leaders

The Fateful Year Ahead

BAN KI MOON has summoned the world's leaders to New York in September to talk about the climate—and in the process he's also summoned all of us who care about the planet's future. We'll be there in record numbers, for the largest demonstrations about global warming yet—and there will be, I think, an unavoidable edge of anger. Because calling these guys "leaders," at least on this issue, is by now a joke.

Take President Barack Obama, for instance. He ran for office promising, in almost biblical terms, that during his administration "the rise of the oceans would begin to slow." Installed in office, he summoned environmentalists to the White House where his staff informed them that he wouldn't be talking about climate change: "Green jobs" tested better in focus groups.

And President Obama was true to his word. He hardly ever talked about climate change: He summoned no political muscle to back attempts at a climate bill in the Senate, and he watched as the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed, the biggest foreign policy failure in many years. 

When Obama run for president in 2012, he made it through the whole campaign—during the hottest year in U.S. history—without even mentioning global warming. And while he delayed half of the Keystone pipeline, he "expedited" approval of the southern section, boasting that his administration had built enough new pipelines to wrap around the equator. He has modest decreases in carbon emissions to herald—and massive increases in oil and gas drilling. On his watch the United States will pass Russia and Saudi Arabia as a hydrocarbon source.

Much the same is true of China's premier and Russia's president and many other world leaders. They're not leading, they're failing.

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When Leaders Let You Down

Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com
Disappointed young man, Katarzyna Wojtasik / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Sunday's message at The District Church in Washington, D.C.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that one of the stages of growing up is “giving up the distorted images of one’s parents” — in other words, realizing that they’re not perfect. This also holds true for other leaders in our lives. We learn that our political leaders, our youth group leaders, our mentors, our teachers aren’t perfect. This isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we feel like our leaders let us down, but it’s actually because we had unrealistic expectations of them — such as being perfect, such as never making mistakes, such as not doing everything you want them to do.

(Pretty much nobody I know does everything I want them to do. That doesn’t make them failures; that makes me have to examine what kind of expectations I’m putting on them!)

So I’m not talking about that kind of let-down. I’m talking about those situations we’ve all experienced where we’ve been let down by some kind of failure on the leader’s part. Just this week, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of one of the largest churches in the world — 750,000 people, and he’d been pastor there for almost five decades — was found guilty of embezzling almost $12 million . I’m talking about that kind of let down. I’m talking about:

  • a father who wasn’t present—physically or emotionally,
  • a pastor who had an affair,
  • a youth leader who ended up turning away from God.

Those are the ones that are most devastating, right? But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It could be a small group leader who wasn’t present when you were going through something, a supervisor or boss at work who doesn’t listen or seem to care.

The Most Ignored and Undervalued People Within Churches Today

Bocman1973/Shutterstock
People with disabilities are among those often ignored by churches. Bocman1973/Shutterstock.com

Churches are supposed to be communities that represent Christ’s infinite love — and many of them do — but certain groups of people seem to be continually ignored, alienated, undervalued, and simply lost within American churches. Leadership structures, social expectations, religious values, and traditions within faith communities have a tendency to favor some groups but not others, resulting in discrimination instead of equality, exclusion instead of acceptance, and prejudice instead of fairness. 

Skeptics Wonder if Ex-Clergy Should Lead Atheist Movements

Photo courtesy of RNS
Jerry DeWitt, a former Pentecostal preacher, came to be an atheist while still preaching in the pulpit. Photo courtesy of RNS

By definition, skeptics are pretty skeptical. They question what they see as unfounded claims or dubious motivations, whatever the source. Now, they are questioning some of their own leaders.

With the success of organizations such as The Clergy Project — an online community seeking to provide a safe place for clergy members who reject supernatural beliefs — numerous former ministers are joining the ranks of the publicly nontheistic.

Some have risen to the leadership of prominent atheist organizations. Last week, Teresa MacBain was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University’s Humanist Community after it was revealed she inflated her resume. The former United Methodist pastor claimed a degree from Duke Divinity School she did not have.

“Our society needs so much and thriving secular communities could make significant contributions, ” wrote Donald Wright, author and organizer of the Day of Solidarity for Black Non-Believers, on Freethought Blogs. But, he added, “My unsolicited advice is to be skeptical of this new wave of leadership.”

A New Wave

FOR ANYONE who’s sick of explaining that not all evangelicals are flag-waving, Quran-burning, gay-hating, science-skeptic, anti-abortion ralliers, The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians provides a boost of encouragement. Written by frequent USA Todaycontributor Tom Krattenmaker, this who’s who of “new-paradigm evangelicals” explains how a growing movement of Jesus-followers are “pulling American evangelicalism out of its late 20th-century rut and turning it into the jaw-dropping, life-changing, world-altering force they believe it ought to be.”

Unlike their predecessors, these new evangelicals are characterized by a willingness to collaborate with members of other religions and no religion for the common good, warm acceptance of LGBTQ folks, a rejection of the dualistic pro-life vs. pro-choice debate, and a desire to participate in mainstream culture rather than wage war against it. All this “while lessening their devotion to Jesus by not a single jot or tittle.”

Admittedly, the book’s cover photo doesn’t quite do justice to Krattenmaker’s observations. Featuring young worshipers in a dark sanctuary with hands uplifted and eyes closed, each apparently lost in a private moment of four-chord progression praise, the cover looks more like a Hillsong worship concert circa 1998 than cutting-edge 2013 evangelicals. (If you’re unfamiliar with the four-chord progression, Google “how to write a worship song in five minutes or less.” You’re welcome.)

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The Cost of Being 'Christian'

Richard Twiss teaching on indigenous worship. Photo by the International Worship Institute.

ALL EYES WERE fixed on Richard Twiss, the Lakota/Sioux co-founder and president of Wiconi International, who stood center stage at the 2011 Christian Community Development Association conference.

Twiss pulled no punches as he told the truth about the church's role in colonization: The global genocide of indigenous peoples and the eradication of indigenous cultures by requiring people to cut their hair, leave their families, forsake their languages, and forswear their drums. Coaxed to convert or be damned, indigenous people exchanged their own culture for guitars and mission schools in order to be "Christian."

On Feb. 9, 2013, Richard Twiss passed to the other side of life. For many he was a key voice for indigenous people finding a way to reclaim their culture while keeping hold of Christ. While Twiss was a primary voice of the movement, he was also a member of a larger circle of indigenous leaders, each of whom has played his or her part to establish and spread the good news of cultural reconciliation after "500 years of bad haircuts," as Twiss liked to put it.

Twiss had enormous impact on the indigenous "contextual ministry" movement. "Contextualization means to present the good news of the shalom kingdom of Jesus Christ in a way that people can understand and relate to in their own cultural context," explained Randy Woodley (Keetoowah Cherokee), distinguished associate professor of faith and culture at George Fox Evangelical Seminary.

From the time the Europeans hit Plymouth Rock, Woodley said, there have always been individuals who did not require indigenous peoples to forsake their culture in order to be Christian, but for centuries they were in the minority.

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COMMENTARY: Leaders Who Can Act like Grown Ups

Leadership illustration, 3DProfi / Shutterstock.com
Leadership illustration, 3DProfi / Shutterstock.com

I just spent a wonderful and encouraging weekend with a church leadership team from Reisterstown, Md. I came away filled with hope for this congregation and with admiration for their clergy and lay leaders.

I wish our weak and tiresome political leaders in Washington and state capitals could visit this church in northern Baltimore County and see how mature adults of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints manage to put the congregation first.

They listened, spoke without barbed words and without aggression garbed in niceness.

They voiced their dreams, heard their differences, and then allowed a consensus dream to emerge. They understood the need to move on from yesterday. They were like two healthy parents trying to work a family problem. They seemed to trust each other.

Jewish and Christian Leaders Try to Revive At-Risk Interfaith Group

 WASHINGTON — As a coalition of mostly Christian groups gathered here Thursday to support church leaders who have publicly questioned U.S. aid to Israel, those same church leaders signaled that they want to reconcile with the Jewish groups who were upset by their action.

An Oct. 5 letter asking Congress to investigate U.S. aid to Israel led Jewish groups to cancel a long-planned meeting later that month of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, a eight-year-old group dedicated to improving relations between the two faiths.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the first signatory on the letter, did not attend Thursday's Washington press conference that was convened to support its message. But Parsons said he stands by the letter, and acknowledged that it heightened tensions between Jews and Christians on the roundtable.

“We regret any distancing it put between us and our Jewish partners," he said, "and we hope we can close that gap."

On Scripture: After the Chaos Ends

Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com
Chaos Image, © Lightspring / Shutterstock.com

The book of Jeremiah straddles the most momentous event of Israel’s history: the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the exile of its leaders to Babylon (586 B.C.E.). In the first half of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet announces that God is furious with the people of Judah, in particular its leaders, because they have reneged on the covenant they made with God through Moses. They have not taken care of the poor, and they have not lived according to the stringent demands to worship God alone.

Not surprisingly, the leaders do not want to hear Jeremiah’s critiques of their ways of doing business. No politician wants to look weak – even before a god. According to Jeremiah, the leaders of Judah have prioritized – not the building of an ethical community – but their own comfort and position. Their desire to maintain their own power and influence has trumped everything. And these politicians have justified their behavior so many times and in so many ways, they don’t even recognize how far they have fallen from the ideal that guided the building of the nation.

Four Questions for Kelvin Hazangwi

Kelvin Hazangwi

Bio: Executive Director, Padare/Enkundleni Men's Forum on Gender in Harare, Zimbabwe
Website: www.padare.org.zw

1. How are women working for gender equality in Zimbabwe? We have a very strong women’s movement in Zimbabwe. We have the Women and AIDS Support Network. We have the Campaign for Female Education, an organization doing wonderful work giving grants to girls so that they stay in school. We have another organization that deals with violence against women; there are no government-provided shelters for battered women in Zimbabwe. There are organizations for young women, for women in rural communities—I could go on and on.

2. “Padare” and “Enkundleni” mean “meeting place” in Zimbabwe’s Shona and Ndebele languages. What does Padare work to do? We are not bringing a new agenda to the table; we are saying, let’s look at all of these women’s organizations and the issues they’re bringing—violence against women, access to education, access to reproductive health, HIV and AIDS. What can men do? Perpetrators of violence against women are men. Men can make a personal commitment of not being violent against their partners. That’s a political statement, but from a very personal perspective. So the feminist slogan that “the personal is political” is equally applicable to men.

3. What else can men do? Statistics now indicate very clearly that women in marriage might not be able to negotiate safe sex; they are at risk of HIV and AIDS. What if married men take a personal commitment of promoting their own health and their partner’s? One of the national campaigns was saying: Let’s keep mothers alive and ensure zero infection of unborn babies. But we also need to keep men alive to support their families.

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