|With Dad who pointed me to my need of a Heavenly Father|
Today, human heroes seem hard to find. Our daily news is filled with disappointing reports of the failings of respected individuals in politics, sports, and entertainment. Congress seems gridlocked and unable solve our economic woes (the Senate has not passed a budget bill since April, 2009!); and leadership that promised to unite America around a vision for “change” has instead caused us to focus on our differences.
History has shown that even the most promising leaders are vulnerable to failure. But, we still need men and women in leadership roles who demonstrate integrity. Our aim should not be to make gods out of imperfect humans. However, leaders with godly character and integrity lift our hopes to believe that those who live and lead by biblical principles can make a positive difference in a needy world.
Recently, I have been trying to identify character traits and values that are associated with great leadership, what I will call “steward-leadership.” Thanks to my sister-in-law, Betty, I was introduced to Mary Beth Brown’s book, Hand of Providence: The Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan (Nashville: Nelson Current). Brown’s biographical sketch of Reagan is a rich source of the virtues that appear to have contributed to the quality of this great president’s leadership. Below is an outline of the virtues I have identified and grouped under three attitudes; attitudes toward God, toward others, and toward our cultural and spiritual heritage. Then, you can read my expanded treatment of each virtue as evidenced in the words of Ronald Reagan or what others have stated about him as quoted from Mary Beth Brown’s book, unless another source is used.
A. Attitudes toward Divine and civil authority:
2. Dependence upon God
3. Dependence upon Prayer
4. Dependence upon the Bible
B. Attitudes toward others:
C. Attitudes toward our cultural and spiritual heritage
1. Moral Foundation
2. Providence of God
3. Religious Freedom
4. Family and Community
5. Reverence for Creation
Humility: Augustine is said to have viewed humility as the “soil” from which all other virtues grow. Ronald Reagan’s leadership was grounded in the soil of submissive stewardship of the power and privileges of office. Nancy Reagan’s words describe the essence of her husband’s humble spirit:
Before he was elected, Ronnie had always regarded the presidency with great respect, even awe. But when he became president, he had trouble believing that other people could be in awe of him…instead, he would refer to the presidency as ‘the office I now hold,’ or even ‘this job.’
A sign on his desk in the oval office read:
There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.
President George H.W. Bush spoke of the humility demonstrated by President Reagan during his recovery from the assassination attempt, in 1981:
Days after being shot, weak from wounds, he spilled water from a sink, and entering the hospital room aides saw him on his hands and knees wiping water from the floor. He worried that his nurse would get in trouble.
Dependence upon God is evidenced by a conviction that the responsibilities of leadership are too great to handle well without Him. Mary Beth Brown emphasized
Reagan’s greatest virtue wasn’t allegiance to country, but allegiance to God.
Reagan’s own testimony of this dependence on God:
Faith in God is absolutely essential if a person is to do his best. Sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we rely on God. Belief in the dependence on God is essential to our state and nation. This will be an integral part of our state as long as I have anything to do with it.
Dependence upon Prayer was an essential part of Ronald Reagan’s life. As governor, he was diagnosed with an ulcer, but after a year, gave the following testimony about what seemed to be a miraculous healing:
The power of prayer? I don’t know, but I’d prayed daily for relief and I can’t forget that impulse I had to stop taking my medicine, and then hearing about those prayers other people were saying for me.
|© Photo courtesy of Ronald Reagan Foundation & Library|
Brown records that Reagan’s daughter “Patti says she used to watch her father when he stared off at the sky with a distant look in his eyes—one day, it finally dawned on her that he was praying and talking to God. In her book, Angels Don’t Die, Patti writes that her father taught her prayer was simply talking to God, having a conversation with Him.”
In his inauguration speech, Reagan said,
I’m told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day, and for that I’m deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer.
Dependence upon the Bible was expressed by Reagan as follows:
We’re blessed to have its words of strength, comfort, and truth. I’m accused of being simplistic at times with some of the problems that confront us. But I’ve often wondered: Within the covers of that single Book are all the answers to all the problems that face us today, if we’d only look there…. The Bible can touch our hearts, order our minds, refresh our souls.
Servanthood – Reagan understood that a “civil servant” is elected by the votes of individual constituents, and therefore, should be “civil” and a “servant.” Here are his words from a radio broadcast, January 27, 1978 entitled, “Looking out a Window” (From: Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America, New York: The Free Press:
Some of our social planners refer to [the people] as “the masses” which only proves they don’t know them. I’ve been privileged to meet people all over this land in the special kind of way you meet them when you are campaigning. They are not “the masses,” or as the elitists would have it–”the common man.” They are very uncommon. Individuals each with his or her own hopes & dreams, plans & problems and the kind of quiet courage that makes this whole country run better than just about any other place on earth.
Empathy – Commenting on how an English teacher, B.J. Frazer, had taught empathy, Reagan said:
By developing a knack for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, it helps you relate better to others and perhaps understand why they think as they do, even though they come from a background much different from yours.
Generosity – According to M.B. Brown,
Even while wrestling with the enormous difficulties of running a state, Reagan always found time to help the needy and would do extraordinary favors for people who asked. In fact, the examples of his good will are many. When a man wrote Reagan to ask for his suit to wear at his wedding (the man couldn’t afford one, and he thought he and Reagan were the same size), Reagan sent it. When two sisters wrote to ask for a rocking chair for their mentally disabled brother, Reagan sent the man his own.
Reconciliation – British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, describes this aspect of Reagan’s leadership in her eulogy at his memorial service, June 11, 2004:
So the president resisted Soviet expansion and pressed down on Soviet weakness at every point until the day came when communism began to collapse beneath the combined weight of these pressures and its own failures. And when a man of good will did emerge from its ruins, President Reagan stepped forward to shake his hand and to offer sincere cooperation.
Accountability – Reagan’s leadership was characterized by taking responsibility for his mistakes. Writing about his days as California governor to the pastor of his home church in Dixon, he said:
During my first months in office, I had an almost irresistible urge—really a physical urge—to look over my shoulder for someone I could pass the problem on to. Then without my quite knowing how it happened, I realized I was looking in the wrong direction. I started looking up instead and have been doing so for quite awhile now.
Inspiration that comes through words and actions often motivates hearers and observers to commit their lives to a cause greater than themselves. Reagan inspired many of his colleagues and followers with statements such as the following:
|Opportunity to greet Gov. Reagan in Champaign, IL, 1976|
Again, Margaret Thatcher’s eulogy reminds us of President Reagan’s inspiring leadership:
We here still move in twilight. But we have one beacon to guide us that Ronald Reagan never had. We have his example. Let us give thanks today for a life that achieved so much for all of God’s children.
Values the Moral Foundation based upon a moral code as the foundation for freedom and justice in America. Speaking at Notre Dame University, Reagan stated:
It’s time for the world to know our intellectual and spiritual values are rooted in the source of all strength, a belief in a Supreme Being, and law higher than our own.
Acknowledges Divine Providence in the narrative of American history:
Saint Paul wrote a verse that I’ve always cherished, ‘Now abide faith, hope, and love, these three: but the greatest of these is love.’ May we have faith in our God and in all the good that we can do with His help. May we stand firm in the hope of making America all that she can be—a nation of opportunity and prosperity and a force for peace and good will among nations. And may we remain steadfast in our love for this green and gentle land and the freedom that she offers.
Upholds Religious Freedom:
Today, prayer is still a powerful force in America, and our faith in God is a mighty source of strength. Our pledge of Allegiance states that we are ‘one nation under God,’ and our currency bears the motto, ‘In God We Trust.’ The morality and values such faith implies are deeply embedded in our national character. Our country embraces those principles by design, and we abandon them at our peril. Yet in recent years, well-meaning Americans in the name of freedom have taken freedom away. For the sake of religious tolerance, they’ve forbidden religious practice in our public classrooms… How can we hope to retain our freedom through the generations if we fail to teach our young that our liberty springs from an abiding faith in our Creator?
Values Family and Community: In a 1973 letter to his former pastor in Dixon, IL, Governor Reagan wrote:
One thing I do know—all those hours in the old church in Dixon (which I didn’t appreciate at the time) and all of Nelle’s faith, have come together in a kind of inheritance without which I’d be lost and helpless.
Let’s begin at the beginning. God is the center of our lives; the human family stands at the center of society; and our greatest hope for the future is in the faces of our children…God’s most blessed gift to his family is the gift of life. He sent us the Prince of Peace as a babe in the manger. I’ve said that we must be cautious in claiming God is on our side. I think the real question we must answer is, are we on His side?
Reverence for Creation: Reagan was an outdoors-man, and according to Brown,
Rancho del Cielo was a retreat for Reagan where he would go to think, talk to God, and fully experience His majestic creation.
|© Photo courtesy of Ronald Reagan Foundation & Library|
Brown further quotes Judge William Clark:
He once called it his ‘open cathedral.’ He’d come out of the house and look to the sky and not say a word. The Great Communicator didn’t talk a lot in those circumstances. Many don’t understand that, but he would just look about him with that great grin.
Regarding the origins debate that raged in California when he was governor, Reagan wrote:
Somehow I’ve never had any trouble reconciling spiritual and scientific versions of creation. God’s miracles are to be found in nature itself, the wind and waves, the wood that becomes a tree—all of these are explained biologically, but behind them is the hand of God. And I believe this is true of creation.
Brown draws from Reagan’s autobiography his experience of finding bird and butterfly specimens in an attic where he spent many hours marveling at the rich colors of the eggs and the intricate and fragile wings of the butterflies. “This experience left him throughout his life with a reverence for the handiwork of God.
President Reagan was well aware of the tension between conservation of creation’s bounty and protection of individual freedom. In his radio address for February 27, 1975, he stated (Reagan in His Own Hand, p. 339):
A majority of us are somewhere in the environmental middle between those who’d pave over everything in the name of progress and those who wouldn’t let us build a house unless it looked like a bird nest. …Those of us who are neither anti-ecology or environmental extremists seek an answer. How do we protect our [constitutional] right to own a piece of this earth at the same time we insure open space & natural beauty for generations not yet born?
While not everyone would honor Ronald Reagan as a great conservationist president like Theodore Roosevelt, his writings and speeches indicate that he sought to lead with a balanced environmental ethic as expressed in the previous quote. I believe that biblical stewardship of creation calls us to live by an ethic that allows creation to flourish while providing appropriate access to creation’s treasures for all who will respectfully utilize them. After all, God's written and natural revelations are made more living, active, and sharp when others are able to observe God's people stewarding these revealed treasures with reverence and respect--a stewardship that regards nature with great respect while also anticipating that our lives here are only a prelude Eternal Life. In this respect, we can learn from Ronald Reagan’s last words to America, on November 5, 1994:
In closing let me thank you, the American people, for giving me the great honor of allowing me to serve as your President. When the Lord calls me home, whenever that may be, I will leave with the greatest love for this country of ours and eternal optimism for its future.
I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright new dawn ahead.
Thank you, my friends. May God always bless you.
In conclusion, I welcome your comments, perhaps additional thoughts or character qualities of “steward-leadership.” Recommendations of other exemplary steward-leaders ("statesmen"?) are welcomed.