In a conference call earlier this week, Pat Robertson fielded a question he gets often these days: why did he endorse Rudy Giuliani for President? He reiterated the whole business of the importance of national security (which I brought up back in February and he stated in his endorsement speech) but then he made two interesting observations:
- We have had two “born-again” Presidents in recent times (I’m assuming he meant Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush, but he didn’t say.)
- Both of them have been “disasters.”
Honestly, I’m inclined to agree with him on this, and have said so in bits and pieces on this blog. The only serious question left is why.
There’s no question that the elites in this country don’t like Evangelical Christianity, and haven’t for a long time. I’ve spent a lot of time on that too. But let’s turn the discussion around, assuming that there is a critical mass of people left who are not content with letting those elites lead them around by the nose. Why is it that the leaders Evangelicals put to the forefront have not fared any better than they have?
The best place to look for an answer is the Bible, and the best man to study is the most successful leader Israel and Judah ever had, namely David.
It wasn’t God’s first plan for Israel to have a monarchy, but the Israelites got to the place where they couldn’t see themselves without one, so God granted their request. (This puts the whole Evangelical concept of the “perfect will of God” in jeopardy, but that’s another Bible study.) The first king was Saul, but for many reasons he proved unsatisfactory, so God sent Samuel to anoint David, who had to be pulled away from tending the sheep to receive God’s open approval.
The usual Middle Eastern method was and is for David to mount an immediate power challenge, but David wasn’t your typical Middle Easterner. He first served as a musician at Saul’s court, having popped off Goliath, but Saul saw the inevitable conflict coming. That conflict was complicated both by David’s marriage to Saul’s daughter Michal (which was Saul’s idea) and by David’s friendship with Jonathan Saul’s son (which wasn’t.) David eventually left Saul’s court and formed his own band of “desperate” men. He had a chance to dispatch Saul, but refrained from it. Just as God had anointed David, he had anointed Saul before him, and David acknowledged that fact. That’s an extraordinary act, one that Christians justifiably make a big deal out of. But David was skilful enough not to let that be an act of weakness. When Saul finally did himself in, David was able to assume the throne.
By local standards David looked like a “soft touch,” but the Twelve Tribes—and especially the ten in the north—weren’t the most cohesive group. Without strong central leadership for centuries, they had an independent streak in them. David managed to pull together the fractious Israelites into a kingdom whose physical expanse was greater that it had been before and would ever be after. He had his difficulties with the neighbours and with the usual harem/sibling politics that were built into the system. The most serious of these was Absalom’s rebellion, but David was the original “comeback kid,” and had inspired enough loyalty in enough people to put that down—and was tenderhearted enough of a father to mourn the loss of a son, rebel though he was.
David left his son and successor Solomon a vibrant nation that the latter could rule more absolutely than David did. The road to Solomon himself was rocky; the king so noted for wisdom was the indirect product of an impulsive, illicit relationship which David compounded by de facto murder of Bathsheba’s husband to cover up moral failure. God, through the prophet Nathan, dealt with David on this, and the direct product of the relationship died. But David remained king; one shudders to think of the consequences of such an act with a modern electorate.
And that’s just the point of this study: it’s unlikely that modern Evangelicals would give David the vote for city council, let alone President. They are too enamoured with the image of moral (and now ideological) perfection in their headship, a perfection frequently at the expense of real leadership qualities or even a true vision of what God wants for the country. Such visions of purity aren’t the sole property of Evangelicals; a visit to most left-wing blogs will reveal a mind-numbing moralism very quickly. And it should be obvious that Lloyd Bentsen’s line applies here: from the Scriptures we know David, and the “born-again” presidents we’ve had are no Davids.
When Saul finally bombed it with the Amalekites, Samuel told him the following:
But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee. (1 Samuel 13:14)
That man, of course, was David. For all of his failings, he was a great leader, and beyond that he began the long road from the power holder/power challenger, eye for an eye/tooth for a tooth cycle that still dominates the Middle East to the time when his descendant Jesus Christ propounded the concept of servant leadership and enacted it vividly when he washed his disciples’ feet:
When he had washed their feet, and had put on his upper garments and taken his place, he spoke to them again. "Do you understand what I have been doing to you?" he asked. "You yourselves call me ‘the Teacher’ and ‘the Master’, and you are right, for I am both. If I, then–‘the Master’ and ‘the Teacher’–have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet; For I have given you an example, so that you may do just as I have done to you. In truth I tell you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor yet a messenger than the man who sends him. Now that you know these things, happy are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17)
Jesus’ kingdom was and is not of this world (John 18:36.) If we venture to be rulers of this world, our duty is to do so with as much rectitude as possible. But we must ultimately realise that the reason why his kingdom isn’t of this world is due in some measure to the nature of secular politics and power itself. Like our family yacht, to cruise in dangerous waters we need a native guide, and what better native guide than the man who was after God’s own heart.