ONE OF THE MOST arduous of a teacher’s jobs is grading. I spent a few days this week on that occupation, and I feel a bit light-headed now after reading a pile of term papers.
The class was Church History and the students were asked to identify one personality or period in the development of the Christian church that impressed them most.
Despite their being evangelical Christians and direct offshoots of Martin Luther’s Reformation, a majority of my students surprisingly chose Pope Gregory the Great, who reigned at the turn of the 7th century. They chose him not for his theological breakthroughs (he made none), nor for his brilliance (he merely glistened), but for his legendary ability to lead.
Gregory reluctantly took up the reins of office and re-organized Rome after it was ravaged by the plague at the turn of the 7th century; he also used the revenue from the papal estates to ransom prisoners of war and feed the hungry and sick in his care. He rebuked the power-hungry patriarch of Constantinople by assuming the title servus servorum Dei – servant of the servants of God – saying that those who pastor must walk in the shadow of Christ. He won that dispute, and his chosen title is employed by popes to this day. He famously penned On Pastoral Care, in which he instructed shepherds of the flock on the proper care of their sheep. It is a work of astonishing currency that leaders of all sectors might learn from, even now.
My students almost unanimously chose Gregory because of what they observed to be the glaring need for “servant leadership” in churches today. That is a term which is bandied around much in ecclesiastical circles, but unfortunately, it is a quality in low supply at this time.
Servant leadership is not a concept confined to the church; at least it should not be. Where a candidate courts the people’s support by promising to espouse their welfare, and if they do entrust him with their plight, he owes it to them to serve their cause. It is simple. Anything other than this is hypocrisy and betrayal. I think that, frankly, people have had it and are seriously looking for leaders who will serve.
The problem facing the thinking classes is that in the present field, the options are slim, if there are any at all. The populace hopes to get somewhere in 2016, but the question before them is where to, and with whom?
I wrote of this quandary in my piece Inspiring some time before the filing of the certificates of candidacy. There I said,
Some folks found this stance too radical; some even said “if you don’t vote you lose your chance to complain about the government.” I would answer that by citing the Bill of Rights which grants me the right of suffrage and the privilege to exercise it or not as I choose. I do not lose my citizenship nor my ability to participate in government nor my freedom of expression just because I choose not to vote.
Still, I don’t plan not to vote. I certainly intend to use my ballot, otherwise someone else might use it for me. What I aim to do is leave the pertinent slots blank if I find no one in the field qualified, by my standards, to fill them.
I do not want to dwell on the choices prematurely. I will bend my thoughts there only when the roster is etched in stone; in other words, in December. Even then, I will only listen to the candidates’ platforms and not to their hype or bluster; there are better things to do than that. I will not support parties that have no distinctive ideologies but only slogans and color-coordinated vests. At least where this voter is concerned, the elections will be about issues and not personalities. I will be praying for guidance and trusting Divine Wisdom to direct my choices, and I will follow what it says. If a candidate offers nothing to warrant my vote, he or she will not get it.
What happens then? What if we all choose not to vote for second best and make the statement that we deserve better? What if a boycott of the presidential vote results in a failure of elections? Then there will be an awful mess and a lot of fuss, I imagine. What I know is that it will be a message heard around the world. And maybe then it will penetrate through the thick crocodile skin of our career trapoliticians.
I am looking for leaders who will serve, and I will be radical, if I must, to hold out for that. We cannot continue to abet a corrupt system. At some point, we must say, “Enough, it stops here,” so succeeding generations will not have to ask, “Where to?”
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”