In a world dominated by virtue signalling and externals, it is not often that the political conversation turns to questions of character.
First the truth was avoided by many in media and public life.
Then it was stymied by claims that one’s private life ought to remain private.
When the man himself finally had to speak, he used the same defence.
In his official statement to the media, Barnaby Joyce twice emphasised the distinction between one’s private and public life.
This implies that we cannot expect to know about or debate the merits of a leader’s private life. It implies that such talk is not relevant at best, and hurtful at worst.
And yet plenty of people are very upset about it. Listening to talkback radio in recent days, many callers claimed that the issue was not only relevant, but important, though they struggled for the vocabulary to explain why.
The truth is, the private/public divide doesn’t exist when it comes to matters of character.
If a man is not faithful to his family, one might well ask whether he is faithful at all. To country, to God, to friends, to office, to truth… As a question of character, it permeates a person’s whole life and all that they do.
That is the nature of character and virtue. They are things which bear on our very mode of life. They qualify us at a most basic level for anything we set our hand to.
Likewise, their absence disqualifies us from so much. Hypocrisy is a terrible vice in itself, but more importantly nobody listens to a hypocrite. It’s hard to blame them.
When Isaiah was commissioned by God to be a prophet, his character flaws were first exposed and dealt with before anything was said or done in the pursuit of his work. Before that, Isaiah simply was not ready for the task (Isa 6:1-9).
At ACL’s recent staff retreat we worked through a devotional series on the Sermon on the Mount.
It struck me that we so often consider our work at ACL in light of Christ’s call to be salt and light in the world, and to do our good works before others so that they might see them and glorify God (Matt 5:13-16). All these are, in a major sense, public matters.
But nobody teaches by throwing out a list of random, unconnected statements. Jesus was no different. The order in which he said things and the connection between them is important.
And before Jesus said a word about publicly manifesting our faith in word and deed, He first taught us about character.
The public face of salt, light and good works is backed by character that is poor in spirit, meek, righteous, pure in heart, peacemaking, and merciful (Matt 5:1-9).
I am more and more convinced that our nation faces a crisis of leadership. Our lack of faith in politicians, our disengagement with politics, the void of cultural leadership, the often weak conviction from the church… It all points to the same problem.
Stories like this should make us examine ourselves. God calls us to be leaders where it counts – in our character. He calls us to do so in our communities, our families, our work; wherever He has placed us. Maybe for some, that includes politics.
As people cry out for leaders of conviction and moral fibre, who don’t merely virtue signal but are in fact virtuous… I am left asking whether some of us will heed the call, as Isaiah did so long ago.
But let me add a word of caution.
As Christians we know that there is always a way back from moral failure. The pathway of repentance and restoration is one ordained by God Himself – one that we have walked for ourselves.
There is therefore no room for pride or hypocrisy on our part. Further, there is no room for condemnation if he claims to have walked this pathway for himself and demonstrates that it is so.
But we must not defend the indefensible, pretend that virtue is merely private or public, or be afraid to speak up and tell the truth.
The truth is: character matters. It matters for Joyce. It matters for all our politicians.
But it matters for me, too.