Over the years, as I have been privileged to address leaders, one of the top two topics I want to include is the importance of moral authority in a leader. My leadership radar is always scanning for examples of the exercise of moral authority among our contemporary leaders. Mitt Romney’s speech during the Senate vote regarding the impeachment of the current US President is one such example. Two of the many facets of moral authority are accountability to higher moral authority and courage. In his courageous vote and explanation of his vote, Romney acknowledged his accountability to God and the US Constitution as reflected in these two quotes:
“I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong.”
“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the president committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor.’ Yes, he did,”
Coincidentally, I was preparing to publish this blog regarding Moral Authority.
Sometimes I ponder this question. If I only had one opportunity to address a group of leaders, which topic would I select? Two issues vie for the number one position in my mind. One subject is the truism, “The Kingdom within becomes the Kingdom without” The other topic is the importance of moral authority. Both issues have in common a focus on the leader’s secret life. As I have had opportunity to address leaders I have endeavored to include these topics in my exhortations.
It is always encouraging to read other leaders who affirm these priorities. In an recent email Alan Murray, President and CEO, of Fortune Magazine wrote this:
“As guiding principles, there are three ideas that have withstood the test of time, and no doubt will continue to do so in the 2020s:
* Capitalism is the best system known for organizing an economy. It should be improved, not replaced.
* Globalization is both an inevitable and a desirable result of economic and technological progress. We should shape it, not fight it.
* Leadership matters. The decade ahead will put leaders to the test. They will need wisdom and courage, and must build a reservoir of moral authority to guide us through.”
I agree with Murray’s three points. I especially appreciate his image of a reservoir of moral authority. In the field of politics, we hear about politicians creating and spending political capital. Moral authority is leadership capital.
I mentioned globalization in my blog Guiding the Flow: https://garymccreithblog.com/2017/07/16/guiding-the-flow/
Here are a few definitions of Moral Authority:
“Moral authority is authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws. As such, moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth. Because truth does not change, the principles of moral authority are immutable or unchangeable, although, as applied to individual circumstances, the dictates of moral authority for action may vary due to the exigencies of human life. These principles, which can be of metaphysical and/or religious nature, are considered normative for behavior, whether they are or are not also embodied in written laws, and even if the community is ignoring or violating them. Therefore, the authoritativeness or force of moral authority is applied to the conscience of each individual, who is free to act according to or against its dictates.”
“Moral authority has thus also been defined as the fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world.”
“trustworthiness to make decisions that are right and good.”
“One simple definition is that moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be. This distinguishes it from expert or epistemic authority, which could be defined as the capacity to convince others of how the world is.”
Leaders with moral authority uphold the moral fabric of the entity for which they are responsible. Leaders with moral authority exercise what the Apostle Paul refers to as the power of godliness.
As one raised in the evangelical church, I knew about the ministry of Billy Graham. I remember as a young lad listening to him on the radio with my parents. As I matured and transitioned into leadership positions in the church, my perspective of Billy Graham expanded. I realized that not only was he a gifted evangelist, he was also a skilled leader. He was the founder and CEO of The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, authored by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, ©️ 2005, is an insightful text on Graham’s leadership abilities. (https://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Secrets-Billy-Graham/dp/0310255783/ref=sr_1_fkmr3_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519945627&sr=8-1-fkmr3&keywords=21+leadership+billy+graham)
I have given thought to his life and ministry since his passing. The virtue that rises to the top of my reflections about him is that of moral authority. Leaders who walk in moral authority, as Billy Graham did, can draw upon the reservoir of godliness built during their life. Godliness expands a leader’s realm of influence in the cultures in which they lead. The honorary title given to Billy Graham, America’s Pastor, is one of the fruits of his moral authority. His continued access to those in power throughout his career is, in part, a result of his moral authority capital.
New Testament authors were aware that the physical expression of the Old Covenant on earth was in its last days. Jesus had legally fulfilled the requirements of that covenant and had legally established a new order through His life, death, and resurrection. For a generation after Jesus’ resurrection (40 years), the old order continued to be practiced on earth. In 70 CE, the Romans invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the temple. The earthly exercise of the Old Covenant ritual ended.
These New Testament authors sought to enlighten their fellow disciples about the conditions of these last days.
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)
The author of Hebrews writes:
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;” (Hebrews 1:1–2)
“Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.” (James 5:3)
“Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,” (2 Peter 3:3, NKJV)
The Apostle Paul includes more details about these last days of Old Covenant practice in 2 Timothy 3.
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:” (2 Timothy 3:1)
Paul includes a list of the major character flaws of his people in those days:
Lovers of self
Lovers of money
Boasters – “an empty pretender.”
Proud – “showing one’s self above others, overtopping, conspicuous above others, pre-eminent, with an overweening estimate of one’s means or merits, despising others, or even treating them with contempt, haughty.”
Blasphemer – “speaking evil, slanderous, reproachful, railing, abusive.”
Disobedient to Parents
Unloving – “without natural affection, unsociable, inhuman, unloving.”
Without Self Control
Brutal – “not tame, savage, fierce.”
Despisers of Good – “opposed to goodness and good men.”
Lovers of Pleasure
Having a form of godliness
Resist the Truth
Men of Corrupt Minds
Their folly will be manifest to all – “lack of understanding.”
Of course, these character flaws continue to manifest in some poeple even today. I wanted to highlight in this context, Paul’s reference to the power of godliness. “Having a form of godliness but denying its power” is another way of saying “lacking moral authority.”
Paul’s reference comes with a warning:
“And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:5)
Paul’s warning to turn away from the type of people described is wisdom even for today. It is a timeless warning!
Those who are lacking in moral authority resort to tactics of control and manipulation to promote themselves and their agenda. This type of behavior, for example, is utilized by abusers. I have witnessed this firsthand in pastoral counseling. Those who have been in a relationship with an abuser will recognize these behaviors.
Bullying, Threatening, Fear-Mongering, Gaslighting, Abusive Name-Calling, Unpredictability, Being Secretive, Isolating, Compartmentalizing, and, Evasiveness
(I will defer detailing these behaviors for a subsequent blog)
Whenever there is an opportunity to vet a leader or influence the choice for a leader, the moral authority of that potential leader must be carefully evaluated. For those of us already in leadership, endeavoring to increase leadership capital by continued personal growth in our moral character is a priority.