Thursday, May 10, 2018

When Your Leader Is Like David

"He's like King David," say Christians, when they want to defend a leader who has shown signs of significant moral failing.

It's an old habit, one that manifests on left and right alike.  It occurs when the miscreant in power has engaged in wanton canoodling with someone they saw bathing on the roof or flashing a thong in the oval office.

It's understandable.  Here, a leader in whom you've placed your hopes and to whom you've given your allegiance.  They represent, in a way, your own power and agency, and straight-up rejecting them creates a dissonance in your soul.

So rather than taking the hit to your partisan pride that moral consistency requires, you defend their actions.  They're just a flawed human being, like all of us.  Aren't we all sinners?  Who are we to judge?  Don't go throwing that first stone!

And so on, as a cardboard cutout image of David the hot lusty yet sympathetic King gets carted into the conversation.  "God loved David, and he was the greatest king of Israel!  He messed around, and, well, golly, if he could do that, why shouldn't Leader X be cut some slack on that front?"

For those who are being pitched that analogy by a Christian, there tends to be some resistance.  "He's not like David at all!  How specious and self-serving, and an eisegetical political warping of scripture!  You are a dumb-dumb for saying it and I #hashtag hate you!"

Let me suggest, however, that this is not the best response.  Instead, when that comparison is made, run with it.

When David messed around, and allowed his lust and rapaciousness to rule him, what was the response of faith?

Seriously.  If, from faith, you claim someone in power is "like David," what was the faithful response to David's transgression?   Was it to shrug and say "don't go hatin'?"

Obviously not.   In the event you don't remember how that whole story played out, here's a link to the whole narrative in the Bible.  Or, alternately, you can watch the Veggie Tales version.

The faithful response to David is to take him to task for violations of fundamental moral norms.  The prophet Nathan didn't equivocate, or try to rationalize, or give self-serving justifications for the actions of his king.

Nathan brought the king to truth with a pointed parable, and with a prophet's narrative sleight of hand nailed David to his sin.  He was not gentle about it.  He was almost unbearably harsh.

And God?  God was even less gentle.  The Numinous One who appears in the stories of the Tanakh is rarely sweetness and light, as fierce and terrible and unforgiving of our falsehood as reality itself.

For David's willingness to violate the fundamental ethical norms of covenant, God promised that his heritage would tear itself apart in violence, publicly and shamefully.  And then, even though David wept and acknowledged his wrongdoing and showed repentance, God killed his child.

That's with repentance and a humbled, contrite, sack-cloth and ashes heart.   Not punching back, or bald-faced lying, or getting a lawyer/fixer to write a menacing letter, or trying to redefine what the word "is" means.

So sure.  If Dear Leader is like David, so be it.

But know that the Davidic model for flawed leadership bears with it two things.  First, an expectation that the faithful will stand hard as iron against breaches of moral norms.  And second, that lying, lustful, avaricious, and self-serving leadership always has catastrophic impacts on a nation.