Is Morality Essential to Leadership?

By Wayne Jackson

A survey out of Washington, D.C. requests that ministers answer this question: “Can an individual serve in leadership who lacks moral authority?”

The short answer is: “No!” But let me expand with a series of logical propositions. Consider them, please.

(1) A leader, by definition, is one who guides, who shows the way by example (Webster). A leader, if he is to be effective, must have the ability to persuade others. If there is no persuasion, there simply is no leadership.

(2) In order to be able to persuade others to follow a course of action, a leader must have personal integrity. If a man cannot be trusted, he cannot lead, for the populous will not be guided by someone in whom they have no confidence. To suggest: “We do not trust our leader personally, but we like his programs,” is an oxymoron, an illogical contradiction. If one cannot trust a leader, he cannot know, in the final analysis, the direction of his “programs.” A component of personal integrity is the matter of example.

An effective leader absolutely must be a good example. History has borne this out repeatedly. Herodotus, known as the father of history, declared: “I am satisfied that we are less convinced by what we hear than by what we see.”

Cicero, the Roman statesman, said:

Be a pattern to others, and then all will go well; for as the whole city is infected by the licentious passions and vices of great men, so it is likewise reformed by their moderation.

Juvenal, the Roman satirist, who described the incomparable corruption of Rome under the administration of the emperor Domitian, wrote:

Examples of vicious courses, practised in a domestic circle, corrupt more readily and more deeply when we behold them in persons of authority.

The philosopher Seneca noted: “Noble examples stir us up to noble actions.” What would the reverse imply?

The wisest of the ages have affirmed that leaders must be men of moral integrity.

(3) If one is to have personal integrity, he must have a moral code by which he operates. He must acknowledge that certain things are right and others are wrong. Ultimate moral truths are inflexible; they are not situational. A leader must acknowledge moral responsibility, both in his words and in his walk (cf. Acts 1:1).

(4) No man can argue a moral case apart from the conviction that God exists, and that he is the Author of moral law. When men set about to construct their own moral codes, nothing but confusion abounds, for, as the skeptical philosopher Sartre observed, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”

It is an amazing thing (if the current polls are accurate—which certainly may be questionable) that so many Americans now view our president as being void of moral leadership, but feel that he should continue to lead this nation. Where is the common sense in that? Where is the moral conviction of the American public?

Perhaps it is the citizenry of this country that needs to be impeached. When folks will tolerate corruption in their leaders, they are defiled themselves!

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.