A chosen leader

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Editor's note: David Cameron of the Conservation Party was named prime minister of Britain after this column was submitted.

I've long been interested in Great Britain. Much of my ancestry hails from there. My wife claims to be related to Sir Robert the Bruce of Scotland, whose name appears at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. The denomination to which I belong comes directly out of England. When my wife and I took an overseas sabbatical in 2003, we spent most of our time in -- that's correct -- Great Britain. On Wednesdays, when the British House of Commons is in session, I plant myself in front of the television and watch Prime Minister's Questions live at 6 a.m. our time.

Britain is, even by its own admission, a greatly diminished power in the world. In the early 20th century, the British Empire was impressive in scope. As much as a quarter of the earth's surface once paid fealty to the Crown.

Those days are long gone, but the fingers of British influence continue to be felt across the world. I remember going to church in a Toronto suburb in the mid-1980s and seeing a huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hanging in the sanctuary; my surmise is that it's probably still there.

Britannia's long reputation for orderly leadership and propriety is in serious jeopardy.

How should a leader be chosen? In the Old Testament, we read that David was God's choice to become king of ancient Israel. I Samuel 16 tells us that the prophet Samuel was sent by the Lord to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse's sons as king. Samuel arrives at Jesse's home and the father parades seven of his sons past the prophet for examination. None of them is the one. "Is there anyone else?" the prophet implores. "Well, there is the youngest, but he is in the field tending sheep." The youngest enters the house and Samuel hears the Lord's instruction: "Rise and anoint him." From that moment, the text says, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David "with power."

David became king because God chose him. He received divine authorization, and so his accession to power had authenticity. It's important that those who lead us be raised to power through an authentic process. In the United States, a person can be elected president without winning the popular vote, but he or she must garner a majority in the Electoral College. If someone fails to win a majority there, the U.S. Constitution provides the final solution: the House of Representatives chooses the president. Our system is not universally liked, but it's clear. There's no guesswork. This is how we choose leaders. It's an authentic system.

By the time you read this column, the following words may well be outdated. (This is the problem with submitting a column five days before it actually appears in print.) On May 6, Great Britain had national elections and no party won a majority of the seats in Parliament. David Cameron's Conservative Party won the most seats but not an absolute majority. This means a coalition government is necessary. In other words, two or more political parties must agree to form a coalition to garner Parliamentary control.

The Conservatives want an alliance with the third-place Liberal Democratic Party. So does the ruling (and second-place) Labour Party, whose leader, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, took the extraordinary step of agreeing to step down to persuade the Lib Dems to join the Labourites in running Great Britain. If this Labour-Lib Dem power-sharing agreement is cemented, it means this: Great Britain will soon have an unelected leader -- one who did not present himself to voters. If this happens, whatever leadership that emerges will be inauthentic. It would be unseemly for a nation with such a great heritage. Moreover, it just wouldn't be right.

Jeff Long is pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. Married with two daughters, he is of Scots and Swedish descent, loves movies and is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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