Leadership

What About the Women?

POPE FRANCIS HAS created a new environment in the church. Beginning with asking all the people in St. Peter’s Square to bless him, living in a humble apartment and not the papal palace, placing his own phone calls, paying his own bills, giving simple daily homilies, having conversations with many people, and joyfully mingling with people: These all characterize an incredibly different pope. What has been even more attractive about Pope Francis than his style has been what he has said.

Pope Francis is clearly not on a mission to preserve the status quo. He’s been outspoken about the need for change in the world and in the church. In this he has not been a “professional denouncer.” Rather, he always contrasts what needs to change with the opportunity to be so much more than we are now. Whether it is oppressive global economic policy or clerical ambition, Pope Francis points out that we are called to something more noble and satisfying. The call of Christ is to be our best self. Francis reminds us, “God always forgives. Don’t forget this. God always forgives.”

Another striking aspect of Pope Francis is his constant and passionate concern for people who are poor and vulnerable and his reminder of our responsibilities to them. Whether he is talking to world leaders, bishops, or general audiences, his love of poor people and his firsthand knowledge of their challenges and how we should respond is profound.

HOW THIS PAPACY will handle what are generally labeled “women’s issues” and the ability of women to fully utilize their talents in the church has yet to unfold. Many are prayerfully watching how he will deal with issues such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious investigation, the role of women in the church, both lay and religious, and women in leadership.

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Pastor, Prophet, Pope

For Catholics—and many others—what happens in Rome doesn’t stay in Rome. The seating of a new pope has the power to affect believers across the globe, in ways direct, indirect, and unpredictable. And when a surprising sea change occurs in a hide-bound, steeped-in-tradition place like the Vatican—the unexpected resignation of a pope, the selection of a Jesuit from the Americas as his replacement, and the powerful symbolism of a new leader who literally stoops to wash a Muslim woman’s feet—people of faith of all traditions sit up and take notice.

In these early days of Francis’ papacy, we asked three prominent Catholic thinkers and leaders to help us understand what it all might mean. How will the spirit of reform that has marked Pope Francis’ first few months in office affect the worldwide church? Will change at the top trickle down to parishes and neighborhoods here in the United States and elsewhere? And what will Francis’ leadership mean not only for Catholics, but for all people of faith engaged in the work of making justice and building peace? The Editors

CATHOLICS AROUND THE WORLD are transfixed by Pope Francis. We love his simplicity of life, his humble faith, his welcoming attitude to all, and his way of being Christian in the contemporary world that takes its bearings from the poor. Lace and gilt are no longer fashion statements at the Vatican. From his small apartment, the pope speaks bluntly about worrying less about rules and more about love. An utterly refreshing breeze blows through the Catholic Church.

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From Diversity to Pluralism

THE TERM “DIVERSITY” in professional and educational circles in the United States is frequently mentioned as positive on its face, needing no justification. “Diversity is our strength” or “diversity enriches us” are common statements.

But Harvard professor of comparative religion Diana Eck points out that diversity is simply a demographic fact—a situation in which people with different identities live in close quarters. The term says nothing about how those people get along with one another. Frankly, if all we knew about religious diversity in particular were the stories carried on the international news, it would be hard to conclude anything except that the close gathering of Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and others is nothing but a recipe for conflict.

Religious conflict is especially deadly because the participants believe they are fighting for cosmic reasons—where death may be welcomed as martyrdom—and religious communities are the largest repositories of social capital in many civil societies, providing endless amounts of energy, people, and resources to mobilize.

But what if the social capital among religious communities could be bridged and people who orient around religion differently could be convinced to cooperate with one another? What if the cosmic narratives of religious traditions viewed people of other faiths as partners in the quest for the kingdom on earth? This is the hope of the interfaith movement, and building this movement is the job of interfaith leaders.

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New & Noteworthy

Whom Shall I Send?

Drawing on years of pastoral and executive experience in churches and parachurch organizations, Sherry Surratt and Jenni Catron deliver on the pragmatic promise of their book's title, Just Lead! A No Whining, No Complaining, No Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church. Jossey Bass

Giving Thanks

Dreams. Wind. Bread. Oriental rugs. Puppet shows. These are a few of the inspirations for Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast's 99 Blessings: An Invitation to Life. These short, concise, sometimes whimsical prayers of gratitude for gifts great and small are invitations to increase our awareness of life's daily wonders. Image

Thine is the Power

An anti-nuclear-weapons activist and a pastor, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson has had ample experience with fervor meeting disillusionment. He writes of how to avoid compassion fatigue and cynicism without retreating to solely personal piety or apathy in The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good. IVP Books

A Way Forward

Life after Death: Practical Help for the Widowed, by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, offers guidance on the nitty-gritty of finances, self-care, finding emotional and spiritual support, caring for children while you're all grieving, and more, all framed in a frank, grounded spirituality. Franciscan Media

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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.

A Call for a New Social Covenant

file404 / Shutterstock.com
file404 / Shutterstock.com

In the past 20 years, the world has witnessed the death of social contracts. We have seen a massive breakdown in trust between citizens, their economies, and their governments. In our own country, we can point to years of data painting a bleak picture of the confidence Americans have in any of our traditional institutions.

Former assumptions and shared notions about fairness, agreements, reciprocity, mutual benefits, social values, and expected futures have all but disappeared. The collapse of financial systems and the resulting economic crisis not only have caused instability, insecurity, and human pain; they have also generated a growing disbelief and fundamental distrust in the way things operate and how decisions are made. 

This week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, we are looking to the future and asking “what now?” At a Saturday session — “The Moral Economy: From Social Contract to Social Covenant” — a document will kick off a year-long global conversation about a new “social covenant” between citizens, governments, and businesses.

This is really “a call” for worldwide discussion about what values are needed to address the many difficult challenges and choices the world is now facing. Inequality, austerity, retrenchment, constraints, mal-distribution, growing conflicts over resources, and extreme poverty all raise questions about our values. 

Emerging From the Wilderness

andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com
Man in a forest reflecting. andreiuc88 / Shutterstock.com

Wise leaders spend time in the wilderness.

Some choose a sojourn in the desert; most are driven there when their leadership fails.

In the desert, beyond their cocoon of comfort and success, they see more about themselves. If they stay in the desert long enough, they come to understand what they see about themselves. Stay still longer, and some even come to appreciate themselves.

And a few whose desert wanderings go past endurance stop focusing on themselves at all. They discover people and God. Those become the great leaders. They move far beyond self-serving, calculation, manipulation, cleverness, methods, and successful habits. They find common ground with humanity in its brokenness and aspirations, in its resilience and its daily acts of common goodness.

We live in an era of weak and absent leadership.

The Circle of Life

EXCLUDING WOMEN from leadership weakens the commitment and contributions of churches, theological institutions, and the global church in their participation in God's prophetic mission. It translates to women's priorities and specific needs being inadequately articulated and under-resourced.

For instance, matters of sexuality, reproductive health education, and justice are hardly ever discussed in churches or theological institutions, except when governments want to legalize abortion. Similarly, little attention is given to maternal health care despite the high rates of maternal death and infant mortality in Africa. It is not enough for churches to focus on baptizing children, blessing them, and welcoming them into the house of God when they neglect to care for their well-being from the time they are in their mothers' wombs, especially now that so many children are born HIV-infected. Responsible and healthy sexuality, childbearing, and parenting are matters that require full engagement of both women and men, and the churches should be at the forefront of providing much-needed education.

Women have been left to shoulder the burden of the times: preventing HIV transmission, facing HIV-related stigma, handling deaths, and addressing the myriad other adverse impacts that the HIV pandemic has created. Similarly, in the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, of which this author is a founding member, women have provided leadership in naming theological, ethical, cultural, and religious beliefs, as well as harmful practices and leadership styles, that fuel gender disparity, social injustices, and the spread of HIV in religious communities and in society at large. The Circle also has endeavored to provide theological and ethical reflections that are empowering and transformative to the behaviors contrary to God's will for how women and men relate to each other in families, religious contexts, and everyday life.

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Who Would Jesus Execute?

RICHARD VIGUERIE is as responsible as anyone for the success of the conservative movement in this country. A pioneer in political direct mail, Viguerie has been involved from the radical edges of the Right in every Republican campaign from Goldwater to Romney; he's been called the "funding father of the conservative movement." He helped start hundreds of entities from Conservative Digest to Gun Owners of America, from the National Conservative Political Action Committee to the Moral Majority—spanning the political spectrum from Right to Far Right. Just before the 2012 election, he launched MyOwnSuperPAC because of "frustration at how weak and ineffective the Romney campaign's ads have been with its soft approach to Barack Obama—hardly ever mentioning Obama's radical, neo-Marxist vision for America's future," and insisting that "Obama is NOT failing. He's succeeding at doing exactly what he set out to do—and that's destroy capitalism and destroy the America you and I grew up in." So no one is going to mistake Viguerie for a squishy liberal.

And yet Viguerie's Catholic faith has led him to a surprising position on the issues of capital punishment and prison reform. The conservative icon talked with Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis in September about why he thinks an unexpected Left-Right alliance might turn the tide against the death penalty.

Jim Wallis: As you and I both know, we're often stuck in political straitjackets. There are issues that we could work together on, particularly as people of faith, that would help politicians do better than they sometimes do. I'd like to start with this: You've said that, as a Catholic, you're against the death penalty. Why is your faith as a Catholic central to this, and how has that turned you against the death penalty?

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Emerging Hope

I’VE ALWAYS LOOKED forward to Advent. It’s a time each year of expectant hope—the hope brought by the coming of a child, born in an animal stall in Bethlehem, who would change everything. It is the time of year when I am reminded again of the choice we always have between cynicism and hope. That’s ultimately a spiritual choice, and Advent is a formative season that nurtures the choice to hope, which can guide our decisions and actions.

This fall, Sojourners launched a new project called Emerging Voices, and it’s one of the most hopeful initiatives I have been involved with in a long time. It aims to mentor, develop, and promote the most dynamic up-and-coming communicators—speakers, preachers, and teachers—who are called to lead and publicly articulate the biblical call to social justice.

The vision for this project is exciting and something to be celebrated. It also calls to mind a critical observation: Our world often wants saviors, not prophets; new messiahs, not leaders. We want heroes with superhuman strength who save the day, not mere mortals who speak the truths we typically don’t want to hear. Even the modern-day giants of social justice—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Mahatma Gandhi, for example—were at best prophets, but never saviors.

It’s easy to slip into the mentality that one person, one voice, will rise up in a generation, and that she or he will change the world as we know it. Dr. King spoke of this temptation as the “drum major instinct.” It is the basic desire of humans to lead the charge and, ultimately, reap the recognition—or, at the very least, to place our confidence in a single human being.

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