How should Christians respond when a leader makes a mistake?

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The news is constantly reporting the lives of people in authority. Sharp eagle eyes are ever on our nation's prime minister and leaders. Pastors are under scrutiny and their actions, more often the negative ones, are highlighted in the media, just like the trending news of a megachurch pastor's affair with a teenage church member.

It is extremely easy to be caught up in the hype of talking about someone's wrongdoing, especially with the person being a leader. Surely it's totally legit to discuss that mistake and learn from it, or so we justify.

A leader's mistake

Numbers chapter 12, verses 1 to 13, records the story of Moses's siblings speaking against him because he married a non-Israelite. As a result of their complaining, Miriam, his sister, was stricken with leprosy.

"Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?" And the Lord heard it... And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, "Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting." ...Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed. When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow... And Moses cried to the Lord, "O God, please heal her—please."

Moses married a Cushite, a non-Israelite woman. In the eyes of Miriam and Aaron, he did something terribly wrong. He sinned and it was unacceptable. What was their response to his wrong? They complained and murmured against him.

Holier than thou

In complaining, Miriam and Aaron were elevating themselves by thinking that they are much better than Moses who committed a sin. It was this 'holier than thou' attitude, which got them picking on Moses's mistake and comparing that they would never have done something that grave. While it is true that they did not marry a non-Israelite as Moses did, it in no way signified they were closer to God.

They were trying to lift themselves up as they put him down but God doesn't work in such a way. When we want a promotion, we should not focus on tearing others down. You'll not be chosen to step into the position of your superior just by dragging them down from their seat. Even if you manage to get them down, you'll not be the one to take over their position because you did not do the honourable.

God is never pleased with us when we speak bad of others no matter what the circumstances are. As in Miriam's case, she became leprous, a skin disease which separated her from people instead of becoming the leader who spoke God's word to the people. We will not be rewarded for tearing others down but God loves it when we build others up.

Our response matters

How should we respond to others' doings? Even if they are deemed as mistakes or faults, are we going to judge them for it and complain? I mean it's not like we're spreading nasty rumours to spoil their reputation. This is basically what they did and we're just saying it as it is.

Miriam and Aaron probably thought they had the right to say those things about Moses because he disqualified himself by marrying a Cushite. However, what Moses did was between him and God. If he had sinned, it was against God whom he had to be accountable to. His siblings on the other hand, had to be accountable to God for their own actions. In talking bad about Moses, their leader, they too sinned.

What others do is for them to stand before God at the judgment day and answer Him. While we do not condone and accept the mistakes, we are not to use them as excuses to complain and talk about, less we entrap ourselves in sin too.

Grace and mercy

Let God be the judge and let us do our part by honouring, not the act for it may be wrong but to honour the authority that has been given to those in charge of us be it in our family, in school, at work, in church or our community. When we give honour to our leaders where honour is due, we make room for God to move and do wonders through both them and us.

They might not be the greatest role model ever - parents might be drunkards or simply bad tempered, some teachers might be disrespectful or just plain lazy, some bosses might show favouritism and are manipulative, some church leaders fall short of standards while leaders of the country do what they do to get the votes.

There are lots of reasons for us to complain about our leaders - "After all, they shouldn't have..." Perhaps they should have done certain things another way or indeed they shouldn't have done that at all but instead of playing the role of God as the judge, let our words echo with grace to build and mercy to forgive.

Moses (the one who was complained about by his siblings) filled his words with grace and mercy, to help even those who meant him harm - "O God, please heal her—please."

This article was originally published in Christian Today New Zealand and is re-published here with permission