Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee challenged a crowd of nearly 200 diplomats, embassy officials, and other guests Dec. 12 to act as "thermostats" rather than mere "thermometers" — setting the climate of righteousness in leadership rather than merely reflecting shifting values.
"I believe that's real leadership," he said. "It doesn't mean that we're necessarily going to impose our set of values on another. It means that we so value individuals that we are simply not going to attempt to see people manipulated, used, and in some way given a perspective of life that denies them ... the respect that every human being deserves."
The Arkansas governor was the guest speaker for a special dinner for the Washington diplomatic corps hosted by the Christian Ministries to the Nations, a subsidiary of the North American Mission Board led by missionary Cecil Mahendranath.
Gov. Huckabee was unable to attend the dinner in person because of bad weather in Little Rock, Ark., but he addressed guests through a live satellite link projected on a video screen.
A former Southern Baptist pastor and author of the book Character Is the Issue, Huckabee addressed the role of character in leadership and the importance of having a clear standard by which to judge decisions.
He told how his son had once attempted to make a cake on his own, but the result was "a colossal failure." After quizzing him on his recipe, Huckabee learned his son had followed it exactly — except that he wasn't sure what was meant by a "dash" of salt. So the boy "figured that a cup of salt ought to be enough to take care of it."
The story illustrates, Huckabee said, what can happen when standards cease to be based on absolute truth.
"Real character is when we live our lives not according to a definition that we make up, but according to an everlasting standard - a standard that is bigger than us," said Huckabee.
Real character, he said, "gives us real principles to live by, not ever-changing opinions that we come up with like the thermometer that simply reflects the culture of the day," he added. "Real character ... says there are core values that originate not from culture but from God. And, because I believe in them, those core values drive me to the behavior I live."
Huckabee ended his address with the story of how the most significant event in his life had nothing to do with his political career. It was his decision to accept Christ as a ten-year-old boy in Hope, Ark.
An individual's greatest testimony, he said, should be "not that we were powerful, but that we reflected in our lives the character of the very God who loved us so very much that He didn't just send a book. He didn't just send us somebody to speak for us. He came in person, and He showed us what life was all about."
Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, also addressed the audience.
"You represent the nations of the world, nations that are longing for peace, for hope," he said. "And there is good news that transcends natural disasters, political upheaval, and economic deterioration. It's the eternal hope ... that comes from a relationship with God."
Phil Roberts, NAMB's vice president for Strategic Cities Strategies and executive director of Christian Ministries to the Nations, said the event will give an immeasurable boost to the impact of the ministry.
"When we do these kinds of evenings, we're scattering seed all over the world. We have people from every continent, many of whom are from countries closed to a traditional Christian witness. And while we may not see a lot of immediate evangelistic result out of it, the long-term effects could be enormous," he said.
"Many people are talking about unusual contacts and enormous interest not only in what was heard, but also in a desire to maintain contact with the hosts, particularly Cecil Mahendranath."
NAMB has sponsored similar events for the past two years in New York through Christian Ministries to the United Nations Community, led by missionary Ken Welborn.
Mahendranath, a former diplomat from Guyana who has led the ministry since 1991, said he plans to follow up with each individual who attended. The ministry sponsors several weekly Bible studies and other special events throughout the year.
"It's going to result in ongoing relationships, not only in Washington, D.C., but throughout the world," he said. "People have heard the gospel tonight in a very clear way from a top political leader in this country who really stands up for his faith. And it makes all the difference."