I am deeply saddened for my three sons as they launch into adulthood. When I was their age, we still had numerous politicians—including presidential candidates—who engaged their tasks with a solid sense of genuine greatness. They were in no way perfect, but they sincerely viewed themselves as public servants. Theirs was greatness born of common grace goodness, including core character competencies essential to lead well. Alas today, I am increasingly vexed over the lack of such leaders. Too few possess those qualities necessary for a nation’s greater good and that nation’s ripple of good influence. I long for such leaders for my sons and future generations. Before you label me nostalgic or grumpy, please indulge my musing.
Disgrace of impeachment proceedings
Disturbing. Disgraceful. Discouraging. Amid blasts of mounting accusations and fuming vitriol from either side, I find myself using all three words to describe the current landscape of US politics and public sentiment. This past weekend, major rallies and policy-sharing events were held by both Republicans and Democrats. Those events revealed extremely troubling views, misguided agendas, and more all-out ugliness.
Gene Edward Veith urges us: “The Christian’s involvement with and responsibility to the culture in which God has placed him is part of his calling. Human societies also require governments, formal laws, and governing authorities. Filling these offices of earthly authority is indeed a worthy vocation for the Christian . . . ” Now more than ever, we need people who genuinely show up, pray up, speak up, and step up. But how might we engage in a way that brings something different to the already disruptive equation?
Amidst today’s political turmoil, we all feel dissed. But there’s a much bigger brand of dis to blame. Pelosi and her peeps are guilty of it. Trump is egregiously guilty, including his evangelical leader cronies. In reality, we are all outrageously guilty of this particular ugly one.
It’s called dis-integration.
And it’s especially tricky. Here’s what happens when people say, “My faith is important, but I don’t need to mix that too much with political work. I can and should keep my church life and spirituality separate from my political views and actions.” Many people today bring this attitude: “It’s not spiritual; it’s just political.” Such outlook is a kissing cousin to “It’s not personal; it’s just business.”
Can integration really happen?
Overcoming dis-integration is not only a Red vs. Blue issue. It runs much deeper. At the core, it is about reclaiming the grace of serving fellow humans, both nearby and round the globe. Its roots are found in Genesis 2:15, where God purposed for humans to work in his Garden. In other places in Scripture, this ancient word for work is also translated as serve. God’s unfolding biblical story reveals a handful of characters who served in government in amazingly integrated, service-oriented ways. The likes of Joseph, Esther, and Daniel demonstrate how God’s people can be vibrantly involved in the work of politics and public service.
One party trumpets the MAGA slogan, but both the Elephant and the Donkey want to see America great again. They just seriously disagree about what the nuanced outcomes entail. Sadly, for both parties, greatness means some version of sassy rhetoric, fat-cat wealth, savvy power bases, and the firepower to successfully obliterate whomever they deem the enemy. Precise applications of such supposed greatness are what’s up for debate. This prescriptive understanding of greatness—both greatness of individual leaders and what greatness should look like for a collective people—is painfully flawed. It’s true on either side of the aisle. I feel sickened and saddened by such a despicable description of greatness.
Jesus supplied a deeply different understanding. He taught his disciples that true greatness means learning to humbly serve others (Mark 9:33-35) based on holistic, integrated love (Matthew 22:34-40). I know, this probably sounds like a pie-in-the-sky platitude, a hearkening back to Mayberry or Walton’s Mountain. But Jesus said it. Greatness is born of humble service. Will we believe him and work like that’s true in our own everyday vocations—including political and governmental responsibilities? In his book The Integrated Life, Ken Eldred argues for people to live all of life—especially their everyday work—fully informed and integrated with their faith. That means great leaders humbly serve others.
Greater guiding questions
Aiming to pull out of my sadness, I try to envision what true greatness might look like for my sons and so many others for future years. True greatness would look like a fuller integration of our faith in the public sphere, an integration that impacts not just our nation but the globe. Such integration must involve once again the twin concepts of character and service. Too many good people are allowing their own hunger for political power and economic comfort to control their allegiances, their choices, and their votes.
Why do we continue to defend leaders whose words are persistently malicious, whose moral choices are corrupt, and whose practices are ripe with deception? How long will we ridiculously look the other way when leaders are obviously corrupt through and through? Why do we continue coddling all sorts of vices just because a candidate supports our own favorite view related to abortion, or race, or healthcare, or immigration, or some other singular, deeply held issue? Too many of us pledge our allegiance based on myopic tunnel vision.
Character matters. Good character means being trustworthy, full of integrity. Good character matters because telling the truth matters. Leaders must be willing to tell the truth, first to themselves about themselves. Truth be told, we are not always good leaders, both at our core and in our actions. During a political campaign early in his career, Abraham Lincoln noted:
Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition . . . I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.
Note Lincoln’s great ambition. He realized that in order to be truly esteemed by fellow men, he needed to render himself worthy of that esteem. There was no sense of entitlement. In Lincoln’s leadership framework, self-rendering was essential to a sincerely great ambition.
O that we had more leaders today willing to tell themselves the truth and “render” themselves. Lincoln was relentless in self-examination, working on personal change—even altering his viewpoints and platforms when necessary. Then he avidly pursued active, hands-on service to others. Being a deeply, truly kind leader truly matters. I long for such leaders in public service today.
I wonder what would happen if more of our politicians—and especially the ones aspiring to be President—would ask this two-part, formative question every day when they wake up:
What sort of person should I be—in light of King Jesus—and what actions should I take in order to actually bless the people I serve, to intentionally create greater flourishing?
I hope we fail. I hope we fail miserably at the current crazed attempts to make and keep America great again. And may that failure open the way for us to understand a truer, kinder, stronger greatness. O that such greatness would be born of good character and genuine service on behalf of others.
Gene Edward Veith Jr. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life, 101.
For a winsome analysis of Joseph’s integration, see Albert M. Erisman’s book The Accidental Executive.
Ken Eldred, The Integrated Life.
Doris Kearns Goodwin. Leadership in Turbulent Times, 1-20.
One thought on “What if we fail to make America great again?”
Dear Pletch, I think the question isn’t what if we fail to make America great again… I think the question is what if we fail to keep America? The Evil one is lurking right behind the opposing political party. I did not want to vote for Trump, I would have much rather had Pence! For some reason, our current President is still standing. After all of the political “weaponry” that has been thrown at him, with such great and powerful force, how is it that he is still standing? Is doesn’t even seem humanly possible. Maybe that is because it isn’t. Not humanly anyway.
This man, our current President, has never had a day in his Presidency when he wasn’t being attacked. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime. When has he had the chance to be “Presidential?” He has had the mainstream media as his enemy, even before his election, firing from all sides.
This is a battle of good vs evil. Trump is just the warrior holding the line. Not the one I would have chosen, but there he is.
If we don’t hold the line we lose everything. Everything my Great Great Greats fought for. (One was a Revolutionary War soldier and the other a Civil War soldier.) We will lose much more than that. We will lose the conservatives on the Supreme Court, the right to bear arms, and most importantly, our religious freedom. I know persecution is coming, I just didn’t want it to come yet as I pray for my own child’s future. I want her to have the chance to worship God freely as our Founding Fathers wanted for all who came to our shores. Just as I’ve had the ability to do. They are coming for us and that very unlike what-we’re-used-to, narcissistic President is holding the line. WE need to stand for what America represents, what makes America great, what makes America exceptional: Freedom!
I’ve been seeing this coming. As a young television promotion producer in the mid-nineties, I was shocked when I was told by my boss that I couldn’t use the words merry Christmas in a tv promo because it might offend someone. I had to write “happy holidays.” It has gotten so much worse now, like a snowball picking up speed, rolling down a mountain and it is increasing in size! It has taken over our schools, colleges, and more. Now we are being told it is offensive to use pronouns like He and She. Christians are considered “racist” and “bigots.” Is this what you wanted for your sons? It is not what I want for Ava. In ten years…. she will only be 21. At the pace the snowball is rolling, I hate to think what other freedoms may be gone by that time.
If this is God’s will, God’s plan, then I accept it. Until then I stand for the team that represents my freedom to keep my religion, my freedom to worship my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Sent from my iPhone