America’s recent debt ceiling crisis has revealed much about the nation as well as its leaders. Every politician in Washington readily acknowledged the need to do something. Yet it took until the eleventh hour and relentless media scrutiny before legislation was drafted and passed. I thought it was telling that one of the White House’s oft repeated criticisms of their opponents was that in the past, debt ceiling increases had been routine, but this time it was being “politicized.” Of course, routinely increasing the nation’s debt without so much as a debate or question is why America is now over 14 trillion dollars in debt.
This debate reveals at least two stark realities. First, Americans insist they have a right to receive what they cannot pay for. Second, America finds itself in its current situation due to a failure of leadership. Politicians give people what they want. Statesmen give people what they need. The problem is that, like making your children eat their broccoli, people don’t like what’s good for them. If you insist they take it, you could very well lose the next election. So, many of our politicians keep espousing high principles but they enact popular measures that are most likely to win them votes.
What the world needs today are leaders with the courage to speak out for what is needed, not what is wanted. We need people who truly care more about the public good than personal gain. Unfortunately, people often do not always appreciate statesmen at the time. Abraham Lincoln faced venomous opposition, even within his own ranks, during his presidency. Harry Truman left the White House with the lowest presidential approval rating in history. Yet in most rankings of U.S. presidents today, Lincoln usually ranks as America’s greatest president and Truman generally comes in fifth. These were men who made hard decisions borne of conviction. At the time, their decisions were not always popular, but history judges them as having been right.
Statesmen are people, men and women, who rise above party politics to do what is best for the general public. They take the long view rather than grasping immediate gain. They do what they believe to be right, regardless of the consequences. They strive to act with integrity. Their contemporaries may not always appreciate what they accomplished, but history’s longer view applauds them for their wisdom and courage.
Today’s church requires statesmen just as much as does the political arena. Too many clerics are merely spouting out popular clichés and pop theology without taking the time to wrestle with issues and to seek divine truth. Fads come and go. God’s word, on the other hand, stands the test of time.
What I am seeing in many church circles today, however, is that Christian leaders hide behind God’s word by failing to apply it. It is one thing to loudly declare that God expects His people to be holy (1 Peter 1:15). It is quite another to publicly condemn popular songs, movies, books, and recreational activities that are widely and enthusiastically consumed by your congregants. It is one thing to uphold the sanctity of marriage (Genesis 2:24). It is quite another to marshal the church membership in a desperate effort to prevent two church members from divorcing one another. It is one thing to endorse the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It is quite another to recommend your church cease spending so much money on itself and to redirect more funds to ministering to those outside your church walls. At times the real act of courage comes not in claiming to believe the Bible but in applying the Bible.
Being a leader today, whether in the home, the marketplace, the church, or in politics requires courage. Today’s leaders need to live for history. They must not ask, ‘What will people say of me tomorrow?’ But, ‘In ten, or twenty, or 100 years from now, when people have had adequate time to evaluate the consequences of my actions, how will people evaluate my leadership?’ In the leadership role God has currently placed you, are you behaving as a politician or a statesman?