Leadership

Time for Us to Do Something 'Fantastic' for Refugees

Image via /Shutterstock

Three weeks ago, on Aug. 7, the American public had ample summer entertainment choices for killing time. There was the release of the latest Marvel film, Fantastic Four, which despite its fantastic failure with critics still had a $26.2 million opening. There was also the first GOP presidential primary “debate,” which guest starred The Donald and drew 24 million viewers, making it the highest-rated primary debate in television history.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, radicals weren’t killing time at all, but making further advances. That same day, ISIS attacked Qariyatain, a strategically located town in the Syrian province of Homs. The attack is said to have resulted in at least 230 kidnappings.

August 7 was already a day of infamy in the Christian history of the region. It was already known as “The Day of the Martyrs” within the Assyrian Christian community. On that day in 1933, as many as 3,000 Assyrian Christians were massacred in Simele (northern Iraq). It's also the day ISIS captured Qaraqosh — the “Christian capital” of Iraq — forcing Christians to flee the Nineveh Plain to Kurdistan, eliminating 1,900 years of Christian presence in Nineveh.

Many American Christians say they are hungry for leadership, but what are we actually doing beyond indulging in fictional stories of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, and The Thing battling evil, or the barely less fictional “leadership” on display in contemporary politics? 

Boy Scouts Drop Ban on Adult Gay Leaders

a katz / Shutterstock.com

Photo via a katz / Shutterstock.com

The Boy Scouts of America ended its national ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees on July 27 while allowing local religious units to continue to exclude gay adults.

Meeting by conference call, 79 percent of the BSA’s national executive board members favored the resolution ratified earlier this month by its executive committee.

The policy change represents the end of a long and bitter struggle over whether to accept gay members that began more than two years ago when it allowed gay youths to participate, but not adults.

A Duet of Demise

Sepp Blatter & Dennis Hastert

Sepp Blatter in 2007 kojoku / Shutterstock.com; Dennis Hastert in 2005 by Doug Bowman via Flickr.com

My experience in the worlds of both religion and politics convinces me that one of three issues is at the heart of the catastrophic demise of any leader — money, sex, or power. Sometimes it’s a trifecta of all three together, like the case of John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate. But in virtually every case, a leader’s personal inability to exercise appropriate constraint and control over one or more of these three dimensions of life can lead to careers that crumble and reputations that become shattered.

That’s why, despite all the fascination on the external qualities, traits, and strategies of successful leaders, it’s their internal lives that can be far more decisive in their long-term ability to be transformative leaders — or not. But that requires attentiveness to the powerful but often hidden dynamics of one’s interior life, which “successful” leaders rarely have the time or courage to undertake.

Restoring Dignity in the Midst of Poverty and Human Trafficking

Shirley, an employee at Dignity Coconuts. Photo courtesy of Dignity.

I love the story of Shirley. Her family was struggling to survive in the Philippines—a nation plagued with poverty and modern-day slavery. Her husband Ramir took whatever small jobs he could to help the family, but without land, his only options were to work helping on a rice farm or a fishing boat. The pay was irregular and unsustainable, so he made the tough choice to look for work in a bigger city and send money back to Shirley and their three kids. Shirley applied to work at Dignity. She was skeptical as she had never worked with a team and doubted her abilities. When Dignity hired her, it changed her life and her family. Shirley was able to make a consistent income from Dignity. The cycle of poverty and human trafficking was stopped in its tracks.

Who Are the Best Justice Leaders We Need to Know?

Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Darren Ferguson at The Summit 2014. Photo by Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Last summer, Sojourners hosted The Summit: World Change Through Faith & Justice. It was a powerful gathering of 300 leaders that convened on important issues of faith and justice. The Summit is a chance for leaders to grow, learn, and be encouraged. It is a rare opportunity to be supported by peers who understand the pressures and struggles of public ministry and leadership.

I’m pleased to announce that Sojourners is hosting The Summit 2015 this June in Washington, D.C. It’s poised to be this year’s gathering of cross-sector leaders joining together to effect change in this country and beyond.

And I need your help. We need to you to nominate the best leaders that no one has heard of to attend The Summit . She could be a seminarian or young pastor, an entrepreneur creating jobs, or a civic leader solving problems. He could be an academic, an artist/musician, a philanthropist, or a local leader who has been working tirelessly for years to knit a community together.

That leader could be you. Fill out the nomination form and tell us why.

Is the Language of Business Enough?

I’M PRIVILEGED to be part of a program called the Prime Movers Fellowship, a circle of mainly younger-generation social change agents launched by Ambassador Swanee Hunt and her late husband, Charles Ansbacher. In December, the Prime Movers had a retreat with the Council of Elders, an inspiring group of civil rights era activists. Those two days contained some of the most profound conversations I’ve been part of in 10 years.

Rev. Joyce Johnson facilitated masterfully, opening sessions with prayer and sacred song. Rev. John Fife spoke about launching the Sanctuary movement through churches. Rabbi Art Waskow connected the theme of the Eric Garner killing (“I can’t breathe”) with the climate challenge (“We can’t breathe”).

Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Beloved Community Center told a story about driving into the North Carolina mountains to try to convince a white supremacist to cancel a Ku Klux Klan rally in Greensboro. “I was driving alone,” he explained, “and halfway up the mountain I started to get a little scared. So I stopped my car and got down on my knees to pray. I felt God tell me I was doing something necessary, and I felt my courage return.” He got back into his car and drove on to the meeting.

AFTER THAT STORY, Rea Carey, a Prime Movers fellow, made an observation: When a civil rights era activist speaks, it is almost always infused with a deep religious commitment. When a younger-generation civic leader speaks, words such as “strategic plan,” “long-term objective,” and “metric” are far more common.

It was a striking enough insight that about 20 of us gathered in a breakout session to discuss it.

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Dean Smith: Amazing Grace

Nothin' but net. Image courtesy Derek Hatfield/shutterstock.com

Nothin' but net. Image courtesy Derek Hatfield/shutterstock.com

An early fellow Sojourner, Perk Perkins, reminded me this week that not long after we started Sojourners as a new Christian magazine for justice and peace, I came running into our little office one day and exclaimed, “Dean Smith is a Sojourners subscriber!” 

Here were young Christians in Washington, D.C., saying our faith called us to racial and economic justice, opposing the nuclear arms race, ending the death penalty, and supporting the equality of women. And the greatest college basketball coach in the country was reading Sojourners?! 

Dean Smith died on Saturday. He was 83 years old. 

Monday’s front page New York Times story — not just in the Sports section — was titled, “A Giant of College Basketball And a Champion of Equality.”  

ESPN and everybody else ran the numbers. But all the tributes and comments on the death of Dean Smith have quickly moved on from the numbers. Current UNC coach, Roy Williams, said his predecessor "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people." 

Player after player who were coached by Dean Smith, as famous as Michael Jordan to those who barely walked on to the team and hardly ever played, testified in the last few days to how much more than a coach he was to them — their “mentor,” “teacher,” “second father,” “role model,” life-long inspiration and guide.  

Christian Leaders Should Prepare for the Long Term

Deep connected roots. Image courtesy Lightspring/shutterstock.com

Deep connected roots. Image courtesy Lightspring/shutterstock.com

Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s advice to Christian leaders: Discern God’s call and learn how to sustain your inward life for the long term.

“Leaders have to know who they are,” he said.

“When everything else crumbles and when you are in situations of disillusionment, when plans haven’t worked out, when colleagues have disappointed you, there’ll come those times when you say, ‘Why am I doing this?’

“At that point, what is needed is a deep and abiding sense of God’s call.”

Granberg-Michaelson’s call led him to take on a variety of roles in his career. He served from 1994 to 2010 as general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several books, including “Leadership from Inside Out: Spirituality and Organizational Change.”

Before that, he served as research assistant for U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, managing editor of Sojourners magazine, co-founder of a nonprofit organization, and director of church and society for the World Council of Churches.

Q: You’ve had a really interesting career, including working on Capitol Hill and in Geneva, Switzerland with the World Council of Churches. What did you learn from those roles?

Working in the U.S. Senate with Mark Hatfield is when I first learned about how important it was to have a group that had a deep level of trust together. And that you have to work on building that.

And then in the life of Mark Hatfield as a U.S. senator, I saw the importance of giving voice to crucial issues in ways that helped empower others. The role of prophetic ministry I really witnessed in his life in the U.S. Senate, the kinds of stances that he took against the Vietnam War, stances that were rooted in his own convictions.

Those were qualities that came out of his Christian character. But those were also qualities I saw and learned in that secular context.

When I went to Geneva with the World Council, I got to see the enormous complexities of how organizations function and how decisions are made. I was very involved in a restructuring effort.

We spent a lot of time figuring out models for how church bodies can govern themselves. And the World Council was in a deep discussion — conflict, really — with its Orthodox members at that point. I was involved in a special commission on relations with the Orthodox.

One of the key issues was how we make decisions. To the Orthodox mind, it was incomprehensible that a central committee of 150 people could meet together and by a majority vote determine God’s will.

That led to a whole fascinating journey that I’ve continued on ever since, to rethink how church bodies make decisions.

Out of that dialogue came an embracing of models of consensus decision making, which the World Council still uses today, where 150 people will come to a decision that they arrive at by consensus. It’s a discussion, a deliberation that’s led very carefully, very artfully, taking into account the opposing points of view and getting to a point where either the body as a whole agrees or a minority that may not agree are willing to say, “We will step aside and allow this to go forward.” Or convictions are held so strongly that the body as a whole decides it’s really not ready to decide this.

None of these functions by majority vote. It’s a very different model, and I think one that’s much more attuned to how the church could make decisions.

Can 'Good Will Hunting' Help You Decide What to Do with Your Life?

Screenshot from 'Good Will Hunting.' Image courtesy 3diassociates.wordpress.com.

Screenshot from 'Good Will Hunting.' Image courtesy 3diassociates.wordpress.com.

It probably can’t. It may help you ponder the kind of person you hope to become, and it might even help you orient yourself towards the next few baby steps you take in this life, but decide what you want to do with your life? Not likely. None of us ever really decides ‘what to do with our lives,’ as if that were some golden tablet plucked out of the heavens. But that won’t stop us from frantically stressing.

As a recent college graduate who does indeed stress about such a question, I recently rediscovered the modern classic that is Good Will Hunting as I spent Thanksgiving anxiously deliberating my future — and realized it has a lot to offer.

Although the film is perhaps most famous for pulling heart strings, it is also a deep exploration of courage and humility. It forces viewers to question their vocational priorities and even invites reflection upon why we choose to seek, or avoid, outward success. If you haven’t seen this 1997 drama, and you’re stressed about what to do with your life, you should stop reading now and go watch it before I start dropping spoilers.

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