Cruising down the Nile River with Emad, our Egyptologist and tour guide, I asked his perspective on several things, like “And as an Egyptian, what do you think is the answer to the conflict in the Middle East?”
The conversation morphed into a discussion of the character of our national and international leaders and, unfortunately, their shortcomings and failings. Emad shared his thought that the failings in a leader's personal life were a private matter and have no bearing on the quality of their governmental leadership.
Perhaps his perspective came as a man speaking of another man, but I could not have disagreed more. Character is the basic building block of moral leadership, and true character is most fully exhibited in what happens behind closed doors and in one's personal life.
It has been said that when a woman is selecting a husband, she should look at how the man treats his mother. And, I choose to add, character is exhibited by how a husband treats his wife.
We can focus on the threats that war, nuclear armament and climate change pose to our nation, but there is no greater threat to the fabric of our country, the effectiveness of our government and the quality of our communities than the loss of personal morality and character in those who are our leaders. And before we cast all our stones on others, this nation will have no greater moral character than that of its citizenry – ourselves.
The American patriot Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death!”) also spoke of “the great pillars of all government and of social life: I mean virtue, morality and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed.”
A life or a nation that exhibits a virtuous morality must be grounded in faith and values rooted in something greater than one's self. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
The virtuous and moral life is one that spends itself loving others, caring for those who cannot care for themselves and being willing to sacrifice everything.
It takes courage.
It storms the beaches at Normandy and the fields of Gettysburg for freedom.
It measures a life “not based on the color of skin, but the content of character.”
It is judged by how it loves a parent or a spouse.
And, “if we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed.”
In her book, “Off the Sidelines: Speak Up, Be Fearless and Change the World,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, offers her voice in saying, “Those last six words – 'for such a time as this' – resonate with me to my core. I believe that in certain situations, we each have a moral responsibility to act. We all have unique opportunities that derive from our unique circumstances, and we have a duty to take them.”
She echoes six powerful words from the Hebrew Bible, offered to another woman, Queen Esther, empowering her to do the moral thing in defense of her people. Esther chooses to act with courage and her voice responds, “If I perish, I perish.”
Those who will truly change the world for the better are willing to take action, even if it costs them something. Especially when it may cost everything.
Each of us must be willing to lend our voices and courageous actions to the cause of a more just and moral society. A silent majority accomplishes nothing.
We can begin by building relationships with others, especially those who come from different experiences. We can begin by truly educating ourselves on those issues about which we care deeply. We can begin by recognizing that we have each been called to act and speak on behalf of something greater than our own self-interest. We can begin by offering ourselves, our actions and our voices to making a difference... expecting the best from ourselves and our leaders “for such a time as this.”
The Rev. Cheryl Garbe is senior pastor of First Wayne Street United Methodist Church.