I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a man beckoned to power on the back of public demand for a charismatic leader who would stand out from the crowd, and get things done. A leader who refused to acknowledge his time was up and whose slow decent and fall from grace impacted a the life of nation. That leader was King Saul whose account is set out in all its tragedy in 1 Samuel.
The comparison with our current Prime Minster is unfair in many ways, but one important lessons from the bible does bear remembering at this time. Character counts. At a recent talk given by Dr Diane Langberg, an eminent psychologist who is renowned for her work with victims of trauma and abuse of power in the church and wider society, I was stuck by one particular point in relation to what we have seen developing in Westminster this week.
The world – including the Church – is intoxicated by certain gifts above character, and this is nearly always a recipe for grave outcomes. Our current Prime Minster – love him or loathe him – is a man of considerable and undoubted gifts. He is absolutely no-one’s fool and has demonstrated his ability to inspire and lead. But – like us all – he has his flaws, and his character for good and ill has been brought into sharp relief in recent days.
I have reflected on his resignation speech given in front of 10 Downing Street on Thursday (7 July), and been increasingly troubled by the lack of contrition, repentance, and humility. Perhaps a little ironically some of our previous Prime Minsters’ finest moments of leadership and self-reflection have come through their resignation speeches. I am sorry that that was not the case for Mr Johnson.
Of course he is right in warning us to be careful for what we wish for and who may follow him. I do not relish a leadership contest or a general election. But I have been deeply concerned about some of the things that have happened to our politics in recent times, and pray that this will be a turning point in valuing character and virtue above rhetoric and charisma.
Politics is the means to do good. Leaders set a tone and role model what success looks like. CARE will continue to analyse and evaluate policies and ideas from those who want to be Prime Minster against the bible’s teaching of how we can live a better story and the evidence that supports it.
But we also urge everyone to pray - perhaps more passionately than before - that our desire as a nation is for a leader of Christ-like character. A Leader who cultivates the Fruit of the Spirit in their own life and in others; who understands that as well as being wonderfully and fearfully made, we all have feet of clay and sinful hearts.
May God grant us a leader not of our heart's desire but of the Lord’s.