Integrity in Leadership: A Christian Response

Once again, the UK has found itself in a crisis of leadership. Once again, our Prime Minister has been forced to step down following months of controversy, in what is (once again) becoming a disturbingly predictable season of uncertainty for our country.

The Government itself has had a rocky decade, with its leaders dropping like flies and our Prime Ministers changing like the weather; this seems anything but the “strong and stable” government the Conservatives promised us years ago! Both online and in the media, Brits from all walks of life are becoming more and more vocal towards a government which has frequently been described as “shambolic“.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s a reason I’m not a politician. I do not envy anyone in the slightest for taking the reigns over what has been a difficult few years for our country. I’ve watched PMQs over the past couple of months watching Johnson endure a near constant barrage of personal attacks, scything questions, and unyielding calls for him to resign. They have been relentless, and have no doubt taken their toll on the man.

As a Christian, I believe vehemently in justice. I also believe in being generous and loving towards the unlovable – especially those I dislike! These two things can sometimes seem to be at odds, especially in this “age of outrage”, where to defend or even slightly empathise with someone is often seen as the equivalent of giving them your full support (which, of course, is nonsense).

Through it all, the question I’ve been reflecting on more and more in recent months is: is it right for Christians to speak up against our (if the Bible is to believed, God-given) leaders? If so, how far can we go? When it is it appropriate to speak up? And if we are all sinners, do we have any right whatsoever to voice complaints against those in power?

While the answer may seem obvious, in practice very few people seem to be able to do this well.

On one hand I see Christians who are quick to condemn without giving any second thought to gentleness or nuance; on the other, I see cries of “do not judge” whenever anyone gives off even a whiff of disproval. If social media is anything to go by, it seems we’ve become quick to either pounce on those we disagree with, or let our important opinions and views go unannounced due to an admirable desire to remain meek and humble.

In this post I want to look at what the role of the Christian should be when examining and perhaps even challenging unjust leadership in worldly institutions. Later on in a future post I’ll ask the same question in regards to leaders within the church.1

To do this, I’m going to ask 2 questions. Question 1:

1. What should our attitude be?

Before looking at what we should say or do, we first need to look at our own hearts and attitudes.

Several times in Scripture, Christians are instructed to pray for those in power. Some may balk at this, but if early Christians were able to pray for the Roman Emperors and Governors who at one point were very much out to get them, and if Jesus himself prayed for those who crucified him even as he was being crucified, I think it’s not too big of an ask in 2022 for us to pray for those in power in our country – even the ones we dislike!).

I will never preach my political views from the puplit. I will always encourage people to pray for those above us, though, regardless of how much we disagree with them, dislike them, love them or loathe them.

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul says to Timothy:

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

2 Tim 2:23-25 (ESV, emphasis my own)

Those verses may have been written to a church leader, but I think the principles stand for all Christians. Yet give me 5 minutes on social media and I’ll be able to find you 100 examples of where these verses go unheeded.

In our interactions with those we disagree with, Christians must clothe ourselves with kindness, gentleness, and patience, without being quarrelsome. Too many Christians make “foolish, ignorant controversies” the focal point of their faith, and it does far more damage than good.

Christian: don’t be like the world.

You can pray for God’s blessing and wisdom on political leaders you cannot stand.
You can pray for the salvation of abusive worldly leaders without supporting them
.
You can pray for God’s blessing over those whose values seem to be directly opposed to your own.

As Christians, our attitude should be one of humility; our disagreement should always be charitable. Filled with gentleness, looking for ways to encourage, quick to forgive, slow to make assumptions, and always ready to give the benefit of the doubt. We should be praying regularly for those above us, especially those we disagree with, often remembering the mercy God shows us each day.

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Proverbs 29:11 (ESV)

That doesn’t mean we have to be pushovers, however. Which brings me to my second question:

2. Do Christians have any right to speak out against our leaders at all?

Quite simply; yes. I think we do.

In Luke 13:32 Jesus calls Herod, the Roman Ruler of his region at the time a “fox” – slang for a liar, deceiver, or wicked man, referring to Herod’s cunning and treacherous nature. Jesus himself was not shy about declaring the truth about Herod’s character.

Jesus was also not shy about condeming the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day) for their wicked and unjust practices.

God’s public anger and wrath against unjust leaders in the Old Testament (using prophets to publicly speak against them, plagues to judge them and dogs to shamefully lap up their blood when they perished) isn’t exactly subtle.2

In his letters, Paul publicly rebukes several spiritual leaders who had gone off track.

These are but a few examples. So while the Bible certainly calls us to love and pray for those in leadership – no matter how wicked they are – there are many descriptive examples of Godly men and women (and God himself) speaking out against corrupt leaders in their day.

Striking the Right Balance

God is sovereign. On that, the Bible is clear. Nothing happens without his knowledge, or without his allowance – but that doesn’t mean he morally approves of everything that happens. The Bible says all have sinned, but that doesn’t mean God approves of sin. The Bible may say God is sovereign in appointing leaders, but it doesn’t mean God approves of everything they do. This potentially mind-boggling train of thought is worth a whole blog post in it’s own, which I don’t have time to go into today (maybe in future) but if you’d like to read more about it, this Relevant article does a fairly good job of unpacking it.

With all of this in mind, I think it’s okay to speak out against corruption and political injustice when we see it. I think it’s okay to speak out against wicked practices, and I absolutely think it’s okay to speak out against rampant inequality.

The problem is that it can be difficult for us to strike the right balance between gentleness and speaking up. Some Christians focus so much on the loving and honouring part that they may not say anything out against injustice at all, even when God may be calling them to use their voice. Others will go too far in the other direction, abandoning any semblance of love, charity and generosity to spit venom at those they disagree with at the slightest opportunity. (And for the record: separating issues and people into categories such as “woke” and “unwoke” is entirely unhelpful and utterly foolish. That’s of the world folks, not of the Kingdom).

Christians have a God given impetus to use their voice for good. Proverbs 31 instructs God’s people to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Christians are good at this, but some seem to be selective about doing it, especially when it comes to politics and hot-topic issues.

In fact, I don’t think it’s entirely unjustified when critics of Christianity point out that Christians tend to “pick and choose” what parts of the Bible we focus on. You’ll see plenty of Christians speak harshly and with hateful vitriol on topics like abortion and the LGBTQ+ community, but look for those willing to even speak up against policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and you’ll struggle a bit. It’s not as if the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about the latter either! Part of the problem is that very few Christians actually know how to engage well with non-Christians on these topics.

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Proverbs 15:28 (ESV)

Lovers of Truth

Christians should use their voice. But the way we use it should be different to the way the world does. The world loves to pounce at the slightest whiff of controversy or outrage.  The world loves to attack, slander, lie and hate without listening. The world loves to react to headlines without actually reading the articles.

Christians should be set apart in the way we do these things.

We should be slow to speak and quick to listen. Willing to give the benefit of the doubt and to hear and understand the other side’s story. We shouldn’t just take things at face value, but weigh up the information given before speaking.

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)

Unfortunately this is difficult in an internet culture where 95% of the most visited “Christian” Facebook pages in the US were controlled by Eastern European bot accounts. And if my own Facebook/Twitter feeds are anything to go by, Christians are as bad as everyone else (maybe even worse) at believing false information and speaking up on it before ever considering whether what they’re saying has any truth to it. I’ve heard plenty of pastors and speakers, in services or at conferences, give into sensationalism, sharing “shocking” statistics, headlines or anecdotes that, with a little research, are found to be mostly nonsense, or at least wildly overexaggerated.

Christians are to be lovers of truth, promoters of truth, and defenders of truth – however unpopular it is. Sharing dodgy information or political tripe from social media is not the way to do this. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy to “rightly handle” the word of truth – Biblical or otherwise. Sharing false information to make a point does not honour God; it actually damages our Christian witness.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to take a false or sensationalist headline and get a reaction from it than it is to actually do a little bit of research and see if what we’re sharing has any weight to it. If we want our voices to have an impact, we have to make sure we’re speaking actual truth.

Once we’ve taken the time to do our research, listened to and understood arguments from each side, are convinced that we have the correct information, and that what we’re saying aligns with the Bible – then we can speak up.

So Christian: use your voice. Send letters to politicians, join in organised marches (including relevant non-Christian ones), and join in protests with a good conscience. Don’t be afraid of speaking out against injustice, but watch how and what you say when doing it.

Let your voice be used for good; the good of this world (which God created, loves and still thinks is “good”), the good of your neighbour (believer or not), the good of the oppressed, the good of our witness, for the glory of God, and the advancement of his Kingdom.

By the way, I’m aware I’ve not said much about challenging leadership within the church. That’s important too, but there are a few further considerations that need to be taken into account – I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Finally and most importantly, if ever in doubt, let Christ be your example:

Christ, who spoke up against injustice while praying for those who were unjust towards him.

Christ, who preached a message of repentance and judgement while being known as the “friend of sinners.”


Christ, who’s main focus wasn’t the political powers of his day, but on his coming Kingdom, the urgency and importance of repentance and salvation, and of the sovereignty of God throughout it all.

Christian: use your voice – but be set apart in the way that you do it. For in the end:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

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Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments! If you found this helpful, please feel free to share it.

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  1. For the record: no, I’m not going to talk about the Nazis, or Dictators, or even Roman Emperors. Plenty has been said about living under those kinds of leaders already (and I refuse to succumb to Godwin’s law). 
  2. Please note that some of these examples are descriptive, not prescriptive – God sending plagues against his enemies doesn’t mean Christians are called to send plagues against ours!

Is this the most brutal chapter in the Bible? Unpacking Judges 19

How’s that for an eye-catching first post? This is a long one, so go get yourself a cup of tea.

I’ve decided that Wednesdays will be known as “In the Word Wednesdays”. Every Wednesday I’ll post about a passage I’m studying, preaching on, or have just come across in my daily reading. Today (or yesterday)’s reading turned out to be Judges chapter 19, and I thought there’d be no better way than to start with one of the bible’s most shocking and controversial chapters.

If you know your bible, you might know that some of the scenes in the book of Judges make Game of Thrones seem like the Tellytubbies. The book of Judges is filled with violence, death, abuse, gore, slaughter, rape and more. Eyes are plucked out, toes are cut off, intestines tumble out of stab wounds in graphic detail, a woman drives a tent peg through the skull of a sleeping man, prisoners of war are executed, men are killed because of their accent, a woman is gang-raped and cut into pieces. Some of the goings on in this particular chapter are enough make George R.R.Martin himself squirm.

But wait a minute, I hear you say – why is this stuff in the bible? Isn’t the bible God’s Holy Word? Doesn’t the Bible itself tell us to fix our eyes on things that are just, pure, lovely and commendable? How can we do that when parts of it are filled with some of the horrors listed above?

If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, you’re not alone. For many of us, this stuff makes us cringe. How is a chapter like this supposed to lead me to perfect peace? How is reading and meditating on this going to make me like a tree planted by streams of water? How is this particular part of God’s word a lamp to my feet and a light to my path?

Let’s take some time to unpack this chapter, and find out not only why it’s in the bible in the first place, but what it has to say to us today.

Judges 19

The book of Judges is a part of what’s known as the Historical Books of the Old Testament. It tells the story of God’s people after they’d been rescued from Egypt, and at this point in the story they’ve finally taken hold of (most of) the land promised to them by God. Moses and Joshua (the former leaders of God’s people) die, and it doesn’t take long for the Israelites to forget the God who saved them in the first place. They begin worshipping idols and demons. They become sexually immoral. They sacrifice their children as offerings. They backstab, bicker and fight each other. If you read through Judges you’ll find a common occurence that runs through the whole book:

Step 1: God’s people turn away from him.

Step 2: They are over run by their enemies.

Step 3: They cry out to God for help

Step 4: God has mercy and sends a ruler (or “judge”) to save them.

Step 5: They turn back to God for a wee while.

Back to Step 1: God’s people turn away from him.

and so on. The book continues like that. The author(s) of the book make it clear; this was not a good time for Israel. The Bible doesn’t hide the fact that the events in this book are morally bankrupt. This isn’t how it’s meant to be, and all of the evil that transpires is ultimately offensive to God.

In Chapter 19, we are introduced to an unnamed man. This man was Levite, of the tribe of Levi. This Levite has a female companion who the bible describes as a “concubine”. There are debates over who exactly this lady was; some say she was his wife, others say she was his mistress. Another interpretation states that she was one of several women married to him, but was of lower status than the other women in his household.

In this particular story, the man’s concubine is “unfaithful to him” and leaves him. Again, there’s some debate over whether this meant she was sexually unfaithful or “unfaithful” simply in that she left him – possibly due to his violent nature. Regardless, she goes back to her father’s house to stay there. The man goes searching for her, and tries to win her back with “kind words”. After many days, eventually he does and they both leave. A subtle detail in the text says he took his “donkeys and had his concubine with him” – make of that what you will, but the ordering of the words might hint that the donkeys were of more value to him than she was!

As the sun begins to set the man decides to stop for the night. They pass by a city, Jebus (which is actually Jerusalem) which would probably have provided a good refuge for them. However, at this point in time Jerusalem was still a Caananite city, and the Levite didn’t want to stop in a city filled with “foreigners” as he called them. Instead, he said he’d prefer to stop in a place where there will be fellow Israelites, his kind of people; righteous people. “We’ll be better off there”, he says. His bigotry would soon prove him wrong.

They eventually come to a village called Gilbeah, which belongs to the people of Benjamin, one of the Tribes of Israel. Thinking they would be safe there because they’re with “God’s people”, they decide to stop and rest there for the night. It soon gets dark, and they find themselves ready to camp out in the town square because, strangely, no one has invited them into their home. This should have been their first warning sign; hospitality and caring for strangers was a huge part of ancient Near East (especially Israelite) culture. The fact that “God’s people” had left them out in the cold and dark was surely a sign that these weren’t the kind of people the man thought they were.

Eventually, an old man finds them and warns them not to sleep in the town square. He invites them back to his house, where they have a few drinks and begin to relax (or get “merry” as my translation says).

They’re all having a rare old time, when suddenly there’s a knock at the door. They look outside to see that some of the men of the city, “worthless fellows”, have gathered around the house. These men are demanding that the owner sends his guests out so that they can “know” them – the ESV’s subtle way of saying “have sex with them”. Or more accurately, rape them.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because something like this has already taken place in one of the bible’s more well known stories, that of Sodom and Gommorah in Genesis 19. The difference being that back then it was angels who the men of the city wanted to rape. I’m not sure which is worse. This story has obvious parallels to the Genesis account, and uses similar vocabulary. The author’s point is clear: Gilbeah had become as bad as Sodom.

The crowd won’t go away without getting what they want. Instead of handing over his guest, the old man instead offers the crowd his daughter and the man’s concubine – as if that’s somehow better (again, similar to what Lot offers in Genesis 19).

Most readers stop at this point and wonder what on earth is going on. Why would he offer to hand his own daughter over to these men?! To understand this, we again have to understand a bit about ancient Near Eastern culture. As I said earlier, hospitality and caring for the stranger was a huge part of Israelite society. A man who invited a guest into his home was honour-bound to look after his well being. It was unthinkable that he would give over a man under his own protection and care to a mob to be raped. In that patriarchal, male dominated society, it was somehow less unthinkable to give over a daughter, or the servants (who were of lesser importance). To be clear, the Bible doesn’t condone this. As we’ll see, the whole incident serves to give us a picture of just how evil Israel had become. To us reading it today, it’s rightly shocking. The Bible doesn’t give us any indication that what the Levite did was good – the only person not in the wrong here was the poor woman who was given over.

Eventually, the Levite sends his concubine out to face the crowd in his stead, and the text says that they “knew her and abused her until morning”. Or as other translations bluntly put it, they “raped and abused her all night”. For hours this poor girl suffered at the hands of these vile, wicked men. As the sun rose, the crowd finally left her alone and went back to their homes. After a while, the girl picked herself up and walked back to the house, but collapsed at the front door. It’s not clear if she died then and there, or if she died afterwards. What is known is that her master woke up (after somehow having found the ability to sleep despite everything going on) and went to leave, as if nothing had happened. When he opened the door he found her lying there, and when he tried to wake her, he couldn’t.

What happens next is perlexing to most modern readers. The man takes her, puts her body on his donkey, takes her home and then cuts her body up into 12 pieces. He then sends those pieces to each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Again, most of us will stop here. What is he doing?! What was the point of that?!

To put it simply, what the man did was a sort of call to arms. We see a similar scene in 1 Samuel 11:7, where Saul cuts up an Oxen into 12 pieces and sends them throughout all of Israel, saying “whoever does not come out and help me, may the same thing be done to you!” When the Levite sends the 12 pieces of his former concubine to the 12 tribes, it’s as if he’s saying “look at the evil being done here – we can’t leave it unpunished.”

Sure enough, this action causes outrage throughout the land. The tribes agree to wage war against Gilbeah and eventually the Tribe of Benjamin, whose men were responsible for her rape and murder.

The chapter ends there, but the book of Judges goes on. To cut a long story short, the Israelites wage war against the against the Benjamites, killing them and forbidding them from taking any Israelite wives for themselves ever again. The Benjamites complain, and the book ends with them kidnapping the Israelite women to take back to their own territory to live as their slaves and their wives. There’s no happy ending to the book of Judges. There is no silver lining to this story. The point is clear; this was a dark, dark time in the history of Israel.

So what on earth is going on? Why is this passage included in the Bible? And what on earth does that have to say to us today?

Finding the Thread

When trying to interpret books of the bible, it can be useful to find a common motif, or a thread, that weaves itself throughout the whole book. Some call this “finding the melody line”. Whatever you call it, it’s all about finding the main idea of the book, and using that to interpret what the rest of the book says. This thread can be easy to find, or extremely difficult, depending on which book you’re studying! Sometimes it will look like a phrase repeated often throughout the book, or a specific theme that keeps coming up.

If you read the book of Judges you’ll find one phrase that crops up at several points throughout the narrative:

“There was no king in Israel in those days. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

This phrase, or variations of it, appears several times throughout the book of Judges. It is the thread that weaves itself through the entire book. What it means is that the people of Israel had abandoned God, abandoned his law, and did whatever they pleased. There was no order. No justice. No good. Everyone fell prey to their own depravity.

Keep that in mind. Chapter 19 starts with the phrase: “In those days, when there was no king in Israel…”

That simple line is easy to skip over, but it’s an important inclusion; it’s a sign. It’s that common thread, running through the book. By reading it, we know that the theme of the book will feature heavily in the next section.

What is the theme of Judges? That Israel had abandoned God and did evil as a result. Since the opening of the chapter reintroduces the thread, we should be instantly aware that what happens next isn’t going to be good. And it’s not. In this chapter almost everyone is the bad guy.

The most brutal chapter of the bible serves to remind us of the ugliness of sin. Human beings are visual creatures, and the bible uses explicit imagery to communicate the horror of sin in a way that we can understand. The message of Judges: when there is no King, no righteous ruler, no God, everyone does what is right in their own eyes; and it is horrible.

The King is Coming

For those of us who know the Bible, we know that after the book of Judges comes the book of Samuel. In the book of Samuel, we’re introduced to King David. David was a man who, for all of his frailties and personal sin, loved God dearly. God calls David a “man after his own heart”. David brought God’s rule and righteousness to the nation of Israel – for a time, at least. David would eventually bring order; he would restore the widespread worship of the God of Israel. He would become King in the land that had no King. He would deliver righteousness to the land plagued with wickedness, and bring order to a people who did what they pleased.

The book of Judges paints the picture of the world without a King. And with that in mind, Judges has a lot to say to us today.

You see, human beings today aren’t all that different to how the book of Judges portrays us. Human wicknedness is still rampant. If you’re not convinced of that, just hop over to your favourite news site for a minute. I’ll wait. Like ancient Israel we find ourselves in a world tainted by evil and sin. Like ancient Israel, we are in need of a King to deliver us, to lead us to God, who is fully willing to pour out his blessing and goodness upon us.

This week Christians all over the world celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In dying, Jesus took the sin that seperates us from God and that leads to death. In rising again, he conquered the powers of sin and death, and has given life and light to those who would call upon him. Make no mistake; with the coming of Jesus, the Kingdom of God is here, driving back the powers of darkness in our world. We see glimpses of it today, but it’s not fully here yet. As Christians, we await the day when Jesus will return, to finally bring an end to sin, suffering, death, human depravity, and the evils of this world.

Just now, at this point in time especially, it may seem like we’re still in the world of Judges 19. It may seem like we’re without a King, and that the evils – natural and man made – of the world are rampant. But the bible reminds us that we do have a king who is on his throne, ready to rescue us and judge the world. We have hope.

The bible does not shy away from the reality and horrors of human evil. It acknowledges it and makes it plain that it isn’t right. It also reminds us that evil won’t exist forever, and that in Jesus Christ we can look forward to the day when evil, sin and darkness will be vanquished forever.

-J