- Leadership is facilitative;
- Leadership is modelling;
- Leadership is prophetic;
- Leadership is relational;
- Leadership endeavours to be collaborative;
- Leadership endeavours to be conciliar;
- Leadership occurs in community;
- Leadership occurs in a faith-based context;
- Leadership occurs in a pastoral relationship;
- Leadership requires a commitment to life-long learning; and,
- Leadership requires a commitment to self-knowing & exploration.
- Justice is aspirational;
- Justice is communal;
- Justice is financial;
- Justice is divinely mandated;
- Justice is equitable;
- Justice is political;
- Justice is soul-work;
- Justice is a reflexive practice;
- Justice is an unfolding practice; and,
- Justice recognises and names oppression.
This is the second blog in this unfolding leadership and justice series. In the first, I outlined the steps we might begin to explore the topic. I also named some assumptions, which can be found above. I have had some most challenging and interesting conversations about these assumptions so far. I look forward to new conversations as we explore this next installment.
In this part of our conversation, I am talking specifically about the context in which I find myself: a Christian seminary. I suspect there is definitely overlap with others’ faith-based and secular contexts that are preparing and nurturing leaders. It will be interesting, therefore, to hear from you about where you might see both connexion and divergence based on your own context.
I have mused previously about two of the assumptions above (leadership and justice as prophetic and pastoral, which are part of the 2018-19 Leadership & Legacy reflections) and how they can, at times, be in tension with one another. For the purpose of this blog, I would like to connect leadership in community with justice as communal.
In the spaces outside of the seminary and communities of faith, it is clear there is a degree of angst and anxiety. This can be heard in the public discourse in which inequality and oppression are openly named and challenged. From the #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter to the #IdleNoMore #HonourTheApology movements, it is clear that justice awareness is front and present. This has appropriate and important implications as leaders are prepared to help connect and sometimes translate the secular to faith traditions and vice verse. Without an awareness of the need for critical thinking and analysis and engaging in this way with complex issues, those in leadership can cause further harm.
This harm is very real. Leadership and justice’s connexion is about more than just civil acts of protest, organising community resistance, and education. Activism and solidarity can indeed be part of such leadership preparation. For leaders who come out of a seminary tradition that places justice as central to the formation of leaders, such as St. Andrew’s, however, self-knowing that leads to reflexivity is a key characteristic for such preparation. Without nurturing such characteristics, it is easy to become caught up in the swirl of naming oppression.
Without an intention to understand one’s own journey and history, it is also easy to misread what one is being asked when faith leaders engage in community development: namely to listen and take the lead from those who are affected. This is not to deny that faith communities and leaders may, in fact, be those who live the injustice being challenged. More often than not, however, in the context of The United Church of Canada, leaders and faith communities are often the inheritors of privilege.
This context is important – important because without that recognition, it is easy to perpetuate a kind of paternalistic Christianity. One that believes it has the answers for those living in injustice. Yet the paradox in situations where privilege (or ego, if you will) informs leadership is that any solutions that are not owned by those experiencing marginalisation will often only exacerbate the struggles already being experienced.
What this means, therefore, is that leaders who are prepared with an orientation to justice must be able to reflect and ask questions, yet only after listening. More importantly, not just after listening, but being invited into the conversation. Witnessing can be part of leadership – but being an ally requires taking the cue from those who have extended an invitation and not inserting oneself with a sense of entitlement and/or self-righteousness.
I mentioned the pastoral and prophetic challenge above, which is specific to the internal context of a faith community. The pastoral also has an implication in the context of community engagement. Whether a leader is working with ecumenical, interfaith, and/or secular partners, being aware that every choice, from a position of privilege, carries the possibility for mutual liberation or harm’s perpetuation. Holding this tension is not to dissuade the aspiration of advocating for justice. It is a tension that, when recognised, serves as a reminder that liberation can never be brought as a boon or gift to the Other. Rather, it highlights that liberation must be mutual. This learning is often most challenging for those who possess privilege.
Letting go of control, the illusion of stability in a sanitised hospital-cornered world, can be destabilising, and the temptation to hold on to it is indeed enticing. But Jesus’ ministry, which preferenced those who suffered, invites leaders to enter into communities facing struggle not as those bringing solutions and (quick) fixes, but as servants to a world that longs for abundance to be equally shared. In the Christian tradition, this Good News is called the Kingdom, and it begins when we see one another as a Blessing Divine.
Leadership and justice are interwoven in ways that take time to fully appreciate. As we pause in our unfolding exploration, where have we seen leadership and justice intersect in a way that has helped communities heal, shine, and thrive?