Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 10, 2003
The Church can build leaders
Canadian politics have sunk into a quagmire over the relationship between Church and state since the same-sex marriage issue burst onto centre stage in June. We now have at least three prominent Catholic politicians - Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Prime Minister-in-waiting Paul Martin, and Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty - all proudly proclaiming that they are Catholic but supporting same-sex marriage. They gleefully separate their religious beliefs from their political actions as far as the North is from the South.
We criticize their actions as ignoring the fact that God is Lord of all creation, not just that part of creation within church walls. But the politicians ignore that - their chief value, like that of Canadian society, is autonomy, not fidelity. We also point out that the Church, like other social organizations, has the right to express its views on matters of public debate. But all that does is affirm politicians in ignoring the views of the Church, just as they ignore the views of many others.
It must be acknowledged that the Church has not the expertise nor the role to tell the government how to decide the many issues of public affairs. It does, however, have the responsibility and moral expertise to state what ought not to be done.
That is the position in which the Church finds itself today. It points out the moral disaster of legalizing abortion, same-sex marriage and no-fault divorce. No doubt, our society would be much better off if it had avoided such disasters. But building God's kingdom involves much more than the avoidance of moral disaster. The Church has much more to contribute than being a negative force.
This belief is like a river that flows through the documents of the Second Vatican Council. To give but one example, the council's document on The Church states: "The Lord desires that his kingdom be spread by the lay faithful: the kingdom of truth and life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, the kingdom of justice, love and peace. In this kingdom creation itself will be delivered from the slavery of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons and daughters of God" (Lumen Gentium, 36).
Here, the Church pretty much dropped the ball for more than 30 years and is only now beginning to assume the task of preparing laity to be leaders in secular society. We so focused on preparing people for lay ministries that we tended to neglect the task of forming men and women who will permeate society with the values of the Gospel.
Robert Greenleaf, a Quaker and the late theorist of servant leadership, maintained that the Church should be the chief nurturing force for leadership everywhere in society. Why? Because the dynamics of leadership - vision, values and staying power - are religious values.
Four hundred years ago, St. Francis de Sales drove this point further by maintaining that life of virtue can only be solidified in a person through religious devotion: "Good people who have not as yet attained to devotion fly toward their God by good works but do so infrequently, slowly and awkwardly. Devout souls ascend to him more frequently, promptly and with lofty flights."
Leaders are not trained to perform a certain set of tasks. They need a vision and values. They also need encouragement and freedom to grow. If the Church can do this, it will give a new generation something no one else can give - lively, well-formed consciences.
Conscience is the missing ingredient not only in politics, but in business, university and non-profit organizations. To be sure, conscience is not totally absent, but it is absent to such an extent that our institutions and our people are suffering grievously.
Church and state. If churches took more seriously of preparing future leaders primarily through the detailed formation of consciences, the Church's public pronouncements could be far fewer and the Church's effect far more profound.
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