faith leaders

What Can Mandela's Jail Cell Teach Us About Leadership?

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, Photo by Konrad Glogowski / Flickr.

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, Photo by Konrad Glogowski / Flickr.

I believe that Nelson Mandela was the greatest political leader of the 20th century — because of his 27 years of spiritual formation in prison. Visiting Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island was the most emotional moment of my visit to South Africa this past summer. How could such a small place so change the world?

I found this quote by Mandela when I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on my last day in South Africa. It’s about how “the cell” drove him much deeper into his interior life. I think his words are a good reflection for us as we choose our elected leaders next week:

“The cell is an ideal place to know yourself. People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones, such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.”

Let’s reflect on that quote, both personally as leaders in the faith, and politically as we confront a very depressing election.

Know yourselfThat is such different advice from what our candidates and other leaders get from their advisors and pollsters and boards of directors who want them to know their audience, their constituency, their potential voters or consumers — but not so much themselves. Leaders are often being told to “be who they need you to be,” and seldom are they invited to go deeper into themselves.

Welcoming the Stranger (Even If It’s Against the Law)

Image via New Sanctuary Movement video

Image via New Sanctuary Movement video

BREAKING NEWS:
There is a nonviolent uprising around immigration happening in Philadelphia and a dozen other U.S. cities. Philadelphia faith leaders announced that they will welcome immigrant families even if it is against the law. They are building a movement of "sanctuary congregations" and have dreams that the U.S. will one day be a sanctuary nation.

We join them in insisting that we must obey the laws of God over the laws of our government — and that means "welcoming the foreigner as if they were our own flesh and blood." (Exodus 22:21, Lev.19:34, etc., etc.).

Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him. When God asks: "When I was a stranger did you welcome me?" (Mt. 25) we are not going to say: "Sorry God, Congress wouldn't let us."

We know that sometimes divine obedience can mean civil disobedience.

As St. Augustine once said: "An unjust law is no law at all."

Religious Left Says It Won’t Drop the Moral Mantle in 2014

The Rev. William Barber, leading a Moral Monday demonstration in July 2013. Photo courtesy of twbuckner/Wikimedia.

Faith leaders who sit to the left in American politics say they won’t let the religious right claim the moral mantle in the elections of 2014.

On Sept. 9,  they announced a new campaign to boost voter registration and encourage voters, particularly in poor and immigrant communities, to go to the polls.

On a conference call to reporters, Ted Strickland of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, an ordained Methodist minister and former Democratic governor of Ohio, said he and others leaders will go door to door and church to church to press their message: that people of faith should pursue a public policy that is fair and just.

The Rev. William Barber, leader of North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” movement, which has long protested acts of the state’s conservative legislature, quoted Isaiah 10: “Woe to those who make unjust laws.”

Religious Leaders Petition Congress to Support Immigrant Children

Minerva Garza Carcaño, the first Hispanic woman elected to episcopacy of United Methodist Church. Creative Commons: Paul Jeffrey

Religious leaders urged President Obama and Congress to provide funding for legal assistance to unaccompanied migrant children who are in U.S. custody after fleeing violence, murder, and extortion abroad.

The emergency funds would go toward helping children who have entered the United States without lawful immigration papers and without a parent or guardian. The money could also help meet mental health needs.

Multiple speakers, including United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano and the Rev. David Vasquez, spokesman for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, took part in a national teleconference Thursday. They then sent a petition signed by more than 3,800 people to Congress.

Christians Affirm the EPA’s New Clean Power Plan

Air pollution from a factory. Image courtesy Bohbeh/shutterstock.com

Air pollution from a factory. Image courtesy Bohbeh/shutterstock.com

"The Clean Power Plan is a great step forward for our country in taking climate change seriously. It’s clear that President Obama cares about the legacy he leaves to today and into future generations. While there is a lot more that can and should be done by this Administration and by Congress, President Obama deserves our appreciation for embracing the common good and taking such a big step to preserve the earth for our grandchildren’s grandchildren."

Who Are the Greatest Social Justice Leaders We've Never Heard Of?

We’re trying something new at Sojourners, and I have to say, I’m excited about it. Like all new things, it is a work in progress, but even in its early stages, I’d like to share it with you and to ask for your help.

Over the course of any given year, I work with hundreds of leaders across the globe on issues affecting poverty, immigration, racial justice, women and girls, and the environment. They are academics, activists, nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, local pastors, and denominational leaders — but all of them care about changing the world through faith and justice. And over the course of the year, Sojourners' staff members meet hundreds more as they travel. Their work inspires us.

But here is the problem: Hundreds and hundreds of amazing people are doing fantastic work, but many of them don’t know each other. So, we started talking with each other, our board and the leaders we were working with about building a gathering focused on inspiration, collaboration, and relationships. We are pleased to announce the first of what we hope will be many of these gatherings: The Summit: World Change Through Faith and Justice.

From June 18-21, at Georgetown University, 300 leaders will gather for this inaugural event. This is where we need your help ...

We want you to help us find 50 of them.

Twitter Reacts To Honorees From Africa On 2014 TIME 100

Others tweeted their thanks to the American author and pastor Jim Wallis for penning tributes to the religious leaders Imam Omar Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou. The men were involved in peace-making efforts in the war-torn Central African Republic, and Wallis was applauded for drawing attention to the contributions of the country’s faith leaders: Mike Jobbins @MikeJobbins Follow Tx to #Time100 and @jimwallis for honoring courageous peace work by religious leaders amid #CARCrisis http://time.com/70894/nicolas-guerekoyame-gbangou-2014-time-100/

The Tribes of Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, John Piper ... and Jesus

Christianity consists of thousands of tribes, cliques, and communities — each with different theologies, traditions, and doctrinal beliefs. Within a Westernized society obsessed with celebrity, entertainment, popularity, conflict, and money, it can be easy for Christian groups and communities to clash with each other.

For the modern church, much of its recent legacy has involved conflict, division, and controversy. Christians have developed a love-hate relationship with theologians, pastors, and church leaders — and it’s dividing the church.

Many Christians see their faith journeys as series of either/or situations and decisions — this is bad. Because as much as we want things to be clear, concise, and black-and-white, reality is complex and messy.

Pride, greed, hatred, bitterness, fear, and ignorance often cause Christians to promote distrust instead of unity — but what if Christians were more patient, graceful, and forgiving of each other?

Need Some Good News? Teen Pregnancy Is Down

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Rate of teen pregnancy has fallen 42 percent since 1991. Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

It seems like there’s nothing but bad news all around us. Congress can’t get anything done, the Middle East is in turmoil, and climate change is making natural disasters worse around the world. But a couple of weeks ago, I went to an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies that celebrated a major accomplishment. The teen birth rate and pregnancy rate are both down — and not just by a little bit.

The teen birth rate has plummeted by 52 percent since 1991, while the teen pregnancy rate has fallen by 42 percent. Fewer teen pregnancies mean fewer abortions, less financial strain on families, and more children being born into families that are ready to have a child.

This news came as a surprise to me, as it did to many. Seventy-four percent of adults incorrectly believe the teen pregnancy rate has increased or stayed the same. Fewer teens have gotten pregnant do to a combination of waiting to have sex until later and being more educated about the proper way to use contraception. This news doesn’t fit the current narrative that millennials and young people don’t take personal responsibility for their lives and choices.

This success is yet another example of what government, the private sector and faith community, and families can accomplish when they work together.

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