Over the last few months, I've been praying quite a bit about leadership, primarily in connection with the US presidential primaries. It's hard to know which candidate will be best suited for the job: The one with the best résumé? Most experience? Snappiest answer in a debate?
As I was praying about the various criteria for a good leader, I thought of some of the people described in the Bible.
In leading the children of Israel, Moses exhibited extraordinary perseverance and love for his people. David was a man of physical courage, and even though he made some big mistakes, he also had a good sense of justice and fair play. Solomon had many gifts – intelligence, political savvy, the ability to work well with other nations – but the one for which he was commended by God was his humility in asking for the wisdom to rule his people rather than for riches and power.
These are only three of the people in the Bible who played leadership roles and exhibited wonderful qualities. But to me the gold standard was set by Jesus, who patiently nurtured his disciples, who had the courage to stand up to his enemies and to hypocrites. Yet he recommended a most unusual path to his followers. Instead of advising the accumulation of power, he told them: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3, 4).
Jesus' willingness to trust God – his Father and ours – through great danger, and even to the threshold of death, shows his courage, perseverance, strength, wisdom, and intelligence. But his ministry is marked by humility, by his conviction that God is ever present and that our job is to humbly follow His leading. Instead of claiming an exclusive specialness for himself, he said, in effect, "Be childlike, follow our Father, and you can have this same relationship."
This desire to empower others is one of the things that makes Jesus' model of leadership unique. Other leaders of his time and ours might feel threatened if one of their followers was charismatic or more intelligent. But Jesus encouraged Peter to do things that the others weren't ready to do, because he saw this man's potential. The desire for an exclusive hold on power can be hypnotic, but there's no evidence that Jesus ever fell for that temptation. These days, that's not always the case. But here again, Jesus' example shows that we can trust God to provide for the nations' government and guidance.
Each country's spiritual journey may be slow or fast, depending on the individuals involved and how open they are to government by divine Love, rather than human will or political manipulation. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, put it this way in her book, "The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany": "Through the wholesome chastisements of Love, nations are helped onward towards justice, righteousness, and peace, which are the landmarks of prosperity. In order to apprehend more, we must practise what we already know of the Golden Rule, which is to all mankind a light emitting light" (p. 282).
Practicing the Golden Rule in relation to elections demands that each individual do whatever is possible to enable the candidates to respect one another and perhaps even succeed in campaigning on the issues instead of throwing buckets of mud at each other. Those of us who can vote could express love toward the hardworking candidates by taking a long and thoughtful look at all the candidates, not just the front-runners.
Could Jesus' model of leadership work in what seem like more complex times? The spiritual qualities of Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus are just as relevant now as they were then. And to whatever degree our prayers can support the practice of those qualities, to me the answer is a resounding, "Yes."