule effectively, the king needed to fear the Lord. Why?
  • Because if the king feared the Lord, he would obey the Lord
  • And if he obeyed the Word of the Lord, he could never get prideful and believe that somehow he was better than those who he ruled over…
  • Because one would only turn away from the Word of the Lord if he somehow thought that his own way was better (which would require him to NOT be fearing the Lord or communing with Him each day through His Word).

Okay, so this was a big deal for ancient kings. But does it really matter for presidents, generals, judges, lawyers, etc today? I would submit that it does. See, there is a Sovereign God who is over all. He appoints human government to serve a purpose in this world. Those governments will be judged/divinely evaluated based on how they ruled. What is the standard of rule? The only authoritative law outside of (and thus above) mankind is the law that comes from the Creator of all things. That law is revealed in the moral commands of God. Remember, we are not talking about salvation here, but simply the guidelines and morality expected of those who rule. But it’s not just those who rule, is it? God’s standards of leadership, morality, and ethics actually apply to all of mankind, because all of mankind was meant to exist in relationship with the Creator.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Obeying the moral laws of God does not get anyone into Heaven or get anyone brownie points with God. But, if a person wants to know how human government, and human society were best meant to operate in a sin-cursed world, the Word of God is a great place to start.