The President as a Nursing King?

The President as a Nursing King?

I will also be blogging, every few weeks, at a stimulating new site, “Faith and Leadership,” sponsored by Duke University Divinity School.  It has a lot of excellent materials. Do read it regularly!

My first blog posting for that site is as follows:

Here is a biblical text that is worth thinking about in a time when folks are focusing on national leadership. From Isaiah 60:16: “You shall suck the breasts of kings.” It might not be preachable as such, given the provocative image. It could at least be mentioned, though, in connection with, say, Psalm 72:6, which offers this petition on behalf of the king: “May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.”

Both images, the more sensual one and the weather-related one, talk about the nurturing function of leadership. The Isaiah image actually got picked up as a regular theme in early Scottish Presbyterianism: the Westminster Confession says that civil magistrates have an obligation to function as “nursing fathers.”

I have been interviewed recently by several reporters doing stories on religion and the presidency. One of them asked, “Should Mr. Obama get involved in talking to the nation about moral and spiritual questions?” My answer was a qualified yes. The new American president certainly should not take sides in the more partisan debates that link directly to a specific theological perspective. But I am glad that Mr. Obama has risked the controversy of insisting on a role for the language of faith traditions in the public square.

The job description of a national leader must feature more than engaging in conflict management or initiating rescue operations. We need a vision that nurtures. Urgings to work together for the common good. Reminders of the values that undergird democracy. Calls to civility. Instruction in righteousness. Pleas for compassion.

Cultures are vulnerable things that always run the risk of dying. A nation can easily become like parched earth. Leaders need to find ways to offer life. And not only political leaders. Life-giving leadership is also crucial for the health of worshiping communities, schools, businesses, teams, and service organizations. Each needs leaders who are nursing kings, showers on mown grass—and users of language at least as creative as Scripture’s.


  1. what’s it like being a religious bigot?

    I find your interpretations are similar to Paul and we all know how he messed up Jesus’s original open minded intentions.

    Comment by Love for Jesus — February 3, 2009 @ 12:31 am

  2. Hate to bust in like this, but I just read your column in Newsweek. I hope you’ll provide a place for dialogue here on your blog, since you asked the nation to talk with you.

    To answer your question, “Can we talk?” I guess the answer is Yes, we can. However, in my own forays onto Christian blogs, what I’ve seen in print is your adherents calling homosexuals sinners right off the bat. They use scripture as a billy club –no conversation, just yards and yards of quotations taken from the bible.

    And I just don’t think this is conducive to starting a conversation. No one responds to being called sinner –especially when they’re fighting for what they believe is right.
    Most homosexuals grew up being told that homosexuality was wrong. Some felt like they dwelled in a very sad and dark place. Many have been called sinners, even disowned by their families. They have endured years of snide remarks, bigotry, and stereotyping. What you see in the protests is years of pain inflicted upon them by strangers and some by the people who should have loved them the most –their parents.

    So stop calling them sinners. This may be your perception of them –indeed of everyone, but to slap it on their forehead as a gut response won’t help your side make any inroads.

    Comment by California Lady — February 4, 2009 @ 12:33 am

  3. Dear Dr. Mouw:
    I have just read your wonderful essay in Newsweek today.

    I am not a practising Christian and I have mixed feelings regarding Proposition 8. I feel if, as a society, we had stayed in conversation that another solution would have emerged that would have met the needs of all parties concerned. But that is not why I am writing.

    To the California lady I just want to draw to your attention that nowhere in the Newsweek essay did Dr. Mouw call homosexuality a sin. Just because other Christians state this – does not mean that all believe that or, if they do, would force their beliefs on others. Dr. Mouw may or may not believe that homosexuality is a sin – and he is entitled to any beliefs he may have. Let us not generalize. The point is – he wants to start a conversation and you are the one who has stereotyped him – without even talking to him. Labeling people liberals, conservatives, democrats, republicans, christians – is boxing them. It is very hard to really see the humanness in someone and to really hear them – if we have already placed a label on them or a box around them.

    I heartily agree with Dr. Mouw on the need to dialog and talk if we are to move forward as a nation, and as human beings in this world.

    I know that this is very short notice but I am attending a conference/training in Denver this week – and I am inviting all readers and particularly Dr. Mouw could attend. (I live in Oregon.)

    It is the Citizen’s Transpartisan Alliance – part of the Reuniting America movement. For the past few years the organizers have been quietly bringing together top executives in organizations – as diverse as and the Christian Coalition – in remote conference centers and letting them discover the humanness in each other and helping them to hear each others’ points of views. The conference this week in Denver is different – in that it is for citizens – to learn how to bridge the gaps between us and to learn how to listen to people who have different values than our own.

    I hope that those of you who read this will visiting their website and consider attending. Dr, Mouw could make a great contribution to the training. Please let me hear from you,Dr. Mouw.

    Mary Miller

    PO Box 73
    Ashland, OR 97520

    Comment by Mary N. Miller — February 8, 2009 @ 10:31 pm

  4. I recently read your article that appeared in Newsweek magazine. I applaud your request for more talking and less shouting. In an effort to stimulate conversation, here is a question: Why should gay people not be allowed to get married when the U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law?

    Comment by Andrew Coles — February 11, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  5. I agree we need to discuss the issue of gay marriage and I encourage that discussion. The problem I have with your position is that when you base your discussion on religion you have automatically cut off the free discussion of any subject. Religion so limits the point of view that having a real discussion is virtually impossible. If you could talk about gay marriage based on the pros and cons of two humans being joined in marriage with the benefits and responsibilities that carries without adding religion into the mixture then a real discussion could occur.
    I suspect that without injecting religion into a discussion you have very little to discuss.

    Comment by Jim Allan — February 12, 2009 @ 2:08 am

  6. Dear Dr. Mouw,

    You have asked for a genuine dialog with “… folks that worry about my views.” You’ve asked, “Can we talk?” You have professed that you “… don’t want to impose my personal convictions on the broader population.”

    Yet you supported a constitutionally questionable proposition that specifically withholds basic rights from a class of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. You have asked the support of the State of California to overrule my Christian beliefs and those of my denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association. Many other faith traditions have also taken the position in support of same-sex marriage, and other mainline Protestant denominations are actively wrestling with the issue at this point in time.

    Your only defense for your position, which is at odds with your comments above and your plea for a respectful dialog, is that you are guided by your religious convictions and your fears concerning the fate of your children and grandchildren using the tired, intellectually bankrupt argument about a “slippery slope.”

    You ask, “What is it about people like me that frightens you so much?” Your fear is what frightens me. Your failure of faith that your position can hold its own in a free forum of discussion without using the power of the State of California frightens me. Your intolerance of opposing religious convictions from responsible denominations frightens me. Your willingness to throw other people who differ from your beliefs under the bus frightens me.

    If you want to talk, really want to talk about lowering voices, reducing anxiety, or advancing a flourishing pluralistic society, the obvious thing for you to do is either oppose Proposition 8, or as an alternative, support removing the State of California from being involved in the issue of religious marriage. Support the position that the State of California should only set conditions for civil unions and allow each church to make its own determination of who they will or will not marry.

    You cannot have this gentle conversation when you have just clubbed those with different views over the head. That is fundamental. Why can’t you understand that? Why can’t you put yourself in the other person’s shoes? Why don’t you oppose Proposition 8 and then ask for the gentle conversation?

    I am a straight, Christian man, married for 40 years with a wonderful wife and two adult children in their early thirties. I simply cannot see how supporting the wish of two people who want to commit themselves to a life-long, loving relationship in any way diminishes my marriage or threatens the welfare of my children or our society. But then again, maybe I have a much stronger faith than you do — one that is not bounded by fear or lack of scientific knowledge.

    If you want a genuine dialog, please contact me. I’d love to talk with you. It would be a much better conversation if you took your foot off my throat.


    Bill Robinson

    Comment by Bill Robinson — February 19, 2009 @ 1:14 am

  7. It seems to me presumptuous to make decisions as to whom others may marry based on your values while discounting the values of your brothers and sisters of other faiths and standards of what is natural and beautiful in the site of God, and what is not.

    There are many pastors, ministers and rabbis who find performing same gender marriages in keeping with their own sense of morality according to their religious teachings.

    You cannot force folks to follow the dictates of your beliefs in a country such as ours which professes to value religious tolerance.

    It wasn’t until the 1950s that a caucasian could legally enter into a marriage with a person of color in the state of Virginia so the writing’s on the wall, so to speak, don’t you think? Don’t you? Really, don’t you think?

    Comment by Marjorie Gauley — February 19, 2009 @ 11:31 pm

  8. […] The board of the Center for Public Justice Anecdata, Gratitude, The story and its songs Add comments Back: Carol Veldman Rudie, Terry Woodnorth, Timothy Sherratt. Front: Steven E. Meyer, Harold Heie (chair), Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. Absent: Michelle Kirtley. These are the people who conducted my final interview in Chicago. The process of selecting a new president included two sets of interviews with a search committee, and then a final interview with the board. I am very impressed with the care, dilligence, and professionalism with which both the search committee and the board conducted this process. And in addition to being informative, the conversations we had were enjoyable! The board of trustees are the ultimate stewards of the purpose and mission of the Center. Please pray for them in this time of transition, that their leadership to us may be “like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earthlike rain that falls on the….” […]

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