John Piper recently released an article that reflects upon the 2020 election. As might be expected in the current political climate, people have begun to discuss the article.
As I read it, I perceive that Piper is making the claim that a good leader leads to a good society. Proverbs 29:12 says, “If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials will be wicked.” Positively, Jesus affirms that good fruit grows from a good root (e.g., Matt 15:19). When one’s heart is right, then he or she will do right.
Here then it seems that Piper emphasizes a traditional and biblical way to understand moral character and leadership. Christians generally have underscored the importance of virtue (character) in their leaders because virtuous people created virtuous laws.
Conversely, it is almost impossible to predict the future or the consequences of one’s vote for an immoral person. And even if it were possible, it seems morally grey to vote for an immoral person because of an expected just end (i..e, the end does not justify the means).
Character and Consequences
Christians decried the behaviour of Bill Clinton in the past and even others in leadership. The general line of thinking went like this. If one does evil acts, they should not lead a nation. Their moral qualities in fact qualify them for leadership—and drive the direction of their policies and behaviour.
Some time along the way, we changed how we thought (or modified it somewhat). Now we say the consequences of a leader matter most. We predict the future possible consequences of our leaders and use that prediction to lead our ethical choices.
While virtue and consequences both matter, I do think John Piper is, minimally, advocating for the more ancient Christian emphasis on character or virtue as the primary way to think about ethics, which in turn leads to a more just society. (just politicians make just laws, etc.).
I am not here exactly thinking about the consequences of Piper’s article on the American election. I am here reflecting on how Piper seems to be arguing. I think this is a fair way to receive the article though because Piper himself writes, “Nothing I say here is intended to dictate how anyone else should vote, but rather to point to a perspective that seems to be neglected.”
That perspective might be summed up most succinctly in Piper’s words: “There is a character connection between rulers and subjects.”
And so with Piper, I would not tell someone how to vote. Doing so may actually put me in danger of giving unwise counsel (to the ruin of someone else). I cannot predict the consequences of a vote in such a complex world.
I can however know what is now good and just. I can know that a just king makes just decisions. I agree then at least with this point that Piper makes. But read the article for yourself and then decide.
For my part, I appreciate that Piper has reminded us to consider the character of our leaders.