One of the great disappointments in life is when your hero lets you down. I do want to be careful on the word hero though. When I refer to a hero, I do not mean that perfect person that I want to emulate. I am referring to someone who has done something great, or has impressive characteristics that are worth noting. For me, one of those heroes is James Madison, the 4th President of the United States.
James Madison is often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution”, he was instrumental in developing the Bill of Rights, and was incredibly gifted in communication through his co-writing of the Federalist Papers. I have to admit, I am also drawn to Madison since he was the shortest of U.S. Presidents, coming in at 5’4”.
Madison was a master of institutional design and wisely used political savviness. I was looking forward to visiting his plantation home, Montpelier of Virginia, to learn more about him. What I saw, however, was troubling.
The mansion gave a wonderful picture of James and Dolly Madison, and opened my eyes to many great historical events that they were a part of. What gripped me though, was the presence of slave housing on the plantation grounds. While James Madison was writing the Constitution, while he was advocating for freedom, he simultaneously held over 100 people in perpetual bondage. While Madison critiqued slavery, and openly received vocal critics such as the Frenchman Lafayette, Madison did not change his ways. James Madison never released a single slave. The man who was one of the key masterminds behind American freedom did not offer the same to the people closest to him.
Maybe what troubles me about this hero is seeing my own propensity to sin. I have plenty of comfy family sin patterns that I am blind to, or like Madison, can vocally critique, yet personally live within that sin. Perhaps the fading of a hero is not all bad—it opens my eyes to the need for vigilance when it comes to introspection, leading to lamentation and confession.
We can spend lots of time creating heat with our words about all that is wrong around us. There is a place for that—but not in the absence of allowing light to shine on our own lives. I am reminded all the more with the fading of my hero—my own spiritual and emotional health matters. While I continue to see Madison’s amazing contributions to my government’s institutional design, I also more clearly see a need to examine my own heart more fully. What are those sins that I silently continue in, that my culture around me does not call me out for? What sins do I commit in clear violation of Scriptural truth, but I have become numb to?
I will never be a national hero of the magnitude of James Madison. I do dream, however, that my life will continue to be shaped and transformed as I walk with Jesus—where I learn to walk in step with Him all the more, and look more and more like Him. I hope that we encourage each other on that journey.
Grace and peace,
Carl Greene, Executive Director, Seventh Day Baptist General Conference of USA and Canada