Courageous leadership

It is not my instinct to become overtly political in my journal entries. I understand that I have chosen to publish them and therefore they cannot be considered to be private. And I understand that I serve a diverse community with many different political views and opinions. The diversity of opinion in our congregation has been a point of pride for me. With increasing polarization of our nation, our congregation remains a place where people with differing opinions can gather in peace and unity. My role is not to stir up controversy and division, but rather to bring people together.

The times in which we are living, however, are at the very least unusual. I can find no good models for life in these times. There are members of my congregation who are reaching out to other members with social media posts, challenging them to put their ideas into action. I have received requests to “take a stand” and make my position clear, which I take to mean “say that you agree with me and that the opposition is wrong.” Throughout my carer I have believed, and continue to believe, that the way the church moves forward is through worship. When we disagree, we worship together. When there are challenges, we gather and pray together. Worship is the heart of our community and the area of my ministry that receives the largest share of my time and energy.

Now that we are not able to worship in person, it becomes a definite challenge to hold the community together. These days call for courage and vision from leaders. And then there is the simple fact that our congregation is on the cusp of a major change in leadership. After 25 years as pastor and teacher of this congregation we are down to the deadline as it were. In ten days I will hand in my keys and cease to be the pastor of this church. I won’t stop caring. I won’t stop doing whatever I can to support it, but I know the rules of professional ethics and I will abide by them.

I haven’t been one to count the words in the bible, but I know that such people exist. I often refer to the results of some of their counts. One count that I have not personally made, but to which I refer frequently is that that the most common one liner in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.” According to the counters, it appears in the Bible 365 times. That’s once for every day of the year. When the Bible advises people to cast aside our fear, it is not referring to bravado or show of force. It is, rather, referring to a deep trust that one is not alone. God continues to be an active participant in human history. No matter how terrible the circumstances, no matter how deep the pain, we will not be abandoned.

It seems to me that we are enduring a period of history where there is a distinct lack of courageous leadership. In the spring of 1989, when protesters took to the streets in Tiananmen Square in China and the government responded with military force to crush the protestors, we thought of our own country as a leader in the world’s moral conscience. We would never let that occur here. Now, just over three decades later Chinese leaders point to the military in the streets of our capitol as a sign of our hypocrisy. When peaceful protestors are disbursed with tear gas and rubber bullets to make way for an expansion of the security zone around the White House, it is unclear to outside observers who is causing the disruption. It looks as if those who are supposed to be keeping the peace are the ones provoking violence. What we need in these circumstances is courageous leadership. It is not what we are seeing from our nation’s leaders.

When I talk to friends and colleagues about what is going on - something done more often over the computer than face-=to-face these days - it certainly seems like there is a lot of fear across a wide spectrum of our community. People fear the protests in the streets will get out of control and there have been cases of looting and violence. People fear that the freedom to assemble is being denied and we have seen authoritarian rule in our country. People fear that the protests are contributing to an acceleration of the spread of the coronavirus and there seems to be less social distancing than was the case in our cities a couple of weeks ago. People fear that the shut down has plunged our economy into a fall from which recovery will be a decades-long process. People fear that joblessness will increase and that homeless and hunger are not far behind. It seems as if I have heard a fear for each of the Bible’s 365 examples of “Do not be afraid” in the last week.

We are also reassured by the Bible that God will provide the leadership that is needed. Before he lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Moses wasn’t recognized as a leader. When he was called to speak words of prophecy, Jeremiah protested that he was too young. When Jesus asked John to baptize him, John said, “You’ve got it backwards, I should be baptized by you.” The stories of our people are filled with great leaders who were reluctant to assume the mantle of leadership. There have been many times in our history when we have wondered where we would find leaders for our people. God has provided the leaders.

God will provide leaders for our time as well. There may be dark days ahead. There may be more doubts and questions to arise. We, however, have not been abandoned. We are not alone. New leaders will arise. And in the meantime, we are all in this together. We can listen more carefully and offer our love and support to one another. Sometimes the best expression of courageous leadership is to simply be with those you serve.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!