Should We Care When Our Political Leaders Fail?

Editor’s Note: See the first four parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” “Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power,” and “Should You Trust Your Gut or God?” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts hereWarning: some spoilers about season 3 discussed in this installment.

Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.

Zephaniah 3:1-4

Our culture has a seemingly natural distrust of people in power, but that wasn’t always the case. Before November 1963 we put great faith in our political and spiritual leaders. Those pre-’63 figureheads like JFK, Ike and FDR, Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham are still heralded as role models of moral society. Today’s faith is different. We look for hypocrisy and mock it intensely. All spiritual leaders are televangelists skilled in chicanery. Our politicians are now supposed to be our messiahs, and when they fail we as a nation fall into despair and chaos. When did we forget God, and why does it matter that we’ve left Him out of the equation?

Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken.

Ezekiel 22:26-28

Because our leaders lust after the power we have given them, they struggle to hold onto that power at all costs. As a result, they become gods among men, performing cruel and unusual acts towards each other that are anything but godly in nature. To them, their acts are not crimes but holy rites performed for the sake of their worshipers, the people, the voters. On Scandal it is habit to justify murderous deceit in the name of saving “The Republic”. Just as they have become larger than life, their kingdom takes on an identity of its own, far from what was originally intended. We do not question that government leaders are corrupt because they and their kingdom become holy, sacred, unquestionable.

Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.”

Micah 3:11

The politicians who do claim a faith relationship with God are consistently mocked as hypocrites in popular culture. Perhaps the most disturbing crime committed on Scandal is Vice President Sally Langston’s murder of her husband Daniel Douglas. After being confronted with his extramarital gay affair, she is convinced that he has ruined her chances at running for the Presidency. Moreover, being an all-too-stereotypical Bible-belt Christian, she is scared to death that her husband has sold them both into the power of the penultimate evil character on the show, Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene.

After murdering her husband in a fit of rage, she goes into a spiritual panic before coming to the conclusion that she did not murder her husband, rather, quite literally the Devil made her do it. “It wasn’t me, it was the Devil inside me,” she explains, not being able to believe that God would ever want her to lose an election. At that moment Langston trades in her relationship with God in favor of her personal political aspirations. Fulfilling pop culture’s presumption, she continues to manipulate the figure and word of God to further her political career.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.

Ezekiel 34:1-8

As we as a nation are caught between putting faith in our political leaders and mocking the idea of faith in God, the question becomes, should we accept the choices and actions of our leaders as representative of our character as individuals and as a nation? Is this who we really are? Is it enough to question the actions taken without examining the character of the leaders themselves? When do we begin to look at the bigger picture, beyond one particular issue or incident, and question how the morality (or lack thereof) of the leaders in charge impact the morality of the nation? And if we expect our politicians to be our messiahs, what litmus test of judgement can we possibly use to evaluate them?

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18

If political leaders are messiahs, there is no litmus test beyond their own changeable moods, which is precisely why we have to care about who they are, not who we want or believe them to be. In the Bible God establishes Himself as the leader of Israel because we must rely on more than the powers of men if we are to establish free and equal societies. God is the objective, and the objective resource to determine what is good and what is evil. Were our culture not so ingrained in Biblical morality, we would not have laws against murder, sexual abuse, fraud, and a host of other crimes. Were we not to recognize that our inalienable rights are granted to us by our divine Creator, we would be subjected to the whims of political leaders.

But, instead of seeking out God and His prophets, we desire a political messiah – a King to rule over us, which is perhaps why, now more than ever, we need to reconnect with our Biblical roots.

All the elders of Israel assembled and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, Behold, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint us a king to rule over us like all the other nations.

But it displeased Samuel when they said, Give us a king to govern us. And Samuel prayed to the Lord.

And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken to the voice of the people in all they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be King over them. According to all the works which they have done since I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they also do to you. So listen now to their voice; only solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked of him a king. And he said, These will be the ways of the king who shall reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. He will appoint them for himself to be commanders over thousands and over fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest and to make his implements of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will take your fields, your vineyards, and your olive orchards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your men and women servants and the best of your cattle and your donkeys and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves shall be his slaves. In that day you will cry out because of your king you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not hear you then.

Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, No! We will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.

I Samuel 8:4-20