Does character matter? And while I’m certain you know the answer to this question, it has been painfully clear over the last 4 years that my assumption, that this is a simple question with a clear and easy answer, is incorrect. Apparently, when it comes to politicians, many think one can separate political agenda and goals from the character of the person elected to office. As one evangelical leader so blithely put it, we don’t elect the President to be Pastor-in-Chief.
I have, during the pandemic, penned a number of documents hoping to help and engage you. I have tried to be absolutely careful to avoid any partisan comments, and I have attempted to be strategic in my approach to hot button issues, e.g., race. You may remember after George Floyd’s murder, I wrote an article about sexism, hoping that whatever wisdom it contained could easily be applied to racism. My hope was to not lose many readers with an article on a topic which at that time was surrounded by hot, angry, and defensive reactions. I also hoped that people could make what connections were valid as they thought through my thinking. And yes I am often enough incorrect, incomplete and limited in wisdom. But I have a role as pastor that asks me to engage you, encourage you and challenge you.
On January 5th the Mizzou basketball team, ranked that day as the no. 13 team in the nation in NCAA college basketball played Mississippi State a team not ranked in the top 25, Mizzou lost by 15 points. Mizzou was prior to the game clearly the better team and had been playing very well, they were clearly expected to continue this excellent play, clearly, they should have won the game.
And so in light of the events of January 6th in Washington DC, I would ask you to picture this scenario:
They lost, but not “really”-- according to the coach’s tweets prior to the game and during the game, the refs were corrupt and conspiring to throw the game, the court was tilted likely by foreign intervention, the baskets were tampered with both before and during half time by the home team. Angry and frustrated, (after all, the refs didn’t get every call correct), the coach and his team refused to accept the loss and promised to litigate the loss through the NCAA until--and only until-- what they expected, deserved and wanted was awarded them—Victory!!! (this of course is me using a literary device, the coach and team did not do this.)
Upon reflection, the Mizzou coach and his team, no less angry, disappointed, and unhappy with the results, considered their future opportunities even with a loss. They proclaimed what they did not yet likely feel and were not ready to fully embrace, that another course was available to them which could make them a better team and more successful individuals. They could, even with a less than perfect process, accept the result of their poor play and in the second half, pledge to learn from their mistakes. (this is in fact is what coach and team did)
So--work with me here, think. Does character matter? Does it matter if your leaders have developed, mature, and true values? Can you build anything lasting and real without character embraced and lived? Yes, other values enter in like winning, or maybe judges and deregulation, but in the end, which matters more?
I suggest we can learn a painful lesson from what happened on January 6th. Be reminded with a current telling example, Covid 19 is child’s play compared to the destructive power to our way of life when winning only matters and the legitimacy of our elective process is maligned and discarded, permanently damaging the basis of our freedoms, our democratic way of life.
I find it telling that in life we hold parents, priests and religious to higher standards, and we don’t lower these standards. How is it possible to raise a child to be happy independent and successful if one lies to avoid difficulty or painful admissions of weakness and fallibility? When leaders, role models, officials lie, proclaim false equivalencies as wisdom and fairness, foment fear, selfishness and authoritarian power, and claim these as acceptable methods, then truly the destruction wrought when the end justifies the means is unavoidable. Give away your character, bargain for advantage with it--one thing is true, you can’t reclaim it.
Except, we who follow the truths of the gospel and the life of Christ say yes we can reclaim and reestablish our souls lifeblood, our character. But there is only one way: love poured out in self-sacrifice creates all good, protects all good, sustains all good. Faithful love allows for winning to be only a pleasant experience now and then not life’s goal. Faithful love allows us to learn from triumphs and failures, and then amazingly enough, you discover what winning truly is. I hope you will take some time to consider these thoughts.