One of the fundamental characteristics of a good leader, no, strike that, a great leader is courage. Of all the skills that leaders, especially leaders in the Church, need it is courage. We are faced with an unprecedented attack on religious freedom in this country, and what we need more than anything are leaders who are not afraid to say what needs to be said. We need leaders who put themselves out in front to protect their flocks from attack. We need leaders who will speak the truth in all situations regardless of the consequences of that truth.
I spent twelve years in the Army of the United States, and I served under many leaders. The one thing that distinguished the good ones from the bad ones was courage. I am not talking about courage under fire on the battle-field, but courage to do what had to be done, regardless of the consequences. That is the mark of true leaders: the willingness to risk it all to complete a mission because they know what will happen if they fail. Courageous leaders always have the welfare of those they are leading in the fore-front of their mind and think of themselves only after they think of those they are leading. Their platoon’s or their church’s welfare is more important than their own.
Recently, Daniel Jenky, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Peoria, Illinois preached a sermon in which he said that President Obama was heading down the same road that Hitler and Stalin had taken. He was referring to the change in the HHS mandate that would require religious institutions to provide abortion and contraception coverage regardless of their moral objections. This change, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, is a direct attack on the religious freedom we have always enjoyed in America. I have written on this topic myself and was publicly taken to task by a bishop of my own Church for what I had to say.
In that April 14 sermon, Bishop Jenky said that the Church will survive what is being done to her and that many “have tried to force Christians to huddle and hide within the confines of their churches.” It is important to note that those governments that have tried to extinguish the church have all fallen, yet the church continues. As Jenky said.
Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care…In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path…
Every other Roman Catholic bishop in America has made similar statements saying what the Church should be teaching and speaking what her bishops are speaking.
This takes courage! Shortly after Jenky’s sermon, a left-wing, God-hating group filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service citing the sermon as a violation of the IRS tax code in relation to churches. And the faculty of what used to be a Roman Catholic University, Notre Dame, publicly called on Bishop Jenky to retract his statements but so far he is standing by his words.
I believe we have lost sight of the fact that the Church does not change to fit the culture; the Church is supposed to influence the culture and keep the culture on track. When a church changes to fit what society wants her to believe, she has failed in her mission and confused the people. The Church does not decide matters of faith and morals based on opinion polls; the Church decides on what has been revealed to her by the Holy Spirit and through her long tradition. If the culture needs correction, it is up to the Church, and her authentic teachers, the bishops, to bring that culture back on track. I believe we are where we are as a society, because we, the Church, have not been doing our job effectively.
We can look back at the political takeovers of the last century, and see that one of the first things accomplished was the silencing of the Church. When the Nazis rolled into Poland the Roman Catholic Church gave her assent, because Hitler had promised that the Church would not be affected. Soon after the Nazis arrival, that all changed; the Church began to be persecuted.
The socialist plan will not work unless the government is in control of the moral compass of the people. The moral compass of the people is the Church, the authentic Church and her bishops. Right now, with few exceptions, the Roman Catholic Church is fighting this fight on her own. She has the loudest voice, yes, but this is not a simply a Roman Catholic issue, as the liberal media would like us to believe. This is an issue of religious freedom that will affect all of us in America. If we stay silent, we will end up like the Roman Catholic Church in Poland of the 1940s.
To be a leader means to have the courage that it takes to stand up when needed. Leaders cannot be afraid of the political or economic fallout of teaching and upholding what the Church teaches. The Church is to be counter-cultural and to remind people that we do have a moral code, a code that this country was founded on and, if we are not careful, a code that will become a distant memory.
This moral code is very counter-cultural, and most of the adherents to the Orthodox faith are confused on many of the issues that face them every day. The Orthodox faith is not simply a faith practiced on Sunday or when it is convenient another issue that the faithful need to consider but it is a faith that is lived, a faith that is part of the very fabric of our humanity. We can’t separate our life outside the Church from our life inside the Church, because there should be no difference.
What we need now, more than ever before in the history of America, are leaders who are filled with the power and the boldness of the Holy Spirit, as the apostles were on the day of Pentecost. Courageous, Spirit-filled leaders leading the church and say what needs to be said, whether or not it is politically correct and regardless of the fallout. We need leaders who are not afraid to stand up and say that what is being done is not right and who will tell the world we will not be silenced.
But it is not just up to the leaders of the Church. The laity needs to support its leaders when they come under attack. The Church needs to be defended at all levels of society and everyone needs to be involved in this defense of the faith.
The Church needs courageous leaders who are and will be authentic shepherds of their flock and are, in a very real way, willing to lay down their lives for those that God has entrusted to them. Thanks be to God, the Church does have leaders like this, but we need so many more. We need leaders with the courage and conviction of Bishop Jenky, who will stand up and be counted, and take the government and the faithful to task for what they are doing or not doing.
Throughout Scripture, the image of the shepherd is used as an image of Jesus leading His flock. This image has been repeated throughout the history of the Church in reference to the clergy, who lead the Church as descendants of those very apostles. The shepherd who stands on the hillside is not there for his own gain, but to watch carefully over the flock that God has entrusted to him. He is constantly scanning the horizon for any threat to that flock. He provides the nourishment the flock needs. His first thought in the morning and his last thought at night is about his flock. If left alone, the flock is not able to defend itself. The flock needs the shepherd.
Each bishop of the Church carries a staff like those of the shepherds on the hill-side. That staff is to remind him, and the faithful, that he is there to protect them, nourish them, and lead them at all times. If the shepherd turns away, even for just a moment, he opens the flock up to attack. He needs to be as concerned for the ones in the back of the pack as he is for the ones in the front. The shepherd has to be fearless in the defense of his flock, and he has to be willing to lay down his life to save just one.
We have just completed the holiest week of the Church year. The entire week was spent focusing on the Cross. The hymns of the Church services and the Scripture reads helped us to focus on the events that took place. In a very real way, we walked along side Jesus as He went to His voluntary death. We walked alongside Him as He laid down His life for His flock.
The Romans had used the Cross as a symbol and instrument of terror and death for years. The action of one man, Jesus Christ, transformed it to a symbol of freedom. This symbol we need to cling to. With the Crucifixion of Jesus, the cross changed from a symbol of fear to a symbol of courage. We wear that Cross around our necks as a reminder what Jesus did for us. The Cross has become a symbol of truth, and if we just cling to that symbol, we find the courage that we need.
I was reminded recently that the role of the priest is to be the mediator for his people. When priests or bishops put on their vestments for the liturgy, we are reminded that we are clothing ourselves with the armor of God and preparing for battle. We are warriors in the army of the Lord and we are to use that armor to defend the flock.
More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ called twelve men to follow Him and to continue His teaching as the inheritors of His mission on earth. One of those chosen fell into temptation and sold Him into the hands of the enemy, but the others became the voice that has given us the church we have today.
The earliest settlers of America had the courage to leave all that they knew to come to a harsh and uninviting place, simply because they wanted to be able to practice their faith without government interference. For more than 200 years, that has been the law here in America. Recently, with the stroke of a pen, that liberty and freedom has been taken away. For the first time in the history of America, the government has forced the Church to go against her teachings. The wolf is standing close to the flock. We need leaders who are courageous who are not afraid to place themselves between the wolf and the flock.
After all, this is what Jesus did!