Two recent news stories made me reflect on whether we are witnessing a change in our culture regarding what it means to be a leader, and it forced me to ask myself a very hard question.
The first story broke last week when Robert Gates, the leader of the Boy Scouts of America, said that scouting needed to be open to male leaders who have sex with other men. “We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” Gates commented. “The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”
The second story also broke last week, but didn’t make as much news nationally. It concerned the California Medical Association, which became the first medical association in America to take a neutral position on assisted suicide, or what some refer to euphemistically as ‘death with dignity,’ rather than opposing it outright. The comment by one of the CMA’s executive committee members was similar to that of Mr. Gates: “I don’t know I would engage in this with a patient, but I see society has changed.”
What Is Leadership?
What troubles me about these stories is what I see as a lack of leadership from organizations that are, in the case of the Boy Scouts, supposed to prepare young men to be leaders, or in the case of a medical association, supposed to provide leadership in our society on matters of life and health.
I thought leaders were supposed to lead, not follow the trends, as seems to be the case with the “leaders” in these two organizations. This is not to say that leaders don’t “deal with the world as it is,” as Gates put it, but I always thought real leaders saw the world as it ought to be and then, by the courage of their convictions, pointed others toward that which was better.
Evaluating the ‘New’ Leadership Standard
If Gates and the leadership of CMA think what is going on is not really what ought to be going on, then for them to commend to their organizations that they “go along” is not leadership, but cowardice. However, I don’t think that is what is going on here, because they didn’t say that the way society is going is the right way or that we need to provide greater leadership in that direction.
In fact, the CMA leader said he didn’t think he would “engage” in assisted suicide with one of his patients. But if it’s a good thing, which you would conclude if he is not opposed to it being done, then why not engage?
Instead, I believe the reason they were advocating conformity to the direction in which society is going is because “going with the flow” and “accepting the world as it is” is itself a standard; it’s the standard that either says, “follow the crowd” or “who am I to judge anything?”
If that’s what we’re now calling a leader, then, indeed, we are seeing a change in what it means to be a leader. It is leadership by abdication and resignation.
Real Leaders from the Past
However, when I think of a leader, I think of people like Martin Luther, who, on trial before the Catholic Church for his writings that sparked the Protestant Reformation, said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me.” I think of people like the patriot Patrick Henry, who, standing in the historical stream of the freedom born of the Reformation, said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Those are people with convictions who made history. They are leaders, and it is only those of their ilk that ever change the world.
The Hard Question
If Gates and the CMA are what is now passing for leadership, then, to paraphrase Luther, “God help us.” We need people like Luther and Henry, who, seeing what is, fearlessly lead based on their conviction for what ought to be.
The hard question I have had to ask myself, in light of what I have seen and my prayer for God to raise up such leaders, is whether I’m willing to be such a leader myself. May God grant me the courage to answer that call, and may God do the same for all of you who join me in that prayer.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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