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I want to raise a complex, but very important, issue that’s been on my mind a lot lately.

It has to do with leadership, particularly religious leadership.

Daniel, a colleague in ministry and close friend of mine (and godfather to our son, Will) got me thinking about this during one of our frequent conversations.

Daniel says that there is a tendency in many religions to create a sense of “the group,” “the faithful,” and “the enemy.”

Now read carefully:

This tendency, Daniel writes, “…becomes the toxic element in religion. It is certainly toxic for the ‘other’ and over time for the group itself.”

Why? Because some religious groups increasingly need “to purify by finding an ‘other’ to vilify.”

We all need to be on guard against this tendency to “purify” ourselves by “vilifying” others.

Let me be specific: My frustration with all the controversies rolling around in the Episcopal Church is not so much with the controversies themselves: whether women should be allowed to be priests and bishops, and the role that openly gay and lesbian people should have in the church. Reasonable people, even devout people of faith, can agree to disagree.

My frustration is with the way concerns over these issues have morphed into more vague accusations in an attempt to create a sense of “the group,” “the faithful,” and “the enemy.”

This plays itself out as those who take one point of view on these issues present themselves as “preserving” what they call “Biblical authority” and “the historic faith,” while characterizing those who take another point of view as “unorthodox” and “revisionists.” And it cuts both ways, as those who take another point of view present themselves as “progressive,” with the implication (or outright accusation) that those who do not share their views are by definition the antonym, which is “regressive.”

When accusations start flying, when arguments turn into ad hominem attacks, then be alert: someone is trying to fill their need to “purify by finding an ‘other’ to vilify.” If you see it, name it for what it is: lazy leadership.

Of the many remarkable things about Jesus, one of the most remarkable is how he managed to criticize (and sometimes severely) without vilifying…how he challenged the status quo without setting up a new system…how he even expelled demons, without demonizing.

That’s true leadership, and the kind of leadership we can develop only by being followers -- followers of Jesus.


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