Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Authority and Responsibility

When I became a Sergeant in the U.S. Army at the age of 21, my promotion ceremony was on the Normandy Drop Zone at Ft. Bragg, NC. We had just jumped out of C-130 aircraft, at the beginning of a daylong movement exercise… in other words, we jumped out of the plane and were preparing to walk about 10 kilometers through the woods.

We touched down, and then formed up into a small formation. My commanding officer called us to attention, read the orders promoting me, pinned my new chevrons on my collar… and then ordered me to take point. I was made responsible for our direction of movement, for counting our pace, and for looking for the “enemy”. In other words, I was responsible for the lives and safety of all my fellow soldiers, and in part for the success of our “mission”.

Well, there were no enemies that day, and our “mission” was to get the movement done so we could all be home in time for dinner… it was just an exercise after all. But what stuck with me from that moment on was that with my new authority as a Sergeant came a greater level of responsibility.

Soon after that, one of my soldiers made a very large mistake in his personal life. It occurred off duty and off post. I was back in my barracks room reading when it happened. Other than that soldier’s tendency to do stupid things, I could not have predicted the request this particular soldier would make of an undercover vice-cop. You can guess what the request was. The same thing that Governor Elliot Spitzer has been accused of… soliciting a prostitute.

When that soldier called me at 3’oclock in the morning from the local jail, I knew what was going to happen. I picked him up, I confined him to his barracks room, and I escorted him to meals for the next two days. On Monday morning, I took him to see our First Sergeant, who took both of us to the Commander.

It might seem unfair, but the Commander did not say a single word to the soldier, other than to ask if he had done what he was accused of, and then to tell him to wait outside. The rest of that particular hour of my life was spent with the Commander and the First Sergeant chewing me out for the actions of my soldier. I don’t remember what all they said, I only know that it was the most thorough dressing down I have ever received, in or out of the military. Through it all, the soldier who had actually propositioned the vice-cop was sitting in a chair right outside the office, listening.

He was my soldier… and therefore my responsibility, even though I had not been the one to proposition a vice-cop. It might have gone easier for me if I had. When he was court-martialed and removed from the military, the same First Sergeant pulled me aside to make sure I understood it was my fault as much, if not more, than the soldier’s… because I let it happen.

With authority and power comes responsibility, not just for your own actions but for the actions of those whom you have authority over. The greater the authority one is granted, the greater the responsibility that person holds, not only for their own actions, but for the actions of those they hold authority over.

All discussions about the legality of prostitution, sexual morality, and unhealthy forms of sexuality are beside the point for me in this particular instance. With authority comes responsibility… and Governor Spitzer failed in that responsibility, and so should lose the authority.

As we see the implosion of what was once a promising political career in the life of Eliot Spitzer, let us be reminded of this lesson in our own lives. Any authority we have been granted in life… be it at work, by our friends, by our church, or by a community group… any authority we have been granted comes with an equal and balancing responsibility. Understanding this balance between authority and responsibility is the first step in understanding leadership.

Yours in Faith,


2 Thoughts on “Authority and Responsibility

  1. Hi David,

    I wanted to drop you a note and tell you that I used the closing paragraph of this post as the opening words at my congregation’s monthly Coordinating Council meeting Wednesday evening. It was my turn to do the opening/closing and found you words to be perfect.


  2. Thank you Lance,

    I am honored…

    Yours in faith,


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