Sunday, March 9, 2014

Everyone Wants Strong Leaders, But No One Wants To Be Led

I remember being told as a child that our 18th century European ancestors were expected to stop and bow whenever they were met by members of the aristocracy. In those days, everyone knew their place and showed deference to those ranked above them, child to parent, citizen to ruler, lay member to clergy, peasant to lord.

We've come a long way since then. While we may sometimes decry the lack of deference shown for authority by our children and teens, and even advocate reverting to more corporal punishment as a way of instilling some old fashioned respect, we rarely demonstrate much of a submissive mindset ourselves.

A part of me can celebrate that. As members of faith communities we see ourselves as a part of a "priesthood of all believers", no longer subject to an authoritarian rule by powerful bishops and/or some kind of strong denominational hierarchy. The era of authoritarian leaders appears to be over. And as American citizens we pride ourselves in being a part of a citizen-led republic rather than subjects of a monarchy or dictatorship.

At the same time, I hear many of us bemoaning a lack of leadership in the church or in our government. We may even express admiration for a Putin-style ruler, but only on one unspoken condition, that whoever who is in power should strongly champion our cause, be a voice for our own strongly held values, and not be about leading us in some new or different direction.

In today's wide, wild world of the internet I'm amazed at how sure so many are of exactly what positions the church should take and what practices and beliefs should be reinforced--as long as they are exactly in line with their own convictions. If we don't like something, we simply go elsewhere or form a group of our own.

In the same way, every rank and file US citizen seems to have a clear notion of just how the state should be governed and of everything that's wrong with those in positions of power. But what most are really wanting is that their president and legislators follow their lead rather than the other way around. No one is about to tell us what to we are to do or believe.

In a democracy, that may be as it should be. But we can't have it both ways, or have everything go our way. We can't be attacking our church or political leaders for not being strong leaders while at the same time disrespecting and reviling them for differing with us when they do so, or for also listening to the viewpoints of others as well as our own.

So for better or worse, when our children show disrespect for people in leadership, are they acting in defiance of us or are they simply imitating us? If we regularly have roast preacher for Sunday dinner, and routinely revile our democratically chosen leaders--ecclesiastical or political--can we really expect something different from our young?

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"Show proper respect to everyone. Love the community of believers. Have respect for God. Honor the king."
- I Peter 2:17 NIV, Readers Version 
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