5 January 2017
During a New Year’s Eve dinner, a friend asked me if I would be watching the presidential inauguration on January 20th. I said I would of course watch some of it, but that I was not delighted that the Archbishop of New York would be involved in it. I said I do not want to see a Catholic blessing on the new administration, especially by a fellow who had such great disdain for the previous administration. My friend disagreed with me. He suggested it was an appropriate gesture by one of the country’s foremost Christian leaders.
Thanks to my friend, I started scratching my head about Christian leadership in the new year. What should we expect from Christian leaders in 2017?
I will try to be objective. In ten points.
(1) I don’t expect a Christian leader to have a big ego but a big heart. The authentic Christian virtue is love of neighbor not self-adoration. Over many years I have worked in the church and in academia with some great leaders. They were generous, hard-working, and supportive men and women. I have suffered as well under some oppressive authoritarian leaders who allowed their egos to run rampant, trampled over colleagues, and became not only ineffective but destructive tyrants.
(2) I expect Christian leaders to be committed to their own self-improvement. Ongoing education is essential for all of us. A couple years ago, a bishop friend bragged that since becoming a bishop he no longer had to read any books. He started laughing and said he had “the grace of episcopal leadership and teaching.” I chuckled and reminded him that grace builds on nature…..and, pectoral cross and all, he still had to study.
(3) Along with a commitment to self improvement, I want leaders who realize that they have to listen to others and be willing to adapt. Authoritarian narrow-mindedness is not acceptable. The context and situations in which we live do change. I want leaders so anchored in Christian Faith that they can collaborate, with people from the whole spectrum of religious and philosophical outlooks, in charting a new course in troubled waters. Constructive leadership demands an open, frank, honest, and wide-ranging conversation about what it means to be a human being today, whether gay, straight, male, female, or transgender.
(4) 2017 is an historic year. We celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. This year especially, I want Christian leaders to be strongly and publicly committed to a truth-based understanding of Christian history, not an ideologically selective reading of the Christian story, nor simply a pious fantasy that makes one comfortable in anxious times. Truth is not the best-selling fabrication on the evening news. We must move beyond old misunderstandings and old myths. A commitment to truth requires that all leaders humbly acknowledge that no one individual, no single group, no single Christian church or confession possesses all Christian truth neatly packaged in particular rituals and approved doctrines.
(5) As they reflect on the Christian narrative across the centuries, I want Christian leaders who understand the absolute necessity of an historical critical understanding of EVERYONE’s sacred scriptures and religious doctrines. So important for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim shared life together. Historical understandings, cultural interpretations, and a great variety of languages have changed and continue to change. Believers need to ask what a text meant back then and what it means for us today.
(6) Shortly before becoming president in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt famously said on more than one occasion: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Some contemporary leaders still try to emulate him. I want to see, however, a very different kind of leader. Nothing praiseworthy is accomplished by behavior that is meant to trick people and then badger them into compliance. I want to see leaders who base their leadership style on the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth not on Niccolò Machiavelli’s self-centered, crafty, crooked, and cynical manipulation of people and events.
(7) Good leaders have the trust and confidence of those whom they lead: giving people confidence that he or she is leading them into a bright new day rather than down some dark tunnel into chaotic oblivion. Good leaders don’t demand trust. They earn it.
(8) I want to see Christian religious leaders who do not position themselves in favor of one political party over another. Prophetic Christian religious leaders critically insist that political leaders in all parties recognize that all people are created equal and all people are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They collaborate in constructing a social morality that supports the common good and enables all of us to live more harmoniously in an increasingly complex and culturally-mixed society.
(9) Finally….. everything I expect from an effective “leader” is what I expect from effective “followers.” That of course is our “at home” challenge. This coming year, it may be our number one challenge. This year we will either sink or swim, regress, or move ahead constructively.
(10) And now: what about Cardinal Dolan’s invocation, later this month, at Donald Trump’s inauguration? I would like to see the Archbishop of New York speak and act as a prophetic Christian leader who courageously challenges the new administration rather than benevolently consecrating it.
I conclude with a personal request. I am an older retired fellow. My old laptop is about to expire. Last week I was able to resuscitate it after three hours of careful tinkering; but I don’t think it has nine lives. I am basically healthy. I am still clear-headed, and my fingers still connect with my keyboard in a meaningful way. I would like to continue my writing and publications, as long as people believe I have something meaningful to say. A number of people want me to write another book about faith and contemporary life.
I hope no one takes offense at this; but, just once a year, I am asking readers of Another Voice if they would like to contribute something to help keep it going. My key areas of interest and ongoing research are: religion, politics and moral values in U.S. society; spirituality; the life perspectives and values of the Millennial generation; and fundamentalism and secularization in Europe and North America.
Perhaps there are readers or friends of readers who would like to contribute? There are no obligations of course. People wishing to contribute to my blog fund can send a U.S. Dollars check, made out to John A. Dick, and send it to me at my Belgian address:
Dr. J. A. Dick,
People wishing to do an electronic funds transfer into my USA bank account in Michigan or into my Belgian account, can contact me at: email@example.com. I will promptly send transfer coordinates. My sincere appreciation for considering my appeal. As always, my warmest regards to all!