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.