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Leadership and Faith

Crisis in Catholicism and the Presidency.

by James Leroy Wilson
April 3, 2002

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Leadership and Faith_James Leroy Wilson-Crisis in Catholicism and the Presidency. Most people become leaders in one form or another. Leaders are people in any capacity who expect their words - whether they are lessons or orders - to be learned and obeyed. Most people become leaders when they become parents. Teachers, bosses, politicians, and pastors are all leaders.

The very idea of leadership, and of the social organization and institutions that make it possible, is to benefit the followers. The leader acts in what she deems is in the best interests of her followers, and they, in turn, obey because they agree that her leadership is in their bests interests.

Leaders are of two kinds: those who are driven by ambition to attain a position of authority, and those who attain the position because they are driven by ambition to get something done.

In non-leadership roles, it is nearly impossible to attain any enviable position without being willing, and even wanting, to do the necessary work; the two concepts are inextricably tied. To dream of being the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player starts with a desire to play football. To dream of being a rock star starts with a desire to write and perform music.

To be effective in a leadership capacity, the operative word is not to "be" but to "do." To say "I want to be a teacher," may imply desiring the position for its non-teaching benefits: job security, summers off, or whatever. To say, however, "I want to teach" implies a desire to do a job. To say "I want to be a priest" is different from "I want to serve the Lord and will go where He takes me." Starting with the premise of doing what one wants to do, and proceeding from there, is different from desiring a particular position for its own sake. To desire and work for a position that commands respect and even adoration for its own sake, and not for any actual benefits one may provide as a leader, is a prescription for disaster.

There are enough, and obvious, benefits to positions such as Senator or President, that it is easy to say, "I want to be a Senator" or "I want to be President." But holding a position for its own sake provides no benefit for the people. What do you hope to accomplish in the Senate that you can't accomplish elsewhere? What do you want to do as President that otherwise won't get done?

To view a position of authority as an instrument for action, and not as a means to enjoy prestige and power, is the only way to preserve the integrity of the institution that position serves. Work in a non-profit institution, as opposed to a profit-driven position in the market, is a unique trust. Institutions are meant to serve people in ways the free market - can not. The free market generates wealth, but it can't and won't raise people's children. The market won't enforce the very laws that protect it. The market doesn't provide a religious vision. Whether the relationship to the institution is "natural," like the child to the family, by compulsion like the citizen to the government, or voluntary, like the parishioner to the church, the promise is always that the individual would be worse off without the institution. The operative word in the market is trust - trust in the honesty and reliability of the person with whom you make a transaction. The consequences of losing that trust could be legal, but also a loss of market share. The operative words in institutions, however, is not trust, but faith. One doesn't have a choice of parents, or government, or true religion. When authorities violate the faith bestowed on them, the consequences do not affect a particular group of people, but the institution itself. So a father, who no doubt loves his son, decides to angrily beat his son's hockey coach to death, has essentially destroyed that family unit. The son no longer has a father, who will spend a long time in jail.

Betrayals of faith are different in kind and, in their different kinds, in severity. Cover-ups of Roman Catholic priests molesting children is horribly tragic. That said, the First Amendment wasn't attacked and the world economy wasn't ruined. President Bush has betrayed the conservative voters who put him in office, by imposing steel tariffs while at the same time preaching free trade, and violating a campaign pledge to not sign an unconstitutional campaign finance reform bill. But at least he's not a child molester.

The advantage of a free society is that violations of faith can be spotted and corrected, and the institutions will bear the consequences. American Catholics will remember what was done. American conservatives will remember what was done. If the outrage of both is strong enough, there will be change. If loyalty to a person or to the status quo proves greater than a desire to get rid of the evil, then the people as a whole get what they deserve even as more innocent people - whether they are molested children or unemployed auto factory workers - will suffer the consequences.

Relying on the good will, or good intentions, or "character" of the leader isn't good enough. The leader must do right, or at least do right far more often than wrong and justify his compromises. To do any less is to take the people for granted, and that's when the real abuse, the corruption of power, begins.

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