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Nicholas Thomas Wright is one of the leading scholars in the New Testament and was a Bishop in an England church. He has published several academic works through which his conservative Christian views have been depicted. This paper is going to focus on one of his works entitled After You Believe: Why Christian Character matters. The paper is going to discuss understanding of character and virtue through Wright’s understanding. His works are going to be compared with other author’s works such as Christian Reflections on the Leadership by Kouzes and Posner. Questions concerning moral code are also going to be discussed where the works of Joseph Badaracco will be looked at.
Wright defines character in the sense used in the New Testament as the pattern of thinking and acting that runs through a person so as when one cuts through that person, there is same person over and over again. The exact opposite of this is when a person is superficial. A person may present him/herself as of bearing excellent virtues but when ideal situations present it, they change and the vices in them become clear. Wright relates character to the writing that runs through a stick of Brighton Rock where the identifying word is not only embedded on the outside but rather goes through the layers to the innermost parts (Wright 2010). Just as the writings on these candy sticks do not appear by themselves as they have to be developed by someone, so does the qualities of character which do not come automatically but have to be developed. These characters are important signs of healthy Christianity. The qualities of character have to be thought about, worked upon and one has to make the conscious choice to permit the Holy Spirit to shape their character. There are different understandings of good and bad characters among different people. The general expectation and understanding of good character is that it has been shaped by elements of Christian teachings. There is substantial overlap between the formation and development of good character and Christian character (Wright 2010).
According to Wright, character is transformed by three things. The first important step is the goal. One has to aim at the right goal in order to succeed in character transformation. The second is figuring out the steps one needs to take in order to get the set goal. Thirdly, the steps set above have to be habitual. All the above steps answer the question ‘how’ one has to develop Christian character. There is need to deliberately train the Christian character. In the training, Wright points out the need of ethical guidelines from God such as the Ten Commandments that among other things teaches one not to trust in their own wisdom nor listen to their own words as often suggested in today’s life but rather rely on God’s guidance. The commandments serve as important signposts in life, but more importantly they do not hold the power to renew a person and hence for one to be equipped to the Christian task, a transformation of character is in order. This internal change in character transformation is important so that one acts in a particular manner not as a result of external force but because of inward preference (Wright 2010). Wright asserts that a person requires the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to be fully transformed. Nonetheless, the need for an active human effort is also stressed. Constant practice is important so that the person becomes more neutral and it is a significant part of the person’s involvement in character transformation. Character transformation can be a difficult and frustrating journey just as learning a new language. It is never automatic and requires practice, patience and perseverance. According to Kouzes and Posner leadership model, leaders are natured and made of people with strong beliefs about matters of principle. People are thought to admire most those individuals who believe strongly in something and who are eager to stand up for their beliefs. What an individual believes in has strong relations to their character. Kouzes and Posner focus on clarification of values through finding ones voice and affirming shared values all of which are linked to an individual’s character. To become a credible leader, one has to realize fully the deeply held values, ethics, ideas and principles that drive him/her (Kouzes and Posner 2006).
Badaracco defines a moral code as set of values and principles that guide behavior. This definition does not shade light on what counts as a good moral code or how a leader develop it. To discuss the issues of good moral code, Badaracco uses the story of Okonkwo an African tribal leader in Chinua Achebe’s story Things Fall Apart. Okonkwo has risen to be a leader in his village through his traits as a powerful wrestler and a war hero. He is strong, focused, determined and talented and thought to be a replica of the leaders who run organizations today. Okonkwo’s moral code is formed by the traditions and practices of his people. His moral codes come to question when he commits suicide after being abandoned by his followers. This brings the need for people to think seriously how leaders develop their moral codes. Okonkwo’s moral code passes the first test as his values and principles are deeply rooted in his character and that of his community (Badaracco 2006). However, when other tests to his moral code are discussed, it clearly brings to light inflexibility of his moral codes and is used to define flexibility of leader’s moral codes. Leader’s reaction to failure is one of the indicators of flexibility in their moral codes. In the story Okonkwo failed as a leader when he beats one of his wives thereby violating one of his tribe’s rules. In his reaction, it is revealed that his moral code was narrow and emotionally constrained. Though he is the leader of the community, he does not care about his fellow villager’s thoughts and feelings. A leader’s moral code should be flexible and all rounded. Okonkwo was made the leader of the community because he was strong and courageous and is attuned to his people’s needs and feelings. However, when other situations like the one above called for his moral reactions, he is unavailable (Badaracco 2006). Tension is evident between Badaracco’s moral flexibility and the integrity of values expressed by Kouzes and Posner. Whereas Kouzes and Posner suggest that good leadership is as a result of strong belief and principle which should be stood by at all times, Badaracco suggest that leadership should be flexible and one should always learn to deal with each situation as it arises. How a leader handles ethical surprises is essential in determination of their moral codes. Leaders fall short of aspirations and even fail sometimes even though they have put enough effort.