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What happens when leaders abandon ethics?

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The intersection of culture and ethics occurs in the minds, wills, and character of leaders—that’s as it should be. God hasn’t blessed everyone with the gift of leadership, and good followers are the Rocks of Gibraltar that build nations. But when leaders lose sight of their ethical responsibility, they undermine their culture’s foundation.

Moses led Israel after 400 years of adapting, surviving, and conforming to a pagan society. Through Moses and the Torah, God changed the ethos of this horde. Israel quickly forgot miraculous signs, but Moses’ veiled glory and his unwavering character were constant reminders that a Yahweh-chosen nation was to be very different than Egypt and the nations that surrounded them.

Old Testament writers repeatedly described leaders who affected the masses: judges, David, Solomon, Judean kings, prophets. Each uniquely thought, decided, and displayed flawed but God-given character that the Israelites could emulate and absorb. Each was empowered by God, and many paid a high price for their leadership. Hebrews 11 speaks of many of these leaders.

We need those kind of leaders today. I knew one, Sheldon, who owned a company. The health plan recommended for his employees included a provision to pay for abortions. Sheldon wanted that provision removed. His lawyer told him that if he removed it he ran the risk of a lawsuit—or worse. Sheldon thanked his lawyer for the candid advice and told him he wanted to remove the abortion provision anyway. That impressed the lawyer, a Jewish fellow who saw the ethics of his Old Testament forefathers newly applied.

Contrast Sheldon’s actions with Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leaders who abdicated their ethical responsibility to protect the American people—their sworn duty—because they feared bad PR or a civil liberties backlash if they checked social media postings by visa applicants. The result? Only God knows for sure, but what we do know is clear: Homeland Security was not their top priority. Appearances were more important than protection. DHS staffers did not report suspicious behavior for fear they might be labeled bigots, Islamophobes, or hatemongers. Compare what Sheldon taught his followers and what DHS leaders taught theirs.

Not all of us own a company or run a huge government agency, but we lead in other ways as fathers and mothers, teachers, deacons, supervisors at work, captains of sports teams, heads of study groups, and the like. Each time we step up and lead biblically, we do our part to solidify and strengthen our culture. Conversely, each time we shy away from opportunities to do the right thing, we undermine the foundations of a healthy culture. The impact of each conflict-avoidance is very small, but collectively among 320 million Americans, they can be devastating. Everyone plays a part.

I am not naïve about the risks of leading ethically; often they are monumental and serious. The issue is this: Do we believe that God is bigger than the risks we face? Do we concern ourselves more with the approval of men, or do we desire to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

My prayer is that we would each run the race God has marked out for us in a way that brings a smile to His face.

Bill Newton Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He is a member of the board of directors of WORLD News Group.


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