Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

A Failure of Leadership
distributed 11/8/02 - ©2002

The politicians, pollsters and pundits are all busy dissecting the election of 2002. I'm not going to take part in that post-mortem.

As I listen to the range of comments and opinions, though, I'm hearing a recurring theme that should be taken seriously by those of us who are bringing the eco-justice message into the churches.

"A failure of the Democratic leadership" keeps cropping up as a factor in the rightward tilt of this week's election. Commentators -- both gleeful and grieving -- are saying that the Democratic party did not hold up a vision that was distinctive, compelling and attractive. And the Democrats had no vibrant figure to offset President Bush's personal leadership.

As Jim Wallis wrote this week, "When you don't have a message or a messenger, and the other side does, you lose elections."

Bringing an eco-justice emphasis into the program and proclamation of churches isn't about winning elections. But it is about leadership.

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Leadership is a "big picture" enterprise. It is concerned with dreams, not details. Leadership doesn't dwell on policies and pragmatics. It does invite people to join in celebrating values and virtues; it invites them to claim a vision.

To use an example that was essentially invisible in this election, there is a need for leadership on renewable energy. Inspiring political leadership on that topic would not focus on what sort of economic incentives should be in place to encourage the development of alternative energy sources -- as important as those incentives might be. The leadership message lifts up a vision of a clean, sustainable and peaceful future that is not dependent on fossil fuels. It offers a promise of comfortable lives, free from pollution and free from the international turmoil caused by our addiction to oil.

That broad vision, of course, must be able to mesh with effective programs and policies. The vision must be able to inform and shape public and personal choices. The vision, in this example, will point toward economic incentives, as well as other strategies. But the vision must come first, and the details must grow out of it.

As we seek to provide leadership in the co-mingled areas of social justice and environmental sustainability, we don't need to look far to find an attractive and well-grounded expression of our compelling vision.

The biblical concept of shalom -- of peace, justice and harmony for all of God's creation -- is the authentic source for our profound and hopeful vision. Shalom is an embodied expression of love within the extended community. Shalom calls us to right relationships with one another, within our social structures, and within the entire earth community. Shalom promises safety and sufficiency for all.

The vision of shalom is the constant center for the biblical prophets. It is a hallmark of the Christian proclamation of the realm of God. It is given shape in parables, proverbs and psalms. For millennia, shalom has been a guiding vision for the Judeo-Christian faith.

Shalom is not a roadmap that spells out how to navigate the complexities of programs and policies. Shalom is a compass that can tell us when we're headed in the correct direction as we work on those details.

If we intend to be leaders, and not policy wonks, if we want to inspire our congregations and our communities, then we must ground our message in the vision. We must learn how to be vivid in conveying the hope, promise and joy that flow from the vision of shalom.

As leaders, we must proclaim the vision consistently, "in season and out." Transformational leadership does not emerge from occasional, passing references. Others cannot claim the vision as their own unless we articulate it both clearly and often.

However clear the vision, and however frequently it is named, little will happen without passion and conviction. Reading from a script is different from preaching. We have to believe our own message, and proclaim it with authenticity.

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The Democrats lost control of the Senate, in part, because of a failure of leadership in their national party. The party did not give voice to an inspiring message grounded in a clear vision.

Those of us who are moved by our faith to work for eco-justice will do well to learn from this fall's example. Let us claim and define our guiding vision of shalom, and let us proclaim it frequently and passionately. For such is the nature of true leadership.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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