By Thomas Walters
As America make its way through another contentious and divisive presidential election campaign, most of us yearn for a time when our country was more or less on the same page. In reality though, there has been only one president virtually everyone could agree on. His name was George Washington. In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s not running this year!
Even Washington’s administration was nearly torn apart by conflict between two of its cabinet members. One man, Thomas Jefferson, was suspicious of anything that compromised individual self-sufficiency, and positively horrified at the thought of Americans depending on their government. The other man, Alexander Hamilton, believed government should play a strong role in individuals’ lives, and he hoped to use the United States Treasury to make his vision reality. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton led to our system of having two political parties. History makes it clear that neither man was right about everything. No one but God has all of the answers, and the truth is that there have always been men and women of high ideals and good moral character on both sides of the political aisle.
Consider the following words and deeds of a few of our twentieth century presidents—from both of our modern political parties—that correspond with the teachings and character of Jesus Christ. Perhaps these traits will help us discern what a president should be.
A Man of Action
“Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind” (Theodore Roosevelt, Republican).
Like Jesus Christ, Theodore Roosevelt was a man of action. His presidential achievements are impressive. In foreign affairs he led us into the arena of international power politics, putting aside the American tradition of isolationism. On the domestic scene, he reversed the traditional federal policy of laissez-faire, and sought to bring order, social justice, and fair dealings to American industry and commerce.
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:26, NIV, 1984).
A Man of Vision
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand” (Woodrow Wilson, Democrat).
Like Jesus Christ, Woodrow Wilson was a man of vision. He is perhaps best remembered for his devotion to the cause of world peace in the formation of the League of Nations. He achieved much more, however, during his two-term presidency. He pushed the emerging United States onto the world stage. And his famous appeal to Congress as he took his country into a world war in 1917 still reverberates: “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Though the League of Nations eventually failed, Wilson’s ideals survived the twentieth century, and his vision of international cooperation lives on today.
“The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God. But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish” (Psalm 9:17, 18).
A Man of Compassion
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little” (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Democrat).
Like Jesus Christ, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a man of compassion. Though he was born into one of the wealthiest families in America, he grew up to do more for ordinary Americans than any other president. Roosevelt’s programs of reform included Social Security, heavier taxes on the wealthy, new controls over banks and public utilities, and an enormous work relief program for the unemployed.
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21).
A Man of Humble Spirit
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit” (Harry Truman, Democrat).
Like Jesus Christ, Harry Truman was a man of humble spirit. He was a different kind of president. He probably made as many important decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other 42 presidents. However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House. When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he declined, stating, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the president, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.”
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29).
A Man of Integrity
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office” (Dwight Eisenhower, Republican).
Like Jesus Christ, Dwight Eisenhower was a man of integrity. As desegregation of public schools began in the 1950s, Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, to assure compliance with the orders of a federal court; he also ordered the complete desegregation of the armed forces. “There must be no second-class citizens in this country,” he wrote.
“The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).
A Man of Resolve
”Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith” (Ronald Reagan, Republican).
Like Jesus Christ, Ronald Reagan was a man of resolve. As president, he sought to achieve “peace through strength.” During his two terms he increased defense spending 35 percent, but sought to improve relations with the Soviet Union. Dealing skillfully with Congress, Reagan obtained legislation to stimulate economic growth, curb inflation, increase employment, and strengthen national defense. Overall, the Reagan years saw a restoration of prosperity, and the goal of peace through strength seemed to be within grasp.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
The Politics of Today
As we consider who will lead America for the next four years, a challenge for all of us will be to reconcile our personal views of partisan politics with our need for unity in the church. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians that as Christians we should “Be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
Given the broad spectrum of political views found in our country and sometimes even in our churches, being of one mind might seem to be impossible. If we are not careful, we may not be at peace with some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We may even drive potential new converts away from the faith. The way to avoid this is to remember that the central message of Christianity is not political.
Even though we may feel passionate about candidates and issues, let’s not get too distracted. No mortal among us has all of the answers. After all, if neither Thomas Jefferson nor Alexander Hamilton were completely right about everything, it’s highly doubtful either of our current candidates is either!
Instead, as the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). It is his message that we are called upon not only to preach, but to live. Let’s strive to be men and women of action, vision, compassion, humble spirit, integrity, and resolve. And as the political climate of the country heats up during the next few months, let’s never forget that Jesus taught us to love our enemies.
Thomas Walters is a freelance writer in Sunman, Indiana.
Thanking Faithful Leaders
Leaders with faith and integrity can be found everywhere—from the White House to your house, from your church to schools and local businesses.
Take a few minutes to think about leaders in your life—those you know well and those whose good choices you see from afar.
Find a verse in Proverbs that reminds you of the way they lead.
Write an encouraging note thanking them for their integrity. Include the verse you found and tell them you’re praying that God continues to work in them.