She began to read aloud. We stood, my daughter and I, inside the Lincoln Memorial. Etched to the right of the president’s statue, Chelsea read from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. The boisterous noise of others around subsided to silence as this twelve year old recited the heart-rending words from a leader whose nation had been wounded by The Civil War. Perhaps the audience was suddenly quiet out of respect for a young woman’s voice emboldened to repeat a historical text. But I would like to think that the words themselves brought solemnity to the monument’s portico that day over a dozen years ago. America, torn by internal strife, reflected the soul of Abraham Lincoln.
Upon the occasion of his reelection, Lincoln chose to be generous with those who opposed him. In part he said, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange . . . but let us judge not, that we be not judged.” Lincoln, speaking of “the providence of God” and “His appointed time” intoned, “The Almighty has His own purposes.” Divine judgment against the sin of slavery was clearly marked as Lincoln woefully acknowledged, “He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.” President Lincoln repented, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.” Most importantly, Lincoln offered reconciliation, as he concluded, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
Recalling Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address reminds us of what is most important in leadership. The president preached that people live and work better when we have a purpose outside ourselves, a Supreme Judge to whom we must give an account. Responsibility toward Heaven demands leaders take responsibility on earth. Sharing responsibility with others, we should expect humble leadership—people who acknowledge they need others. Humility does not make excuses. Humble leadership accepts blame rather than finding someone to blame. Instead of “putting in a fix,” leaders find a way to fix wrongs. And Lincolnean reconciliation extends an open hand to all.
Leaders accept responsibility for themselves, their citizens, and their nation. Leaders must remind their people of shared heritage. Humility, not haughtiness, is the mantle of a leader’s honor. Leadership acknowledges an Authority above oneself. Leaders must not bow to other nations but they must bow to the One who gave them their present authority. Leaders do not seek scapegoats but know that sacrifice is their responsibility. Leaders do not build walls but mend fences. May all leaders remember the lessons of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural read by a leader from another generation that day twelve years ago. For Moody Radio, this is Dr. Mark Eckel, personally seeking truth wherever it’s found.
Leadership. Moody Radio Commentary. Summer 2010
Dr. Mark Eckel, Professor of Old Testament, Crossroads Bible College