The recent downfall of former Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg has refueled the debate that began with the thwarted presidential campaigns of Gary Hart and Joseph Biden: Does a leader’s personal moral character have any bearing on his ability to serve in public office?

With the news media continuing to look into such issues as drug abuse, adultery, and academic cheating, new questions are being raised about moral standards for leaders, reasonable public expectations, and the appropriate role of the media. CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked religious leaders, public officials, and other observers of the political scene to comment on the current climate.

Pros And Cons

“The public absolutely has the right to expect a certain moral standard from its leaders,” says Harry Dent, who served as special counsel to former President Richard Nixon. “… When people ask others to entrust them with a position of public honor …, [character] issues very definitely should be subject to examination.” Dent currently heads a ministry known as Laity: Alive & Serving.

Theologian Carl F. H. Henry agrees there is a connection between the private and the public. “If a congressman has an affair with a prostitute abroad and happens to be on a committee that governs funds to that nation, would not the threat of public exposure affect his political conduct?” he asks. “Do not the sins of the leaders contribute to the downfall of a nation?”

For Robert Dugan, director of the National Association of Evangelicals’ Washington Office on Public Affairs, the idea of holding leaders to a moral standard is rooted in the Bible. “In the Scriptures, higher standards are demanded of those who ...

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