March 18, 1998 in City

Bible Specifies Special Responsibility

Billy Graham The New York Times

Regardless of the outcome of the present investigations into President Clinton’s alleged misconduct, the controversy swirling around him has raised one question that must not go unanswered: Should those in positions of leadership be held to a higher standard of moral and ethical conduct than ordinary citizens?

Admittedly, on the one hand, those of us who affirm historic Judeo-Christian moral values - values based on what we believe to be God’s will as revealed in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount - assert that wrong is always wrong, no matter who commits it.

The Bible teaches that sin is the breaking of God’s moral law. It always has repercussions; “be sure your sin will find you out,” the Bible says (Numbers 32:23) - either here or in the next life. None of us can claim to be exempt.

The Bible says, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).

However, those entrusted with leadership - whatever their field - bear a special responsibility to uphold the highest standards of moral and ethical conduct, both publicly and privately. Jesus’ words in his parable of the faithful and wise manager are still true: “to whom much is given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

Those who have the greatest standing in society - whether clergy, politician, business person, labor leader, athlete, entertainer or anyone else who is a role model - also have the greatest need of personal integrity.

The question is asked, why can’t we just ignore personal character, as long as a person does the job?

Simply stated, it is because the stakes are too high and the impact on society too far-reaching. John Donne reminded us that no man is an island; what happens to each of us affects the whole. No leader is a moral island, either, and the greater the visibility, the greater the impact.

A leader’s moral character, first of all, influences the way he or she does his or her job. There simply is no such thing as an impenetrable firewall between what we do privately and what we do publicly. Can someone who consistently lies or deceives or cheats in his personal life be trusted in a business deal, a courtroom or a political agreement? Should someone who takes bribes or harbors deep-seated racial animosities be given judicial or political power, as long as he keeps his behavior or his feelings private? Of course not.

A leader’s moral character also influences those who look up to him or her - particularly young people. Why is teenage pregnancy so rampant? Why are our schools and streets all too often gripped by violence and drugs? Why are the youth of today filled with cynicism and despair? Surely, one reason is that they have so few positive role models to follow. The moral meltdown in our country in part results from a failure of leadership.

It has been my privilege to know 10 presidents, some as close friends. I knew most of them before they ever became president and have been in their homes and glimpsed their family lives. I have had long talks with them. All faced temptations and pressures most of us can barely imagine.

Don’t get me wrong; most of the presidents I have known were dedicated and thoughtful men who sincerely sought to serve their country. When I learned later of moral failures or compromises in some instances, it grieved me deeply.

It also made me search my own heart. I feel that people have put me on too high a pedestal; we do the same with other leaders. I know, however, that I am not as good as some people think I am. I have seen men in the depths of wickedness and I have thought to myself, “There I go, except by the grace of God.” I have to depend on God every day to help me live as I should.

Only time will tell whether President Clinton has betrayed the trust we have placed in him as our leader. All politicians have a special responsibility because the people have voted them into office.

I have known President Clinton as a personal friend for many years. I led the inaugural prayer at both of his inaugurations. He first came to hear me preach when he was a boy. I hope and pray, for his sake, the sake of his family and the sake of our nation, that he is not guilty of the things he is alleged to have done.

We need to pray fervently for him, for everyone involved in this controversy and for our country. The Scripture says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).

I know this issue cannot be resolved in a few paragraphs or by television sound bites, which seldom allow time for balanced discussion and thoughtful reflection. We must not be tempted, however, to divorce character from leadership. That would be tragic.

But ultimately, the question of moral character comes down to us as individuals and to the decision we each must make about our own moral and spiritual foundations. When we point a finger at the president, let’s point another finger at ourselves for our sins. Jesus taught that if we even think an immoral act, it is the same in God’s sight as the act itself - and that includes all of us.

The greatest need in America at the moment is for a moral and spiritual renewal. This comes, I believe, only as we turn in repentance and faith to the living God, who stands ready to forgive and renew us from within.


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