As it turned out, I was in Jerusalem when Queen Elizabeth died. Fortunately, the television in my hotel carried the BBC station and, as you might expect, the coverage was 24/7. My schedule was quite full but I did manage to see a few of the many tributes to the queen’s 70 years as the United Kingdom’s monarch.
Of great interest to me were the many speeches given in Parliament recognizing and extolling the queen’s remarkable demeanor, personality and integrity. I found myself feeling quite jealous of a nation that was able to recount the wonderful character, courage and humility of their longest-serving leader.
Two things etched themselves on my mind. First, I marveled at the commitment thousands of Englishmen and Englishwomen made to visit their queen as her coffin lay in state. The various commentators reported that the line was over 2 miles long, and many waited 30 hours just to bid farewell to Elizabeth.
It made me wonder who today among our national leadership would be so beloved as to marshal that kind of commitment. Ask yourself. Who would be such a giant of respectability, nobility, courage and public service that you would stand in line for 14 hours just to pass by his or her coffin in a display of honor?
The second thing that really hit me was the way a female MP who was a former prime minister ended her beautifully written tribute. While the whole speech was quite laudable, it was the ending that actually brought a tear to my eye. She closed her reflection by saying Queen Elizabeth always was focused on “serving her people with dignity, decency and integrity.”
These simple words also sent my mind racing as again I was a bit jealous that a political leader could recognize and applaud dignity, decency and integrity without there being any snickers among the audience. It made me sad to wonder if any of our highest leaders could truthfully be characterized as “serving his or her people with dignity, decency and integrity.”
I hope so, I really do. And I do know some local civic leaders who do live up to those three wonderful words. But I also cringe at the way slanderous name-calling, prejudicial labeling, and plain old mean-spirited accusations and attributions have become common fare in our political discourse today.
And why is that? Sadly, it is because in the political arena the path to victory is paved with two kinds of stones. The first are the stones of outrageous assertions designed to scare voters into believing that if the opposition prevails the apocalypse will follow soon after. The second are the stones of unproven assertions and innuendo about their opponent’s personal and financial practices, and their views on social justice issues. Sadly, these stones are never meant to tell you what you need to know about the issues before you vote. Rather, they are meant to tell you why your world will end if you vote for the other candidate.
Of particular interest to me are those who trot out the same proclamation every election year. It goes like this. “This election is the most important one in the history of our country simply because it is all about the soul of our nation.”
Forgetting for the moment that nations don’t actually have souls, it is important to understand what this slogan really means. While nations themselves don’t have souls, the people who make up the nations do. And I expect that most who fling out this mantra are unaware that every person’s ethical belief system is grounded in, and rises out of, their soul. It is in our souls that we configure our world view, determine our standards for right and wrong, and establish what we see as good behavior
So, to suggest that each election is really a battle for the soul of America is to admit that there is, in all of us, a spiritual center that will determine not only what kind of a person you and I will be, but also what kind of nation we will become.
Here’s my question. If our leaders are to be the ones that shepherd and guard our nation, shouldn’t they model the kind of soul we need to have? Shouldn’t they, like Queen Elizabeth, be known for serving others rather than selves? Shouldn’t they display the highest standard of honesty, humility and civility? And shouldn’t both their personal and private lives be worthy to be remembered upon their death as epitomized by dignity, decency and integrity? I think so, especially if we’re at all concerned about the soul of our country.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.