Traditional Christian values - those accepted principles and standards of behavior that America was founded on - have eroded to the point where they have become irrelevant in today's society. As one thinks about the future of this country, individuals (and society collectively) must begin to wonder what America will look like in 20 or 30 years if things continue as they are. Not that long ago, religion and family created universal values and norms (Kuczmarski and Kuczmarski, 1995). However, in America today there is a prevailing secular worldview that dominates society and as a result, traditional values based on Biblical foundations and Christian principles have been and continue to be under constant attack. From those advocating abortion rights and homosexuality to infidelity in marriage and blatant disrespect for those in authority, the values that the United States of America was founded on appear to be dying a quick death. With these thoughts in mind, leaders throughout American business, government, and the church must seek to understand where the values this country was founded on had their origins so today’s generation can, as it states in Deuteronomy 4:9, "teach them to our children and our grandchildren."
Traditional values are the foundational ideals about what an individual feels are good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral. Values are what root leaders and remind them of their obligations. For individuals with a Christian worldview, traditional values are based upon Biblical foundations – that moral code and behavior based upon the Old Testament and New Testament that state that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God has given us a rulebook to live by. America's founding fathers lived by these standards and felt that Biblically based traditional values are what helped create and preserve our nation. George Washington, in his 1796 Farewell Address, said that our country could not exist without morality that was based on Biblical principles. In his address, he defined traditional values in these words:
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead us to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports…And let us with caution indulge this supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.
Leaders in all facets of society have moved a great distance from the values that our founding fathers held dear. But these leaders can move forward by going back to the genesis of values. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values…that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control (1998)." We must go back to the first set of values – those that God communicated to His people when he gave them the Ten Commandments that were written in stone.
The Ten Commandments
Why look at the Ten Commandments as the genesis of values? In his book, The Ten Commandments for Today, William Barclay (1973) wrote that the crisis of the present day is ethical. In the 20th and 21st Centuries the Christian ethic has come under attack. Barclay went on to state that there is an element of permanency about the Ten Commandments. Value systems have their day and then fade away, but the Commandments that God gave mankind remain. Whatever people today may think of these values, they remain the basis of any system of ethics for servant leaders.
As a part of the Mosaic Covenant, God graciously instructed the Israelites on how they should live. As a people who had a relationship with God, the Israelites - just as individuals do today - had to act a certain way: God's way. Man was not created as an autonomous being that was free to be a law unto him or herself, but rather subject to the law of God. The Ten Commandments were benevolent instruction from God Himself that pointed out the values one should adhere to in life. The law reflects God’s holy character, His purposes for mankind, and commands the behavior that pleases Him while forbidding what offends Him. The first four commandments were values that the people were to adhere to in their relationship with God, while the final six were values that were to be adhered to in dealings with each other.
In Exodus 20:2-3, God spoke these words, "I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before Me." In this opening commandment, God is stating the priority of God in human experience. The First Commandment demands that our ultimate allegiance be to God alone but does not deny or overlook the fact that there are lesser things than God to which we can and frequently do give ourselves (Weatherly, 1961). When we as a society, place our values in anyone or anything other than God, our entire values system will be slanted toward a secular worldview.
The Sixth through Tenth Commandments (Exodus 20:13-17) were designed as a values system that would build a cohesive society. Each of these commandments was based on the value that God placed on people – their lives, their relationships, their property, and their reputation. Weatherly (1961) goes on to state that human society can realize the ends for which it was created only to the extent to which it conforms to the requirements of the moral law (values) that God provided. Further, the efforts toward such a realization must begin and end with obedience to the Ten Commandments and whatever is achieved in society thereafter will survive only as long as society continues to rest in the basic values foundation of God's commandments.
Values, Leadership, and the Ten Commandments Today
There may come a day within our lifetime when a society that is hostile to Christian worldviews and values will try to abandon or modify out of existence God's value system for living. However, the Ten Commandments are living ideas. This means that not only have they survived in a hostile environment as Barclay pointed out but they had their origins in experience (Poteat, 1953). Given that the Commandments are living ideas, how can today’s leaders hold to a Christian worldview that ensures that traditional Biblical values (as stated in the Ten Commandments) will endure beyond this generation or the next?
For every leader, in whatever walk of life they find themselves, these values must first be displayed in the home. As the leaders of our homes, the first thing that parents should seek to do is instill these values into our children. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7, it states, "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." To any father or mother who cares about their children, nothing is of greater importance than their instruction in values and principles. Together these will make up their character, which Aristotle defined as the decisions a person will make when the choice is not obvious (Lockerbie, 1981). How do we develop character in our children?
It is the result of values learned from family and other significant people early in life – which makes the role of parents so important. In Proverbs 22:6, Solomon writes, "train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." The verb for train means "to dedicate" and the word for way refers to living correctly in God's sight. The verb train also includes stimulating children to live right through words of guidance, discipline, and encouragement on the right path (referring back to Deuteronomy 6). Training a child in the values that God has given mankind will build a solid foundation for the future – not only the future of our children but the future of America as well, because it is these children who will be tomorrow’s leaders.
Regarding leaders, the 10 Commandments (particularly in the 8th, 9th, and 10th Commandments) speak clearly and directly not only to today’s leaders but future ones as well. As previously stated, secular worldviews are prevalent today, and as a result, we live in a lawless age. Meredith (2006) writes that crimes of all kinds and violence increase on a daily basis because there is no respect for laws and constituted authority, either of God or man. How does this apply to today’s and tomorrow’s leaders?
Leviticus 19:11 states that, “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.” Because of the secular worldview that pervades much of society and today’s business world, business leaders do not think the God who gave us the moral value that is stated in the 8th commandment is real, and because He is not real, disobey his laws. From Enron and Tyco to Adelphia and MCI WorldCom, business leaders have schemed to cheat business competitors, customers, and even their own employees. When business leaders cheat others, they are ultimately cheating God because He is the one who set in motion the law that man should not steal. The value that God has put forth for leaders, whether it be in the home, the community, church, or business is “let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
The 9th Commandment also directly applies to all servant leaders (present and future) and deals with the issue of lying. Regarding lying, Meredith (2006) goes on to write that this is the age of the sophisticated lie, the double standard of morality; this is the age when lawyers, industry leaders, government officials and the like perjure themselves on the witness stand and in front of the American public. Today we live in a society that is increasingly permeated by assorted forms of deceit, double standards, self-deception, and arrogance. If leaders are to build the character of God, they must consider the moral value that is inherent in the 9th commandment and remember the words of Christ who said in John 17:17 “your word is truth.”
In looking at the 10th Commandment on covetousness, it should be noted that while God wrote it last, it reiterates some of the commandments that came before it and deals with the true character of leaders. Character has often been said to be that trait that describes how you act when no one is looking. It is essentially who and what you are on the inside. As with the other values that God put forth in the 10 Commandments, many leaders today say that they are not like that. However, as a leader, it is often very difficult for a person to disqualify him or herself from the sins listed in God’s moral law. Leaders should strive to be content in whatever situation or position in which they find themselves. Paul gave leaders a model for all aspects of life when he wrote in his letter to the church at Philippi, “not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). Where does this type of contentment come from? It begins and ends with a love for God and the moral values that he gave us in the 10 Commandments.
In 1 John 5:3, the apostle John writes, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." The love of God and His values demand obedience. As traditional Christian values continue to lose a grip on American society, it has become obvious that a God-centered lifestyle cannot be developed and maintained apart from a solid foundation of devotion to God. Only a strong personal relationship with the living God can keep such a commitment from becoming oppressive and legalistic. However, rather than being burdensome, God's law frees Christians to be the people they were rightly intended to be: holy beings created in the very image of God. God desires that men, women, and children live their lives based on traditional Christian values that would leave a lasting legacy for generations to come. How can leaders, whether they are in the home or workplace, build a legacy that lasts for years to come? The answer to the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 99 (What rules are to be observed for the right understanding of the ten commandments?) states, “the law is perfect, and binds everyone to full conformity in the whole man unto the righteousness thereof, and unto entire obedience forever…”. God gave mankind His commandments as the foundation of values for servant leaders and wrote them in stone as a lasting legacy from generation to generation.
Steve Hays is Assistant Professor of Health Administration at Roberts Wesleyan College. He recently attained a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA and holds a Master of Science in Health Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to teaching at Roberts Wesleyan College, Steve worked in the health care industry as a practice administrator and consultant. Steve may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.