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Does Character Matter Anymore?

Does Character Matter Anymore?

        Earlier this month, two of President Obama’s Cabinet level nominees abruptly removed their names from consideration. On Wednesday, Feb. 4 Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services and Nancy Killefer withdrew her nomination for being the “chief performance officer.” In response media giants like the Wall Street Journal openly criticized the President for his apparent hypocrisy of promising to change our political culture and then attempting to place people in prominent positions of leadership who did not seem able to pay their taxes until they came under national scrutiny and were forced to do so.
        To President Obama’s credit, he admitted that he “screwed up” and said “I’ve got to own up to my mistake.” Of course he said that after he publicly and unwaveringly supported Daschle. But for me, this whole situation raised the issue of character vs. competency. In American history we have traveled this road many times in debating the difference between a person’s personal and professional life. I remember this being a big issue when President Clinton was dealing with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. People argued that as long as Clinton could still function well in his professional life, his personal life did not matter: it was irrelevant or even off-limits.
        I passionately believe that Biblically speaking, that kind of thinking is incorrect. Many of us know the story of 1 Samuel 17 where David fights Goliath and wins. But not many people know the story of 1 Samuel 16 where we see HOW God chose David to be the next King of Israel. In this passage, God sends the prophet Samuel to choose a new leader because King Saul had gone off his rocker and God decided to replace him. When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem, the town where David lived, he immediately wanted to select David’s brother Eliab based on his good looks: tall, dark and handsome. He looked like a king! But God told Samuel this: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
        God looks at the inner man, at his character. It matters greatly to God. God does not distinguish between who we are in public and who we are in private, between “what we do” and “who we are.” To Him, they are one and the same. It is only humans that create this false construct.
Now I believe that to be true of all people, but especially true of leaders because leaders are held to a higher standard. That is what it means to be a leader. Leaders are entrusted with something great, the care of people. We willingly choose to serve and protect real hearts and lives, whether as a President, or teacher or pastor or police man, etc. With the rights and respect of being a leader comes great responsibility, including being a role model that people look up to. Leaders are public figures that should be both willing and able to handle the heat that comes with their job. If someone cannot handle the responsibility of being a leader, he or she should step aside and let someone else do it. There is no shame in that. There is only shame in attempting to ignore one’s responsibilities and have it both ways.
        When it comes to a discussion of leadership, one of the best models I have seen is presented in the book The Ascent of a Leader by Thrall, NcNicol and McElrath. They argue that good leadership is a like a ladder with two sides (or rails): character and competency. A leader must be developed in both areas to be effective. If a leader’s competence (ability) is greater than her character, then she will make poor moral choices in the face of hardship. Likewise, if a leader’s character far outstrips her competence, she will not have the necessary tools to complete the tasks required. That is why leader’s need to be balanced on the inside and outside. But make no mistake, both sides are interdependent.
        So let’s strive to be people that develop the inner and outer man/woman, because it truly matters to God and to those who might follow us.

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Pastor Paul Hoffman