As it enters the primaries early this year, the presidential race offers valuable lessons on leadership. In a socially and politically divided America, there is no shortage of candidates vying for the highest public office. The world is watching reality TV where over a dozen presidential hopefuls trade blows and insults, competing to become Offender in Chief. What confounds observers and experts alike is not that politicians engage in mudslinging but that voters reward them for doing so. The more vulgar the rhetoric, the higher the poll numbers go up. Gone are the days when candidates won public support and, ultimately, elections through the power of ideas rather than force of personality. Who would have thought that American presidential politics could turn into Snow White’s evil queen who, obsessed with her own vanity, sought reassurance from the magic mirror on the wall that she was the fairest of all. Like the evil queen depending on the mirror for self-validation, presidential candidates need their political base to create a parallel universe in which they fashion themselves as messianic leaders sent by God to save America and, for that matter, the free world.

         The Zebedee brothers, James and John, were not only devoted to Jesus but also highly ambitious and to a certain extent delusional. Aspiring to become gods, they came to their Rabbi with the irreverent demand that they be allowed to sit at the left and right side of Christ in glory. “You have no idea what you’re asking,” Jesus responded. Were they willing and able to pay the price? “Of course, we are,” they answered confidently. They still didn’t get it! Jesus explained that they would suffer persecution, pain and death. However, it was up to God to decide who gets the place of glory. Unsurprisingly, this immodest request alienated the other disciples, and a quarrel ensued. So Jesus called them together to settle them down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” (Mk. 10:42-45).

         A country deserves the political leaders it puts in power. In other words, the character of a nation determines the quality of politicians. If anger and fear dominate voters’ psyche on both the right and left, it will produce the kind of leaders who will run and ruin the country. After the humiliating defeat in World War I, the German people resentful of the terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty followed their charismatic Führer, who promised to make Germany great again. In his utopian Third Reich there was no place for Jews, Gypsies, Communists and the socially ‘unwanted,’ whom he blamed for the nation’s problems. It was supposed to be heaven on earth and last a thousand years. In the end, the Germans paid a high price for allowing tyranny to trump democracy. Americans ought to learn this lesson from European history, lest they repeat it.

         Christ taught that leadership is an act of self-giving, not self-seeking. It inspires hope founded on faith, not fear and hatred. True leaders see themselves as servants, not saviors, lead by moral example and help build open societies for the prosperity of all, not the chosen few. But no matter how competent and effective, if leaders have no love, they are nothing, have nothing and gain nothing. They are at best a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. Love is the ultimate measure by which God will judge leaders and followers.

Blessings,

Pastor Lui