I have been reading through more of the “Political Sermons of the American Founding Era” and ran across a wonderful sermon by Charles Chauncy. An important paragraph appears early in the sermon after he laid the rational groundwork for God’s ordination of the roles of leadership among humans. Chauncy believes leadership roles are both divinely given and justified by reason. Additionally, it is not just that God gives those roles to some, but they come with divine expectations and responsibilities. He says:
And ’tis easy to collect from the whole, the true design of that power some are entrusted with over others. It is not merely that they might be distinguished from, and set above vulgar people; much less that they might live in greater pomp, and be revered as gods on earth; much less still that they might be in circumstances to oppress their fellow-creatures, and trample them under their feet: But it is for the general good of mankind; to keep confusion and disorder out of the world; to guard men’s lives; to secure their rights; to defend their properties and liberties; to make their way to justice easy, and yet effectual, for their protection when innocent, and their relief when injuriously treated; and, in a word, to maintain peace and good order, and, in general, to promote the public welfare, in all instances, so far as they are able.CIVIL MAGISTRATES MUST BE JUST, RULING IN THE FEAR OF GOD, Charles Chauncy, BOSTON, 1747
Note that leadership roles are not granted by God and by reason for leaders to lord over everyone else (“vulgar people”) but to maintain a set of ethical standards. Leadership is about stewarding the thriving of the people you lead. God arranged these roles among humans to act as reflections of these aspects of his leadership of his people.
In our current culture, however, leadership is viewed in exactly the opposite way. Instead of a person’s actions being shaped by the ethical expectations that come with the position, the position is shaped by the individual’s own ethics and ambitions. The always insightful Yuval Levin has written that we see leadership as performative instead of as conforming to ethical standards. We now enter positions of influence for our own advancement instead of to steward large scale responsibilities on behalf of our neighbors.
While more and more of our culture’s influencers and leaders fall into the performative mold, we can still resist by holding to the expectations outlined in Chauncy’s sermon. Hold elected officials to the standards of their community’s flourishing. Hold bosses and managers to the expectation that they will seek the best of the business and employees. Do not let pastors get away with ignoring the spiritual well-being of their congregation.
Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1.