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How much should character matter in choosing political leaders?

U.S. Capitol. Supplied by Films for Christ. Copyrighted. All Rights Reserved.The scandals surrounding many political leaders raise the question of whether character matters in a leader. For a Christian, the only answer must be an emphatic, “Yes! Character does matter.”

Scriptural passages setting forth the characteristic of leadership for civil and religious leaders makes it clear that sound character and a pure moral life are essential prerequisites.[1] The reason for such requirements was identified by Jesus in Matthew 7:16-20 and Luke 6:43-44: bad roots will always produce bad fruits.

American founding father Samuel Adams expounded on this Biblical principle when he explained:

He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty of betraying his country who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections

[P]rivate and public vices are in reality… connected… Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of [exceptional] character. The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.

While many other Founders made similarly succinct declarations on the necessity of private morality in public officials (to read more of these quotes, see our book Original Intent), in recent weeks I discovered an especially interesting essay on this topic written in 1801 by Noah Webster. In that work, Webster explained why a high level of morality was necessary in the Presidency:

[A]ll history is a witness of the truth of the principle that good morals are essential to the faithful and upright discharge of public functions. The moral character of a man is an entire and indivisible thing—it cannot be pure in one part and defiled in another.

A man may indeed be addicted, for a time, to one vice and not to another; but it is a solemn truth that any considerable breach in the moral sense facilitates the admission of every species of vice.

The love of virtue first yields to the strongest temptation; but when the rampart [resistance] is broken down, it is rendered more accessible to every successive assailant… Corruption of morals is rapid enough in any country without a bounty [an encouragement] from government.

And… the Chief Magistrate of the United States [the President] should be the last man to accelerate its progress.

America long understood what the Bible taught: the quality of government in any country depends more upon the quality and characteristic of leaders than laws. Signer of the Constitution and Supreme Court Justice William Paterson was one of the many Founders who reminded citizens of this truth by citing Proverbs 29:2

…When the righteous rule, the people rejoice;
when the wicked rule, the people groan.

For a Christian, there can be no other position: character does count, and morality—both private and public—is essential in our leaders.

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  • …and more one our Social Issues & Government index
  • Original Intent: The Courts, The Constitution, and Religion, by David W. Barton, Wallbuilder Press, 1996


  1. See Exodus 18:21; 1 Timothy 3:2-4,7; Titus 1:6-8; Acts 6:3; and others.

Author: David Barton of WallBuilders. Photos supplied by Films for Christ. Article used with permission.

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