By David Tulis
We have long been suspicious of the words leader and leadership. For Mayor Andy Berke to be called a leader rankles. For state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood to run for office as a leader irritates.
That’s because leadership doesn’t mean what we think. Leadership really means management. And management promises to be the death of virtue, individual genius and prosperity because it discounts ultimate truths and stands on pragmatism.
Leadership is what we see in Bob Bentley, the governor of Alabama who says he would “never do anything to disobey a federal court ruling.” Mr. Bentley is a practicing Christian who is a member at First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa where his minister, Gil McKee, has made it clear that a godly officeholder will indeed defy lawless commands instead of exercising leadership.
“Here’s what I said to our governor yesterday,” Gil McKee, pastor of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa, told the congregation on Feb. 8. “‘Governor, I don’t care if all 49 states go for this same-sex marriage business, let’s be different in the state of Alabama. Let’s do what we know is the right thing to do. If you’ll just step up and lead out in this thing, if you’ll give the word to our chief justice to call all our probate judges … and say, ‘Don’t you issue one single license until the federal government does their thing and until we decide whether we’re going to follow that or not; don’t issue one of them,’ I’m telling you the people of this state would rally behind that.”
This report of a conversation between a Christian minister and a state’s chief civil minister is not about leadership. It’s about government. It’s about a willingness to stand alone amid a clamor of contradiction, threats, bad press and catcalls. Mr. McKee is not demanding leadership. He’s demanding service.
“We are a nation under laws,” Mr. Bentley demurred to Politico while attending a governor’s convention in Washington, D.C. “We may not always agree with them, but we obey them.”
Leadership = working within the system
Leadership of Mr. Bentley’s sort defies the claims of God explicitly and implicitly the claims of the free market built upon Christianity.
The outgoing superintendent of Bradley County schools moves in a similar vein in his departure from that government system. “I want our children to be successful learners every day, and to ultimately graduate from high school ‘college and career ready’ — ready for their next steps in life as productive and responsible citizens.” Continues Johnny Daniels, “Our investment in public education continues to keep our nation and our community strong and competitive in this ever-changing world.”
Leadership works within the existing system, whether under the widely accepted authority of the federal supremacy clause or the supremacy of the state in the training and molding of a rising generation of schoolchildren.
Mr. Daniels’ leadership does not see that schools have destroyed local economy, ruined neighborhood life, sterilized families, neutralized vigorous parenting by staffer expertise, suppressed individual and private initiative in study and in educational services. They are not the warm centers of human interaction they pretend, but human management training centers that have been adopted in goodwill by their ostensible clientele, local families,
Leadership by Gov. Bentley is accepting of federal hegemony and bureaucracy, despite instructions from a man of God that he must say no to gays’ neutron bomb theory of law. Leadership in the systems like that run by Mr. Daniels is to accept bureaucracy and work within the system. Leadership is having the courage to follow rules and to teach others to accept the status quo. It is to assume that human situations are formulaic and can be written into prescriptions. Leadership is keeping up the sanctimony and phony piety of state actors who want us to believe the center of all existence, all verity, is the state.
Leadership through politics
Leadership such as that which tempts Leadership Chattanooga’s 40 young people a year is that of civic involvement, politics, the 501(c)3 nonprofit charity world, connection among elites, and confidence in the “public-private” model of the marketplace favored by chambers of commerce.
Self-government implies service and looking out for the other. It implies people doing their own thing, in a free market, in a context where force and compulsion are limited or remote. Leadership implies followers. Leadership favors centralization and obedience to rules and form- and text-based social structures. Self-government and local economy — both being fruits of the gospel promise and Christianity — are about open-sourced voluntary collaborative free market nonsystems that are organic and not wholly rational or cost-effective.
Local economy makes much of the oddball, the dissenter, the loner, the private person, the nonconformist, the quirky soul who plays his own tune. Its horizontality and lack of organization are not its faults, but its beauty. Leadership like that of Messrs. Bentley and Daniel rejects principle and waves away that which is an impediment to efficient management. Leadership stands in sharpest relief — and is worthy of imitation — within neon-lit state-run systems, and it is in that context that young leaders are nurtured, encouraged, connected to better “hold responsible career positions and possess a record of public service,” as the local Chamber of Commerce puts it in application paperwork.
Leadership promises to keep the system going as it is, but with new efficiency, new vigor, a fresh face in that “key leadership role.” Yes, exactly what we need.
Hear my interview with Daniel Kadwell of the YMCA as we explore the concept of leadership. Thank you.
Sources: Heather Clark, “Alabama Governor at Odds with Own Pastor’s Sermon Opposing ‘Gay Marriage’ Ruling,” Christiannews.net, Feb. 23, 2015
John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction[;] a Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2010), 215 pp
“Agreement Reached On Termination Of Bradley School Superintendent,” Chattanoogan.com, Feb. 20, 2015
Cloe Morrison, “Leadership Chattanooga accepting nominations,” Nooga.com, Feb. 20, 2015