ethical leadership

In his interview this week on Stephen Colbert's Late Show, James Comey describes his motivation for writing 'A Higher Loyalty', a book which (in part) attacks Donald Trump, as providing a vision for what ethical leadership might look like.

It's a fascinating interview, and if you have half an hour - go back and click on that link. 

James Comey describes an ethical leader as one who has exterior points of reference - such as a spiritual context - and he finds that Trump sees nothing beyond himself.

I've not read the book, I've only seen the interviews, but I'm left with many questions.

A few months ago, another gay cleric asked me (of the Church of England's latest version of its endless sexuality debates) - "Why should I care? In the end, it's always a bunch of straight people deciding together what I'm worth."

Ethical leadership isn't just about external frames of reference for a Christian. It's about understanding you are leading God's people. God's people are real people. And everything you do impacts their lives. So you weigh your every decision carefully. Biblically. Compassionately. Knowing that as a leader you answer not to yourself, or even (ultimately) to those people, but to God. The Christian leader follows Jesus: it is costly business, and not comfortable, and it's about doing what's best for those in our care not for ourselves.

Jesus says:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. 
Well of course we're not Jesus. But if our lives look like our model is the hired hand, we're not ethical leaders.
In the Church's sexuality debates, there are sometimes sheep in wolves' clothing, fellow pilgrims who dress up as soldiers. There are too-frequent fights and splits, and the threat of fights and splits, and it can feel for some of us like our shepherds have a habit of abandoning parts of their flock. ("It's just a bunch of straight people deciding what I'm worth.")  

But this paragraph throws another question up for me: for most of us actually don't have to practice being ethical leaders. Some of us do. Most of us, however, do have to learn to be ethical followers. 

I had a situation in a parish once where one person wanted us to do a particular thing, and I was rather swept up with it. It was objectively a good thing. I hadn't reckoned on the reactions of others, though... I had quite forgotten that another key leader was in dispute with the first person, and when that leader got very upset with me, I was at first totally confused. Then I remembered. Oh yes. And I just wanted a bit of honesty. I'd have probably walked everything back if everyone had been honest. But that honesty ("yes, there's an element of personal difficulty between us here") never came. 

So a difficult situation got stuck.

Sometimes I look at our debates around sexuality in the Church and I, as a gay man, as an evangelical, as someone who has lived through this in the Church all his life, I simply fail to understand around 90% of what is happening. I see posts from friends on FaceBook and I simply don't understand why they would post such a thing - why such a thing would matter to them. 

I guess I do sit there sometimes wondering if there is something personal going on, something I know nothing about... Sometimes people who seem to have no dog in this fight do get very excited.

What does it mean to be ethical followers? I think it means that we don't say things we know will hurt others; we don't judge; we don't go out of our way to make others less. Above all, we work and live and speak honestly. We certainly don't do the equivalent of imposing food laws and sabbaths on someone God has accepted - 
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
Ethical leaders? Be good shepherds. Don't be scared of looking after all your sheep; even the ones that don't appear to be "of this sheep pen". 
Ethical followers? Don't obsess over others' 'specks'... Do major on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness...  

Cos I'll tell you what I'm worth, me, a gay middle-aged man. 
I'm worth dying for on a cross. 
And so are you. It turns out. 


  1. Have you seen any of the write-ups recently about Niebhur's influence on Comey? It'd be interesting to know how Niebhur influences Comey's understanding of 'ethical' and, more specifically, 'justice.'

  2. Agreed. For others- here's a link that's really interesting.


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