I’m currently reading through Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. Occasionally, I’ll post reflections on my reading.
The chapter I just read had to do with leadership being something that is meant to be a public good. Leadership is never simply for the sake of those you’re leading. It’s meant to overflow into the systems, institutions, cultures, and communities around you. And so, our avenues of leadership are meant to be vehicles to change the world.
Thinking about this, I realized that my most public form of leadership is probably through this blog.
Of all my Christian friends (including my seminary classmates), I keep up with politics more than any. I say sadly, because I don’t have many people and places to get my thoughts directly challenged, critiqued, and kept accountable. And for me, that’s what I need. I feel like I need my mind to feel a freedom to wander and stretch and try things out–but I need others to reign me in.
This is also how I lead. My tendency is to constantly reshape my sphere of influence; to try new things and keep things fluid. For me, then, team leadership works best, so that I have people to tell me I’m crazy and need to relax. This is also why I blog. A blog is, in essence, “public writing”.
Because I tend to dwell deeply in the political realities of the world more than many other Christians in my life, I see much of my role as a public writer as bringing Christian truths to bear on real-world issues in ways that both challenge and further the polarized conversations in the world today. Through national political campaigns, I write frequently on the debates, the State of the Union, the issues, etc. in order to communicate in a clear way to the everyday person what’s going on and why they should care.
A quick example. The most widely distributed public leadership thing of which I was ever a part, I think, was a series of posts I wrote about homosexuality. They were written in the wake of Exodus International rejecting gay reparative therapy, saying it doesn’t work. The pieces were picked up by several online publications and I got a lot of emails and comments from people about them. If you’re interested:
- Exodus International is Right on Gay Reparative Therapy
- some brief thoughts on “willful persistence in sin” & homosexuality
- Some critical words for the Left on Gay Reparative Therapy
- a homosexuality post-script and conclusion
My posts did what I hope all my political posts do: they talked about how both of the traditional “sides” are incomplete, and tried to offer a “third way” forward. I do it this way because I feel like the “story” that this nation inhabits is one of polarization and politicization. The way of moving forward, it seems, is to openly deconstruct the conservative-liberal dichotomies as unhelpful and unrealistic.
But, it’s more than that, too. A lot of people have been able to do that deconstruction, and many Christians today (especially young ones) spurn the usual labels, saying they are “Independent”, and yet their actual public views on things usually fall into the usual tired policy articulations. For these reasons, I also try to do “constructive” work, being honest about my process and why I believe what I believe, attempting to articulate in a way that adds extra depth for Christians, and yet is still reasonable and helpful for non-Christians as well.
The obstacles to leading like this nowadays are two-fold:
(1) everyone just wants to know whether you’re conservative or progressive, so they can know whether they should write you off or not. They have their pet issue that they just want to get your answer to so that they know where to “put” you. Nuance is not appreciated; substance isn’t accepted. Just “yes” or “no” to gay marriage, abortion, tax law, welfare, war, death penalty, etc.
(2) I think a huge obstacle for all of us in the globalized technological world is the glut of opinions out there. This is why I think it’s that much harder for a Martin Luther King, Jr. to rise up again today. With blogs, YouTube, online publications, and thousands of TV stations, there are so many voices/opinions out there. How does one discern and prophesy with force and effect?
Lastly, my theological perspective on leading publicly. For this I have two things in mind also. (1) I have found it so helpful to see a difference between the “public” and the “political”. The liberal error is seeing all public issues as political ones. The conservative error is neglecting to see public issues as structural ones. We must have a prophetic voice that speaks not only to individuals, but to Power and Society itself, as well as its Structures.