Want to say “does not respond well to authority” without saying it? Just post a meme proclaiming yourself as a lion and decrying others as sheeple. Of course, the popular origin of this lion meme was a Trump retweet of the quote, “It is better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” The irony being that these ‘lions’ who have used the phrase since are still following someone’s lead.
The reality is, even in this current age of individualism, we are social creatures and are more often responding to the pressure of the crowd than thinking for ourselves. The ideas that motivate us, the narratives and interpretive overlays that we embrace, these aren’t things that we created in our own minds. But rather we have inherited many base assumptions from our homes or communities and will continue to be influenced our entire life.
And, speaking of influence, there was a review of Downfall, a movie about the last days of Adolf Hitler, that got me thinking about leadership. For obvious reasons, this is viewed from a negative light in regard to the Nazi dictator. The faith of the German people in their government is what enabled the atrocities of the regime. Viewing a flawed human being (or any collection of human authorities) as God is something very dangerous.
I’ve written frequently warning against the mob spirit and peer pressure. We should learn how to think for ourselves, make our own decisions, or we may be swept up in the latest propaganda campaign and used for immoral ends.
However, I also had to think that this unique ability of humans to organize around one charismatic personality is also the strength of our species and has given us a great competitive advantage over the strongest individuals. Our hunter-gather ancestors were only able to take down larger animals for food or to protect the themselves from deadly predators by working together. This took leadership, it required someone to be the point man of the group or coordinator of the collective effort.
So, sure, as the video says, “those full of doubts are desperate to follow those who are sure of themselves,” and “view them as shortcuts to prosperity,” yet this urge to fall in behind the Alpha is not always such a bad thing and is actually key to our success in building civilizations. A great leader can empower and get more from the group than the sum of the individual parts. I see this in John, the co-owner and true boss man at my company, without his infectious ambition and decisive confidence I can’t see us being near where we are.
The truth is that there are extraordinary men, there are those who do better embody the collective hopes of their people and thus are granted a right to rule. One only needs to consider the story of David, a lowly shepherd boy, who faced down the giant Goliath and through his courage inspired the armies of Israel to defeat the Philistines. Of course, this is not only a role for men either, the confidence of Deborah (Judges 4) or faithful example of Joan of Arc is what led to the decisive victories of their people over occupiers and oppressors.
People Need Leadership, Not Lords
We can talk about the ideal and imagine a world where everyone is completely able to take initiative, where order is always 100% voluntary and there is no need of authority or a leadership position. That is the design of the Israelite tribes before they demanded a king to rule over them. But even then, in that sort of anarchist system, there were judges that were appointed by Moses to arbitrate disputes and Moses, for his Divine call and standing up to Pharaoh, was the defacto leader of his people.
Every human is flawed. Moses fled into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian and, despite hearing from God, needed Aaron to speak for him. King David, the great warrior leader he was, had a loyal companion, Uriah sent to die in battle in order to cover for his adultery with Bathsheba. The temptation of every person given power over other people is to use it to their own personal advantage rather than for the good of the group. That is why the children of Israel were given this stern warning before appointing a ruler:
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”(1 Samuel 8:10-20 NIV)
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
We don’t have kings today, but we do have an all-powerful political class, that is mostly exempted from the laws they apply to us, who never met a new tax they do not like, and always willing to send our children to die to defend their own bloated ego or for the financial gain of the ruling class. Sure, call it ‘democracy’ as you vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledumb, but neither team red nor team blue actually represent you. We’re ruled not even by these visibly elected, but by special interests and those behind the scenes who pull the purse strings.
And therein lies the difference between the good leaders and the bad. The shepherd leader fills the role for the good of the flock, even willing to sacrifice themselves for the life of their sheep. The corrupt leader uses their power and authority as a means to dominate those who are under them. A good leader serves as an example, they encourage and try to get the best out of those looking to them for guidance. The evil politician, on the other hand, delights in creating dependency and keeping others subject to their whims.
In the end, no man is actually worthy to lead of their own authority and it is only through understanding our own place before God, that we ourselves are not God, that we can ever fill the role. Self-belief and narcissism, with a little psychopathy, is often what will get a person to the top spot. But humility and faith, valuing all individuals enough to go find the one lost sheep, that is the mark of a Godly leader. The only person fit to lead is one who is willing to submit to those who have authority over them.
The delusion of the Protestant independent spirit is that every man (or woman) and their Bible becomes their own king. This “you’re not the boss of me” attitude, in response to flawed leadership or simply as rebellion, is precisely why the church is becoming increasingly impotent. The Church, at least the one that Christ founded, had those given the authority to bind and loose, a council to decide important matters and those who acted as fathers. This hierarchy was never comprised of those faultless. No, what made them worthy, and the only thing that makes any of us worthy, is being clothed in the righteousness of the one Great Shepherd.
We need sheep who know they are sheep and shepherds, appointed to feed the flocks, like Peter:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.(John 21:15-17 NIV)
In my own spiritual journey, after my own Bible-based authority failed me, God provided me with a man who would end his emails with the phrase “your unworthy priest” and is truly that. Fr Anthony is a very well-educated man, a college professor, and one who could easily flaunt his credentials as a means to humiliate some like me. But what has given him true authority, in my eyes, is how he humbly serves as a true example of Christian leadership.
He is a shepherd and the Church really needs more who are like him.