Psalm 72

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
    the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
    your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
    the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
    and save the children of the needy;
    may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
    as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
    like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
    and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the desert tribes bow before him
    and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
11 May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.

15 Long may he live!
    May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
    and bless him all day long.
16 May grain abound throughout the land;
    on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
    and thrive[c] like the grass of the field.
17 May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,[d]
    and they will call him blessed.

18 Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvelous deeds.
19 Praise be to his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

James Comey and Reinhold Niebuhr


A lot has been made of James Comey’s interest in the public theology of Reinhold Niebuhr.  We have written about it here and here and here and here.

Over at The Conversation, Penn State’s Christopher Beem continues to explore Niebuhr’s influence on Comey.  Here is a taste of his piece, “What Comey learned from the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr about ethical leadership“:

Of course, many will find all this beside the point. Many Republicans and Democrats are deeply angry with Comey.

For all their disagreements, both sides believe that while Comey paints himself as a person of moral rectitude, when confronted with extremely hard choices, he handled them badly, and our nation is still reeling from the effects.

For these Americans, Comey’s book not surprisingly conveys an air of sanctimony. But even if that’s true, it serves only to bring home a very Niebuhrian point: that while we humans strive to make the world a better place, and while we must, in Jesus’s words, look first for the mote in our own eye, we will not always succeed. We cannot always escape the worst parts of ourselves.

That decidedly Niebuhrian point is worth remembering. More to the point, at this particularly contentious moment in American political history, we, as Americans, can and should take from it this equally Niebuhrian reminder: that in this regard, Comey is not one jot different from any one of us.

Read the entire piece here.

Quotes of the Day


Federalist 57The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whist they continue to hold their public trust.

Federalist 68Talents for low intrigue, and the  little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of the President of the United States.”  It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.

This is a Grotesque and Despicable Response

No Donald, this IS NOT ABOUT YOU!

The Court Evangelical Spin on DACA

Trump court evangelicals

Believe it or not, the court evangelicals have managed to spin this entire DACA fiasco in their favor.

According to Heather Sells’s article at Christian Broadcast Network News, court evangelicals Tony Suarez, Jentezen Franklin, Bishop Harry Jackson, and Johnnie Moore are patting themselves on the back for speaking “truth to power.”

It seems the court evangelicals believe that they were influential in convincing Trump to wait for six months before he deports 800,000 children of immigrants who came into the United States illegally.  It seems the court evangelicals are optimistic that Congress will get its act together and pass legislation that protects the DACA recipients.

Here is a taste of Sells’s piece:

Evangelicals on the President’s informal faith advisory board believe their access to the White House made a difference in protecting young immigrants from an immediate end to what’s known as the DACA program.

Rev. Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), told CBN News Tuesday, “I feel like our work on the faith advisory council is vindicated today…this is precisely why we joined way back in the campaign last year because we felt if we had access to this office, if we had access to this man we needed to speak truth to power, believing that at some point God would touch, God would convict and there would be compassion for children.”

Members of the president’s faith advisory council met with him and White House officials on Friday and discussed DACA as well as other political priorities. Council member Bishop Harry Jackson attended and told CBN News he thinks the board helped to make a difference for Dreamers–as those in the DACA program are often known. “The evangelical church had the president’s ear,” he said calling the six month extension “an extreme act of mercy.”

I understand the argument, but is this really speaking truth to power?  Are these court evangelicals really patting themselves on the back for placing nearly 1 million Americans in a state of constant anxiety about their future?  Will the DACA recipients be gone in six months–deported to the countries of their birth? (The video below suggests that the Department of Justice has already told them to start packing).  Will they get a reprieve from Congress?  Is Trump so wed to his anti-immigration/law and order base that he is incapable of showing empathy for these people?  And then, to top it all off, he tweeted last night that he might revisit DACA if Congress does not come through.  Is he for DACA or against it?  If he will revisit it in 6 months why not revisit it now?  Where is the presidential leadership here?  Lead, Donald.  Please lead!

I don’t know what role the court evangelicals played in this whole situation, but I find it hard to believe that any evangelical would be happy with the results.  Once again Barack Obama has driven the court evangelicals off the moral playing field.

Watch this video:


I Could Be Wrong


Over at the Inside Higher Ed blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean,” Matt Reed writes about the relationship between leadership and intellectual humility.  It’s a nice reflection on an important virtue:

In a sense, intellectual humility strikes me as the everyday equivalent of the scientific method. You make the best call you can at a given moment, knowing full well that new information may come along later that will change your view. Keeping an eye open for that kind of information makes it likelier that you’ll avoid barreling headfirst into an iceberg.

But intellectual humility is often an awkward fit, at best, with the styles of leadership to which many people respond.

They respond to tub-thumping certainty. They like clear, simple, confident rallying cries. They perceive changing positions — if they notice — as a sign of corruption, hypocrisy, or weakness. They want answers, and they identify people with the answers they give.  

In other words, a certain kind of follower rewards either dishonesty or shallowness in a leader. The very trait likely to lead to better decisions can carry a direct political cost.

Some leaders lack intellectual humility altogether, so for them, the conflict is external. They keep wondering why the world frustrates them. You can spot them by their remarkable lack of self-awareness.

Some, like the younger George Wallace, consciously choose closed-mindedness specifically because of its political payoff. When the political math changes, you can always declare that you suddenly see the light.

Others resolve the tension through charisma and/or patronage. If you’re likeable enough, you may be able to charm your way through some strategic pivots. I think of that as the Reagan strategy, named after its master practitioner. (If you prefer, you could say something similar of Bill Clinton.) If you can charm or buy your way out of the political downsides of shifting positions, then you can respond to the world as it changes. Nixon can go to China.

Read the entire post here.


Oklahoma Wesleyan University President "Confuses Defiance for Courage"


I know that some of you have been following this story.  Everett Piper, the President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, recently reported that a student at his university approached him after a chapel service troubled because the sermon he had just heard made him feel “victimized.”  The sermon was based on 1 Corinthians 13, the so-called “love chapter.”  The student complained that the sermon made him “feel bad for not showing love” and the preacher made him feel “uncomfortable.” Piper writes:

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.

Piper’s public letter has received a lot of attention in the last several days.  Rod Dreher of The American Conservative said that Piper’s letter showed the OKWU president to be a “man among boys.”  The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times have covered the story.

But the best thing I have read on this whole affair is Chris Gehrz’s blog post “This Is Not Leadership.”  Gehrz is sympathetic to some of Piper’s comments.  But as a good historical thinker he places these remarks in a much larger context.  I wish I could just re-post Gehrz’s thoughts. I strongly encourage you to head over to the Pietist Schoolman and read it for yourself.

(I have said it before and I will say it again.  Chris Gehrz is, without peer, our most thoughtful and insightful commentator on the state of Christian colleges.  I hope Bethel University appreciates him. It is only a matter of time before he will be working as a Dean or Provost somewhere in the CCCU).

Part of the larger context Gehrz notes is Piper’s decision in August 2015 to pull Oklahoma Wesleyan out of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) because the presidents of the CCCU institutions chose to take some time to deliberate about what they should do with Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen Colleges–two members of the CCCU that chose to allow faculty in same-sex marriages to teach at their schools. Eventually Eastern Mennonite and Goshen decided to leave the CCCU over this issue, but Oklahoma Wesleyan (and Union University in Jackson, Tennessee) criticized the CCCU leadership for not immediately kicking these schools out of the CCCU because of their positions on gay faculty.  (You can find some of our posts on the subject here. I even commented over at Inside Higher Ed).

Like Gerhz, I am having a hard time reconciling Piper’s approach to the CCCU-gay marriage issue with this statement from his public letter: “At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered.  We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict….”

As Gerhz notes, a leader must always be ready to communicate the following:  1).  The world is complicated.  2). There is no easy solution.  3).  We need to make decisions consistent with our values.  Gehrz shows how Piper has failed to exercise this kind of leadership (at least on the first two issues) in several incidents over the past year.  Gehrz concludes: “We need…university presidents…who will take the time to listen to multiple narratives, to empathize with diverse members of divided communities, and to hold ideas in tension.  We need leaders who can do all this and yet still make prudent decisions that extend long-held values forward into a fast-changing future.”

Shortly after I read Gehrz post, I read Tamara Venit Shelton‘s piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education. Shelton teaches American history at Claremont McKenna College.

Here is a taste:

Early in the morning, on a Wednesday in November, an alliance of student groups at Claremont McKenna College sent faculty a “Call to Action.” A pair of events — an incendiary email from the dean of students and a racially charged Halloween costume chronicled on Facebook — had inflamed the long-standing, unanswered grievances of students from traditionally under-represented populations.

Their protest echoed similar movements at places like Yale University and the University of Missouri. At Claremont McKenna, the students rallied for greater administrative support, a more diverse curriculum and faculty, and a resource center. They asked for their feelings of marginalization and their experiences of exclusion to be recognized. They refused to remain silent any longer.

As a professor of history at the college, a feminist, and a person of color, I read the Call to Action feeling grateful for our students’ bravery and eager to lend my support. In addition to the demands, the Call to Action listed some two dozen recent microaggressions and acts of bias — someone had defaced posters supporting transgendered rights, an economics professor had used the term “welfare queens.” Then I noticed my course was on the list.

“There is a current class on the Civil War that simulated the pros and cons of slavery,” the Call to Action said. “Many students of color found this discussion to be extremely insensitive and hurtful.”

I reacted with surprise, embarrassment, and — to be candid — indignation. I have been teaching college courses on race and ethnicity for 12 years. Feminist and multicultural pedagogies inform my teaching philosophy. I have tried to equip students with tools to think about difference and inclusion.

How could someone like me wind up on a list like that?

The American Civil War was a subject that I taught regularly. But this semester, I decided to include an innovative curriculum called Reacting to the Past. In an immersive role-playing game, students assumed the identities of Kentucky state legislators during the crisis of secession in early 1861. Using highly detailed role sheets and historical documents, the students-as-legislators debated the merits of remaining in the Union or leaving to join the Confederacy. The game asked students to confront the complex motivations of Civil War-era politicians. True to the historical moment, very few were antislavery; most were slaveholders. The rules of the role-playing game prevented racist speech, but debates over slavery and secession necessarily reflected the entangled imperatives of economics, politics, religion, and — most uncomfortably — racism.

After the Call to Action, one colleague asked why I had assigned a role-playing game for a topic as serious as American slavery and secession. I hoped that it would enable my students to engage with primary sources in ways that conventional seminar-style discussion did not. Studies in education and psychology have shown that role-playing helps students practice empathy and communication. In my Civil War course, I believed that historical role-playing would encourage students to inhabit a worldview wholly unlike their own. I hoped they might emerge with a new understanding of the racist logic supporting slavery and the profound legacy that the Civil War Era had on the United States.

As I have argued many times, most recently a piece I wrote last night for the magazine of the National Council for History Education (not sure if it will be published yet, but if it isn’t published I will post it here) and in Why Study History, that empathy is required for true historical understanding to take place. Shelton knows this:

I expected that the exercise would be productively uncomfortable. Most of the students had to empathize with characters they found morally repugnant. Understandably, that is hard to do, but it is essential to the historian’s craft. To do the work of history, we must understand that real people — with all their virtues and flaws — made history. We need not sympathize with them or absolve them, but we commit to comprehending them on their own terms.

I wonder how Everett Piper would have responded in this situation?  Based on past experience I imagine he would tell Shelton’s students to buck-up and to stop being so sensitive and easily offended.

This is how Shelton responded:

Learning that my class contributed to a climate of racial insensitivity on campus has compelled me to reflect on how I teach. Have my courses overemphasized an intellectual, almost clinical engagement with the past that disregards the emotional and moral turmoil such an encounter can cause? As a historian I confront the brutality of racism in my research every day, and I treat it with the critical distance my discipline has taught me. Perhaps I have become desensitized to our painful past — like a doctor habituated to delivering a bad prognosis.

Perhaps in encouraging my students to practice empathy with people who lived in the past, I forgot to practice empathy with the very people sitting in my classroom…

I will not shrink from difficult conversations about race and power. I will probably assign a role-playing game again although I will do more to prepare students for the emotional difficulties such work can entail. Alongside critical engagement with the past, I will create space for contemplating the vital concerns of our present. I have heard the Call; this is how I will respond.

I do not know Tamara Venit Shelton.  I don’t know if she is a person of religious faith. But both she and Everett Piper recently responded to similar situations in their respective institutions.  Which response was more Christian? 

Bruce Springsteen Leadership Tips

Check them out in full here.

1.  Give them the unexpected
2.  Give them the expected
3.  Trust your customers
4.  Be open to opportunities
5.  Respect your colleagues

And for your Saturday morning viewing/listening pleasure, here is 10th Avenue Freeze-Out from the Prudential Center in Newark (May 2, 2012).

Michael Lindsay: The Mentoring President

Inside Higher Ed is running a nice piece on Gordon College president Michael Lindsay.  (Gordon and Messiah College are sister institutions).  We have talked about Lindsay before here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  You may recall that he is a sociologist by training and the author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite

Now Lindsay is one of the evangelical elite and he is using what he learned from writing Faith in the Halls of Power to prepare a new generation of evangelical leaders.  Here is a taste of the article:

After several years of traversing the country and talking with some of the most influential executives in all fields about leadership development and what makes a good leader, and a lifetime of being mentored about how to be a good leader in his own right, it’s time for Michael Lindsay to put all that knowledge into practice.

He is now six months into his presidency at Gordon College, a Christian liberal arts college in Massachusetts. Inaugurated in September at age 39, Lindsay is one of the youngest college presidents in the country.

Also putting Lindsay’s leadership knowledge to the test is Ken Hallenbeck, a senior at Gordon, the student body president, and now Lindsay’s staff assistant and mentee

Lindsay has taken Hallenbeck under his wing, employing him in his office most nights between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., where the senior does office tasks and helps Lindsay think through university issues and his role as president. The goal, Lindsay said, is to give Hallenbeck an opportunity to see every aspect of a leadership role, from the intellectually stimulating to the routine tasks such as responding to e-mails.

Read the rest here.

Should Episcopal Deacons Read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage?

If Todd Donatelli, the Episcopal dean of The Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, NC, could pick one book to give new Episcopalian deacons it would be Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. Donatelli believes that the late historian’s account of the Lewis and Clark expedition offers valuable lessons in leadership that all clergy should imbibe. (Unless I am mistaken, Ambrose is not in trouble for what he wrote in Undaunted Courage). Here is a snippet of Donatelli’s post at the Episcopal Cafe:

Lewis and Clark lacked critical qualifications and resources, yet were surrounded by those who possessed them. They learned to trust that what was needed to make this pilgrimage awaited them “out there.” They learned to trust that within themselves was the capacity to recognize what was needed and what was not. At times they would have to let go of the very things that had served them well in the past. The journey held periods of intense heat and intense cold. There were moments of rich banquet and days upon days of deep hunger. At times they were forced to split up in the service of seeking the best passage for them all. It was their engagement and participation with those they encountered that saved them.

Theirs is a story of risk-taking, many mistakes and missteps, and hard-won learned self-regulation. It is about relationships gained and lost. They made incredible discoveries about the land, the people, and about themselves. It is the rich story of what they discovered along the way that I believe makes it a vital read not only for deacons, but for us all. They sought to see, understand, and report what they were observing as faithfully as they knew how.

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about giving new clergy a copy of Undaunted Courage when there are so many other things they could be reading to prepare them for the ministry. But after reflecting a bit on Donatelli’s post, I am coming around to the idea. How could a (presumably) Italian-American Episcopal priest be wrong?