Someone recently let me know that they wouldn’t be commenting on my facebook posts anymore that have to do with theology, Christian leaders, etc. because they were frustrated with how I was speaking poorly of Christian brothers, etc. – particularly those in leadership. It got me thinking more about how the followers of Jesus are to approach Christian famous people who have been given the responsibility to lead in churches or ministries. If that leader has said things or does things that undermines the message of Christ, the Gospel, the church universal, or are just plain mean – what are we to do? We can,
1. Remain quiet and stay out of the fray.
2. Speak up and say something to defend or criticize that leader.
3. Try to redirect our energy towards more constructive activities.
4. Create a better way of doing things and then do them.
I’m sure there are multiple ways to respond, but one response that usually gets a bad rep is criticism. Criticizing a leader, or even going further and calling them names that identify what we don’t like about their actions, does take center stage a lot. Sometimes we satirize their actions (Simpsons) in order to playfully but substantively critique them. Sometimes we outright say what they have done wrong. There are multiple ways that we do this indirectly or directly, but nonetheless, it happens, and yet doing so usually receives its own criticism – the critique that we shouldn’t malign our brother and sisters (especially leaders) publicly, even if the criticism is true. I wonder…
To satirize is a legitimate form of subversive non-violent resistance, and might I say one of the best ways to do so. Non-violent resistance is a virtuous action that people who follow Jesus are called to participate in when necessary. Power, when it is abused, calls for action to restore the abuser to proper stewardship of their power. If they continue to abuse that power and/or influence and ignore the warnings, then they are to be called to account and probably have their power taken from them.
My tradition (evangelical/baptist) never taught me this. They taught me the opposite – unquestioned loyalty to authority, ordained leaders, men whom “God has placed in leadership,” etc. What if these people have abused their power and have little to no desire to change? We may need to satirize their actions or even go so far as to name call those who are unrelenting in their abuse of power because of their insistence in avoiding the responsibility for wrongs committed.
Name-calling – isn’t that juvenile? Yet Jesus’s example with name-calling calls out to us. Those who were “hard of heart” were the religious leaders who wouldn’t respond when given the chance to correct their actions and they did so on multiple occasions. On top of that, they portrayed themselves as the ones who were upholding morality and were spokesmen for God himself. They even went so far as to protect their positional leadership by discussing how they could lie to keep it, an historic good ole boys club. Sadly, religious leaders today struggle with the exact same dynamics.
Leadership Rule #4 – One has to assume that leaders will and do lie to cover up their mistakes and/or unethical decisions. It is one of the guarantees of stewarding power over other people – we will be tempted to cover up the wrongs we commit due to insecurities, legitimate mistakes, carelessness, selfishness, etc. That temptation is eventual and incessant – as a leader, it will never go away. Here is the syllogism to prove my point:
1. A person who is entrusted with power will be tempted to abuse that power by making either mistakes and/or unethical decisions.
2. Humans make mistakes and unethical decisions
3. Therefore, a person who is entrusted with power will abuse the power by making mistakes and/or unethical decisions.
All forms of leadership are not exempt from this syllogism, including Christians in leadership, but what they do with it is what matters. Leaders need to get over the fact that they are going to screw up or be responsible for someone else’s screw up. I have found that in Christian communities, the leadership tends to respond with these three options,
1. Intents vs Actions: As leaders, we tend to appeal to our innocent and initial intents and thoughts regardless of what our actions conveyed. Too many leaders appeal to this and forget that the road to destructive leadership is paved with our good intentions.
Solution – stop telling people what our intentions were and deal with the implications of our actions. Posture change – accept that our lack of intention is as much a problem as is ill intent.
2. Benevolence vs. Justice: As leaders, when we are faced with the opportunity to pursue justice, even at our own expense, we are many times tempted to overlook justice and replace it with benevolence. Benevolence that doubles for justice is actually form of violence. To ignore the wrong done and then seek repair through benevolence only compounds the painful implications of the injustice and may cause more pain than the initial action. To ignore injustice is to claim that we cannot see the hurt it causes and thus cannot see the people enduring the hurt – which ultimately means that the part of them that hurts doesn’t exist. When we replace reconciliatory justice with benevolence, we are avoiding either complicit or implicit guilt by sugar-coating that guilt with what looks like a virtuous response – which in the end is no virtue at all.
Solution – avoid the inclination to be benevolent as a first response to a cry for justice.
Posture change – seek first the kingdom of God and let benevolence follow as an implication, not a solution.
3. “Soft” truths vs. Honesty: Many times, a leader makes a bad decision and when the need to fess up arises, the leader’s power over other people gives that leader options other than bearing the responsibility themselves. Passing the buck down to the most vulnerable and least leveraged is a time honored method of maintaining continuity in positional leadership and all leaders are tempted to do so. We have all seen it happen either to us, to someone else or to the someone(s) that we did it to. It is always tempting to use our positional power to escape the vacuum of complicity once a mistake or unethical decision is made. At the same time, we don’t want to be seen as outrightly negligent, so we take some responsibility, but just enough to maintain our innocence nonetheless.
Solution – practice the discipline of confession by admitting we are wrong even if at times we are not. Posture change – look at people in the eye when you are tempted to lie to them or about them.
Back to name calling. People in power who persistently pursue soft truths, benevolence and good intentions as their path to responsibility don’t deserve name-calling, but instead they need name-calling, among other things. This is to call them back to their responsibility to reconciliation that is honest, just and respectful of their actions, not their intents. Ultimately they are not only showing respect to the people wronged but also to themselves
Jesus seemed to know that hard hearts needed a heavy hand at times and that soft hearts only needed a gentle word at other times. Because we are prone to struggle with doing the opposite of what Jesus did, we need disciplines that will form us otherwise. In review, here are a few option outlined previously
Solution – Stop telling people what our intentions were and deal with the implications of our actions. Posture Change – Accept that our lack of intent can equal ill intent.
Solution – Avoid the inclination to be benevolent as a first response to a cry for justice.
Posture Change - Seek first the Kingdom of God and let benevolence follow as an implication, not a solution.
Solution – Practice the discipline of confession by admitting we are wrong even if at times we are not. Posture Change – look at people in the eye when you are tempted to lie to them or about them.
Final Solution - If none of this works, be prepared to be called names and learn to accept the titles.