Today's topic came via a post by my friend Andy Mills and his blog Devotions 4 Cops.
I want to talk about the importance of moral leadership.
We’ve all heard of stories of a lack of moral leadership within the military. Whether it’s the actions or example of Lt. William Calley and the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War, or the Marines – including their platoon commander – who recently urinated on dead Taliban fighters, stories of moral failings are all too common in the military. Last year alone, 23 Navy COs were removed from command, the vast majority of them for moral failings - primarily "zipper failure."
But why is moral leadership so important? As Police Captain Andy Mills states, "We learn to lead from those who lead us. What they model, we often do. Rare is the person of moral conviction who leads through a sense of justice, fairness and gut wrenching honesty. I’m not talking about those who sit back and take pot shots at leaders through cynical negativism. That’s not leadership, that's cowardice."
Let me tell you a brief story about leadership and the widespread impact it can have. In my last post, I shared with you about my friend, Carroll "Lex" LeFon who recently passed away and whose website I visited on a near-daily basis for nearly 7 years. Now, many of us I’m sure have our favorite websites – maybe one where we go to get the latest news or read stories that appeal to our personal interests. But this site was different. Largely because of the man who ran it, and who appealed to a great variety of readers through his ability to share his moral beliefs, values and lessons learned without coming across as critical, arrogant or preachy.
As word spread about his death, people from all over the globe started coming to his site to post their remembrances. Soon, there were over 1200 posts on his website eulogizing the man. What was remarkable was that most of the folks had never met him – they simply knew him from his website and could tell what sort of leader he was by how he wrote and the things he said. On Friday evening, folks from all corners of the country held impromptu wakes at their favorite Irish pub to lift a glass in memory of Lex.
Think about that for a minute. Hundreds of people he had never met were gathering together en masse to commemorate him and the life he led. What made him a great leader? Among other things, he loved his family, treated people fairly, was willing to listen to other ideas, didn’t hog the spotlight, and treated every member of his command as though they were valuable and had something worthwhile to contribute. He lived a moral life, and wasn't afraid to show it or to talk about it.
Moral leadership is like that. You can see the result of leadership on units at all levels. In units where there is strong and positive leadership honorable soldiering thrives. Morale is high, regardless of where they are or what they are doing. Where there is poor leadership, you find lack luster performance, personnel issues and sometimes flagrant violations of the rules. The soldiers either don’t understand or don’t care about their mission – it’s just a paycheck.
King David learned the hard way about the morality of leadership. Bad behavior was modeled for him and he adapted those same traits at the worst possible time. This story starts in 1 Samuel 18. As the first king of Israel, King Saul saw David as a threat. The previous chapter tells the story of David & Goliath, and we find that David has become quite popular with the people – so much so that Saul is jealous and wants to get rid of him, because he fears that David is a threat to his power. Look at this passage:
Saul was afraid of David, because the LORD was with David but had departed from Saul. So he sent David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.
Saul said to David, “Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the LORD.” For Saul said to himself, “I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!”
But David said to Saul, “Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?” So when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah.
Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. “I will give her to him,” he thought, “so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” So Saul said to David, “Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law.”
Then Saul ordered his attendants: “Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law.’”
They repeated these words to David. But David said, “Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known.”
When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.
When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.
When Saul realized that the LORD was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.
Do you see what happens here? Saul engages in conspiracy to commit murder. Saul had one of his confidants lie to David by saying that Saul wanted him as part of the royal family. What an honor, right? Initially, David refused saying he wasn’t worthy. In reality, he was too poor to come up with the money for the dowry. Saul knew this. So he tells David the price would be 100 foreskins of his enemy (which is a little twisted, if you ask me). That David could do – he was a warrior.
But Saul’s intent was to get David killed. In verse 17 he says, “I will not raise a hand against him, let the Philistines do that.” And again in verse 25 we are told that “Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.” Immoral leaders usually have others do their dirty work for them.
Now fast-forward ahead a few decades and let’s look at 2 Samuel 11:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
Joab sent David a full account of the battle. He instructed the messenger: “When you have finished giving the king this account of the battle, the king’s anger may flare up, and he may ask you, ‘Why did you get so close to the city to fight? Didn’t you know they would shoot arrows from the wall? 21 Who killed Abimelek son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn’t a woman drop an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez? Why did you get so close to the wall?’ If he asks you this, then say to him, ‘Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.’”
The messenger set out, and when he arrived he told David everything Joab had sent him to say. The messenger said to David, “The men overpowered us and came out against us in the open, but we drove them back to the entrance of the city gate. Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
David told the messenger, “Say this to Joab: ‘Don’t let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.’ Say this to encourage Joab.”
When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.
David is now the king. In the spring when kings go to war, David stayed behind. Why? David was no coward – he was a warrior who had proved himself time and time again in battle. His troops respected him. The people loved him. So why did he remain behind this time? Ego. Self entitlement. Desire. Personal passion as opposed to professional excellence. David sees a beautiful woman and used his position and power to seduce her. He has an affair with her. She becomes pregnant and now David has a problem to solve. What would a moral leader do at this point?
So David brings her husband home from war. Uriah the Hittite. Now Uriah wasn’t just any soldier in Israel’s army – we are told that he was one of David’s mighty men. One of a short list of 37 individuals who were outstanding in terms of their military prowess. This was the guy you wanted next to you when the fighting started. In fact, maybe Uriah lived so close to the palace because David favored him so highly and wanted to have his bravest soldiers close by in case he needed them – we’ll never know. Undoubtedly, David knew this guy – he probably liked him.
So Uriah gets a message from the king telling him to take a little R&R. Of course any guy with a beautiful wife coming back from war or a long time away from home wants one thing first, right? But what is Uriah’s response? He refuses to go home and sleep with his wife because the rest of the army is still in the field; he doesn’t feel worthy.
Perhaps David has a pang of conscience at this moment. Maybe he has second thoughts about what he's trying to do here - the deceit he's become involved with. But what is David’s response to such loyalty and dedication? He invites Uriah to the palace that night, feeds him and gets him drunk hoping this will put them in bed and cover his immorality. Instead Uriah again refuses and wants to go back to the troops.
David has a second chance to put things right, to come clean and confess what has happened. But again, he refuses to do so. Instead, David sends him back to the war with orders to the army commander to put him on the frontlines, in the heaviest of the fighting. And then, when the fighting is fiercest, they were to withdraw from Uriah. Uriah, the brave and loyal soldier, returns to the frontline unknowingly carrying his own death warrant.
The report comes back - to David's relief and Bathsheba’s grief - that Uriah was killed.
But look what else happens when moral leadership is absent; other people get drawn in to the deception and pay the price for your moral failings. Joab, the army commander, didn’t question the king’s orders to have one of his best fighters deliberately killed. He just went ahead and carried out the command. If pressed, he probably would've shrugged his shoulders and said, "I was just following orders." Who does that sound like?
But who else paid for the king’s sin? The passage tells us that, in addition to Uriah, some of the king’s men died. Other soldiers put their lives at risk and some were killed in order to carry out David's plan. How would you feel if you learned that your leaders had planned a foolish frontal assault against an entrenched enemy position for the sole purpose of killing one man who hadn’t done anything wrong, and that other soldiers had also died as a result?
David made two huge errors during his kingship.
The first was arrogance. His arrogance led him to abandon his place of duty and satisfy his desires immorally. The second was the desire and willingness to cover his mistakes with more immoral behavior. The penalty for this was the death of his firstborn son as well as God refusing to allow David the privilege of building the temple.
Now remember the first story about Saul? Here’s the kicker: Both behaviors of David were ones he learned from Saul. When the arrogance of leadership got to David, the modeled traits of immoral leadership came flooding to the forefront of his decision making process. He became manipulative and wouldn’t listen to anyone else. His decisions cost him a son and his favor to build God’s temple. Costly mistakes!
As I examine the leadership I have seen in over 23 years of military service, I realize there are some good traits in most and some moral failures in a few. Some were excellent leaders with vision, clarity and purpose. Others were about personal power, position and self promotion. We've all probably known or seen people like this. But here’s one thing I do know. When we get arrogant, manipulative or quit listening to loyal friends or subordinates, we’re destined for trouble. We open ourselves up to mistakes that we cannot afford.
So consider your own leadership style. How are you doing with moral issues? In what areas have you become complacent? How do you treat or listen to your friends, subordinates or leaders? What are your motives that drive your actions? If you come up short in some area, what are you doing about it? Confess it to God and pray for His strength to turn away from it and do what is right. You won't regret it.