I remember when leadership involved humility and an attitude toward serving. I remember not so long ago that our leaders depended on their God for all truth and meaning. Not so today. What we see today is an embarrassing display of ego, narcissism and materialism.
I have one client who is 95 and from Italy. He said to me last week, if he were in Italy today thinking about coming to the US, he would have second thoughts. Ugly is the word I use to describe what this country has become and yet I still have hope and I am enthusiastic about telling people about that hope.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived during the reign of Hitler. He was a young pastor who did not compromise his values. He took huge risks in declaring what was truth and leadership. In a speech in 1933, he spoke of leadership in a way that is relevant today. Two days after Hitler’s election, this young professor of theology delineated with incisiveness the most fundamental philosophical error of a regime that hadn’t existed when he wrote the speech. For the next twelve years, Hitler would lead a nation and half the world into a nightmare of violence and misery and lead Bonhoeffer to be murdered.
Bonhoeffer wrote that true leaders must know the limitations of their authority. “The difference between real leadership and the false leadership of the Leader was this,” he said, “real leadership derived its authority from God, the source of all goodness.” The true leader must know the limitations of his authority.
If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact. If he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the limited nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol—then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the misleader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads but also towards himself…He must lead his following away from the authority of his person to the recognition of the real authority of orders and offices….He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those who he leads…He serves the order of the state, of the community, and his service can be of incomparable value. But only so long as he keeps strictly in his place…He has to lead the individual into his own maturity…Now a feature of man’s maturity is responsibility towards other people, towards existing orders. He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.
Bonhoeffer was communicating the humility of a good leader. A good leader is like a good parent in that the child will someday also be a good parent. He continued:
Only when a man sees that office is a penultimate authority in the face of an ultimate, indescribable authority, in the face of the authority of God, has the real situation been reached. And before this Authority the individual knows himself to be completely alone. The individual is responsible before God. And this solitude of man’s position before God, this subjection to an ultimate authority, is destroyed when the authority of the Leader or of the office is seen as ultimate authority…
There is much more to the speech, but I think you get the point. The question that I want to ask, does any leader on both the Democratic side and Republican side demonstrate the characteristics of a true Leader? What will this nation become without the Leadership that Bonhoeffer speaks?
Hitler, after this speech, declared that his government would make Christianity “the basis of our collective morality.” This statement was a lie.
I am not saying that we are headed into an era similar to Nazis Germany, but Bonhoeffer’s words resonate with me. His message needs to be read by every citizen of this country so that we face the reality of all the rhetoric that we are hearing from the press and our politicians. The values of this country have not changed, but there are a people who seek power that want to not only change our values but also the dependence on God for our truth.
This just my opinion, but I would love to hear from you if you agree…
Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas, Thomas Nelson publisher, 2010
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