Leadership

November 15, 2013

Drunk Leaders, Sober Advice and God’s Judgment

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted to smoking crack recently and new videos of his rants show he struggles to remain a sober leader. Many feel he needs to resign or find a way to control his erratic behavior and stop the use of harmful drugs (alcohol is the number one drug problem in the world).

Some want prosecution. One forum participant on CBCNews| Saskatoon gave some good advice: “1) resign 2) go to rehab 3) stay out of spotlight 4) get new friends.”

That was basically the advice Daniel gave King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4.

Giving advice to leaders has become amazingly easy in a world of blogs.

I was going to write my own diatribe about sober leadership on this blog but reading Daniel has sobered me a bit about  the hard work of giving good advice to world leaders.

Good advice starts with God. That is the message of Daniel. There are many steps in that process but the point of giving advice to world leaders is primarily God’s work and an act of redemption, trying to people, leaders, and whole nations from disaster.

Good advice is about helping others, not so the person who gives it looks smart. That is a huge point of Daniel.

Daniel’s humility is not forced but real because it was true. He realized, none of us can figure it out without help and most importantly from God.

I believe God sends truth…directly or indirectly to world leaders. He prefers to use his church as his modern day prophets, but history is full of advice and the Word of God remains the best single stop in the process of truth finding.

The church was to be light in darkness, soberness in the presence of drunkenness, and the carrier of the Word of advice.

The church can learn much about giving advice to leaders like Ford from reading Daniel.

Even when you learn good advice to give to leaders, it is also about the way you give it,  in the right spirit at the right time with the right force.

And before that works, you have to have a life that backs up that advice. You live it and better still be willing to die for it.

Even then, most of the time leaders won’t even listen to your advice.

Giving advice is hard work. Just ask the prophets. Most were killed.

I remember a scene from Schindler’s List where a well trained Jewish female engineer during a World War II scene tells the commander that the barracks that will house the prisoners is being built incorrectly. He takes out a pistol and shoots her in the head. She falls to the ground dead and then the commander tells the soldiers to do what she said because she was right.

Every time I feel compelled to give advice, I remember that scene and Daniel and ask God for wisdom and courage to speak at the right time, with the right motive, with the right advice, realizing that may be my last suggestion.

It gives a whole soberness to the advice process: both giving and receiving.

This shouldn’t keep us from sharing truth, just make us realize the soberness of our lives.

It is clear from the reports that Ford, and Toronto also, would benefit from some advice on the need to find the value of sober living.

Drunkenness is not an option for any civilized culture or leader who wants to serve well others.

I agree with the advice from Saskatoon, but I am especially drawn to the part about the mayor receiving the advice to “get new friends.” Every leader needs good friends and Daniel seemed to be that, and when the leaders had bad friends they got bad advice. Friendship doesn’t ensure that good advice will be received but it helps.

Daniel, like the church, was to keep themselves sober (Daniel 1) being instead in communion with God through prayer (Daniel 1, 6) and bible study (Daniel 9), so that they could receive wisdom by Holy inspiration (Daniel 2, 4,5, 7-12) to pass on to the world’s leaders. The church was to be a servant of the world, like a prophetic voice, sharing sober advice in light of God’s judgment (Daniel means God is my judge).

The hope was that the world leaders would be able to hear and heed the advice in the plethora of advice received by others. Daniel’s interpretive ability and his visions give the ultimate advice to leaders: it is not about you. It is about my people—both the church and the world.

In Daniel, we find three options possible for a leader like Mayor Ford. The Nebuchadnezzar Easy Option , the Nebuchadnezzar Hard Option (Daniel 4) and the Belshazzar Ending Option (Daniel 5).

You can reread Daniel 4 and 5 but the simple version is:

Option 1: Try to listen to Daniel’s advice: King Neb was shown that his great kingdom, represented by gold would be followed by other kingdoms, less “gold” than his, but nevertheless they would replace Babylon (Dan 2). At first, he seems to respond well to this explanation of his dream and promotes Daniel and His friends (the church is NEVER one person and the church should always be ready for promotion). Seems King Neb eventually outgrew this vision and had his own…Gold forever. He made a stature all of gold of himself (suggesting he was in charge of the future) and made everyone bow to it (Daniel 3). The church stood its ground and was ready to go from promotion to punishment for its principles. They again stood sober in the mesmerizing music and abusive threats and spoke truth to power. God intervened (remember who is ultimately in charge). King Neb capitulates and seems for a while he stays sober and  softened by the church. However, God sees the king changing direction and sends a vision and send Daniel to interpret it. God was King Neb straying and would hurt his children so his warning is simple. Sober up dude, or your tree will be cut down. Option 1 reaches is clearest statement as:

“Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity” (Daniel 4:27). This was the stay sober and stay compassionate. I have seen leaders sober and death producingly efficient. They don’t get the compassion part.  Then I have seen compassion become license for poor discipline. That doesn’t work either.

Option One is to heed that advice and follow it. The only way to really sustain that is to be converted to God. After one year seems King Neb couldn’t keep that advice. In vs 29 we see King Neb’s got too big for his own good and enters Option 2: 7 year “rehab” treatment program.

Option 2 is let God really humble you. Ouch. Option 1 would have been humility by simple daily practice of living sober and helping those in need. It keeps a leader soft for God to use.

Option 1 is the humility by teachableness option.

Option 2 is humility by humiliation. Allendar makes that point wonderfully well in his excellent book on moral leadership, Leading with a limp: Turning your struggles into strengths. He notes there is nothing like public humiliation to change a leaders sense of who they are and to increase their listening capacity. They are servants not Gods and humiliation can help them back on track to effectiveness through the process of humility.

7 years of eating grass like a beast was the natural result of not being teachable and should not be viewed as God’s strong arming King Neb as much as helping him see what life without God’s power would be like.

This does not mean a leader should not know and appreciate and even celebrate his or her own strengths. It just means they would do well to remember their life is a gift to be spent as a servant helping those they are leading. God knows about leading by sacrifice. Any leader worth their weight learns that is what God expects of them as a leader.

You can’t lead without a heavy doze of humility and a sense of responsibility.

When public leaders encountered enough of their limits to let their weakness they become able to see others and life for the others, not themselves. That is why Daniel wanted King Neb to stay off the drugged living of sensuality and stay close to talking care of the most needful in Babylon. Discipline and compassion working simultaneously in a leader, and all of us, is the only way to keep us on track.

Humility not learned that way, can be taught by rehab, military humiliation or other deeply painful ways.

Leaders who avoid or neglect or can’t handle the lessons of weakness that come from life’s pain, often hide the fears in drunkenness and in party’s of hubris. The only thing that often rescues these leaders from their  partial views is humiliation. Humiliation occurs when one’s self-aggrandized hubris crashes into reality.

Good news: rehab worked for King Neb and I hope it would work for Ford. In fact, the great news for both is that good rehab can bring you back brighter, more teachable, and better than ever (Daniel 4: 36-37). Praise and happiness are greater “beverages” for leadership as they keep you as a child before God, dependent on a God who can teach you on how to lead a kingdom.

King Belshazzar didn’t respond well to option 1 or 2 . His option was the ultimate judgment on leaders who don’t listen to good advice. They die or get killed by their own stupid decisions, drunken stupors, and confident hubris. There is a long list in the bible and in modern world of those who take this option.

This is the Psalms 82 option.

Buber in his book Good and Evil, in his chapter on Psalms 82, notes how this Psalm is a seen of God’s judgment of the “gods.” I see these gods as the intermediary authorities of the world: both nations, institutions and leaders. As Buber notes, they are brought into God’s court to be held responsible for not taking care of his people on the earth.

“How long will you judge unjustly
And show partiality to the wicked?

Vindicate the weak and fatherless;
Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
Rescue the weak and needy;
Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” 82:2, 3

Notice how his wise advice was the advice Daniel later gave directly to King Neb. “Keep sober (i.e. disciplined) and take care of the weak.” This is the best advice.

You don’t follow that, option 2 follows and if that doesn’t’ work option 3-termination is inevitable.

The giving of advice is one of the roles of the church. It is never easy.

But to leaders who “do not know nor do they understand;They walk about in darkness” (Daniel 82:5), the church was raised up to a light on the hill, shining sober judgment in wicked times.

I hope Ford finds some good friends.

I hope the church can be such a friend to leaders.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




One Comment


  1. angela Ford

    I’ve been enjoying your posts. Food for thought.

    Just don’t confuse us as relatives of that Ford in Toronto 🙂



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