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Can great men (and women) be good?

A Christian Science perspective: News of some public officials' sexual misconduct and criminal activity deflates trust in leadership. How can integrity be restored?

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“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” As depressing as they may be, these words of British historian Lord Acton from over 100 years ago are tempting to believe, given the recent falls from grace of leaders at home and abroad. Regrettably, reports of criminal and/or sexual misconduct are all too commonplace and can have far-reaching impact. First, there’s the humiliation of spouses and children with their lives upended under the spotlight’s glare. And long after the handcuffing and apologies, a cloud of betrayal and distrust can hang over the public.

Perhaps that was the scene in ancient Israel, when word got out about King David’s dishonorable actions. One can imagine the citizenry’s shock at learning that their beloved leader – heroic warrior, brilliant statesman, and “sweet psalmist of Israel” – had committed adultery with the beautiful wife of a soldier in his army, and had murderously sent her husband into the front line of battle, where he was killed. Learning of this shocking news, David’s subjects might have felt his reformation a futile hope.

Fortunately, someone felt otherwise. According to Scripture, the prophet Nathan was sent by God to restore his king’s sense of justice. He told him a parable about a rich man with many sheep of his own, who took the single, beloved lamb owned by a poor man and killed it for a feast. Angry at hearing of such wickedness, David was even more anguished to learn that the morality tale was aimed at himself. Then his integrity came to light. Not denying his guilt, justifying his actions, or shifting the blame, David simply confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (II Sam. 12:13). With this admission, his sense of human decency returned, as did his devotion to the Almighty.

Nathan isn’t here today to bring offenders to their senses. But we’re here to care enough about our fellow man and woman, including our leaders, to pray to see their God-given perfection. As God directed the prophet, He will surely guide our prayers to restore a sense of integrity to leadership.

If that sounds a tall order, it helps to first re-form our concept of one another. The common notion (presented in the Bible’s second account of creation) is that we’re good-and-evil physical beings, separate from our Maker and forever enticed by the flesh. Such self-identification can lure us into thinking we’re little gods with license to act immorally, even criminally (see Gen. 3:1-5). But who wants to endure present-day enactments of Adam and Eve’s disgrace?

Instead, consider this contrasting description by spiritual thinker Mary Baker Eddy: “Man’s genuine selfhood is recognizable only in what is good and true” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 294). How empowering to accept this view of one’s spiritual identity – totally untouched by sin. Further, Mrs. Eddy cautioned: “Sorrow for wrong-doing is but one step towards reform and the very easiest step. The next and great step required by wisdom is the test of our sincerity, – namely, reformation” (p. 5).

Even the relatively small steps we individually take toward reformation can help arrest society’s tendencies toward corruption and infidelity. Favoring integrity over personality, purity over crassness, and putting others’ interests ahead of our own, we’ll be helping to light the way for those around us, including our leaders. This is our responsibility, considering this biblical counsel: “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).

As we walk and pray in the light of these truths, we’ll be illuminating the general mental atmosphere with the knowledge that Godlike behavior brings the truest satisfaction. It’s not too much to hope that each individual effort for reform will contribute to supporting all God’s children, helping them understand, and prove, that greatness and goodness are one.

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