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Matters of Character

Matters of Character

Just recently someone told me he had become a Republican after the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter, because the 39th president of the land had destroyed my friend’s life-long commitment to the other side of the aisle. 

You don’t have to remind me of mortgage rates in those days and the Panama Canal and the Iran hostage affair.  I was only in elementary school, but I remember the news and have read some history.  Still, it always hurts me to hear people disparage one of the best men who ever held the office. 

I didn’t say one of the savviest politicians, most conniving strategists, or best deal-makers. I said one of the best men to ever hold the office.
Funny thing, I think character actually matters for our national leaders.
It didn’t matter when I was a 5th grader that a Christian Sunday school teacher from Georgia was running for the highest office in the land as a Democrat. I probably could not have told you what party he represented, and I certainly had no idea what a party platform was. What I knew was that he was a man who loved God and cared for other people.
Funny thing, character was all that mattered to a naïve southern boy who loved Jesus and America.
Last night “the only man who has ever used the presidency as a stepping stone to greater things” spoke to an interracial gathering of pastors. I can’t remember who said that, but it’s a high compliment to the indefatigable 91 year-old, who is using his “golden years” to continue traveling the globe to eradicate guinea worms in Africa and advocate for peace with world leaders and write 29 books and lecture from Harvard to Emory and be a father and grandfather to 22 and build Habitat houses for poor Americans.  

And then come home most Sundays to still teach his Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church.
That character thing is actually not so funny, and maybe Americans ought to steadfastly demand it of our leaders – especially since “party” matters very little these days. Most Americans admit their vote is usually cast against one person, rather than for the other candidate. 

Maybe Americans are looking for character, not platforms.
In his brief message to the New Baptist Covenant the Democratic ex-president inspired me again –not by his partisan politics, but by the content of his character. I wish I had that experience more often when I hear leaders speak.
Carter reflected on four years in office, when no bombs were dropped from any US military plane.  He discussed the extension of a war in Afghanistan that now represents the longest military engagement in US history. He commented that most current political rhetoric seems resigned to admit a footing of perpetual war.
He talked of the oligarchy we have become, especially in the wake of the “stupid” SCOTUS ruling called Citizens’ United. Money is all that matters when “legal bribery” is the name of the game, not “liberty and justice for all.”
He remembered the 15-minute inaugural address he gave and the only two promises he made to the US people: a promise to keep the country at peace (which he did), and to pursue peace for people around the world, and a promise to strengthen civil rights (both of which he is still pursuing tirelessly). And he observed how inconceivable it would be in today’s environment for a candidate of any political affiliation to mention any of those words in a campaign.
They say some things never change. Unfortunately, some things do.
So, change your party if you’d like, or change back if you must, but stick with character. In the end, it’s all that matters.