The Orthodox Leader

Leadership and Argument

Among our challenges as Christians, one of the greatest is in navigating the tension that exists in the world of ideas. It has been my privilege to be at the Acton Institute’s Acton University this week. In one of the opening day’s sessions, Acton co-founder Rev. Robert Sirico related his recent experience writing a piece on the ever-polarizing Ayn Rand. Many of the responses to the article have been strident, but they only make Fr. Sirico’s point for him. (I’ll leave it to readers to discover his point for themselves.)

It is not the aim of this article to take up Ayn Rand’s defense, or that of Fr. Sirico, who is a polarizing figure in his own right. Rather, I want to make the point that Christian leaders need to be willing to enter into the world of ideas and to depart what is too often a world of caricatures. I come to Acton not because I agree absolutely with every presenter, but because it affords me the opportunity to hear presentations from those who capably argue their positions and to engage them myself.

In fact, of the talks I’ve attended, the ones I remember most (usually the ones that continue to influence me the most) are the ones I disagreed with. Those were the ones that placed an argument in front of me, along with a basic challenge to respond to them. This has to be done honestly, neither attacking arguments not made nor re-drawing them as faint and flattened copies of the originals. We must endeavor to understand the argument for what it is, not what we desire it to be. When we do so, we find our minds enlightened, whether in the increase of attachment to our own opinions or in some measure of recognition, if not acceptance, of the other.

In the particular matter of sin, I’m not suggesting we accept or make excuses for sin and sinful behavior. However, we can certainly hear of sin and hear those suffering from it, accurately and carefully, and use that in a response to lead others to salvation in the gentle call to repentance. We can remember to talk about Christ before we talk about damnation.

In Christian terms, I can’t see this as anything other than humility, as the setting aside of what we believe to be ours (boy, do we own our opinions) in order to participate in the life of someone else. How easy it is to form our own opinions of what is valuable and worthless, of what is wrong and right, of who is good and bad, especially when the matter is something or someone close to us, something in which we’ve made an investment. Yet one of the greatest acts of love is for someone else to tear down our personal idols in order to show us something we don’t see. We can’t lead if we can’t see, or refuse to.

[Next time I plan to resume discussion on the levels of leadership.]

[UPDATE 1:45pm: The principles above were tested earlier today. I attended a session entitled "The Islamic Case for Liberty," led by Mustafa Akyol.  I won't attempt to recapitulate the session here (although the forthcoming book referenced at the preceding link likely contains most of the argument), but I'll be ruminating on several of his points, and following up on his sources, for weeks. I suspect Mr. Akyol is regarded as heterodox or heretical by many in his own world, but his arguments are cause for at least modest optimism for those coming in contact with Islam. At least someone is envisioning an Islam compatible with freedom and pluralism, for the sake of Christians living in Islamic nations and for the hope of proclaiming the Gospel there. (Consider how many more people encountered the Gospel after Constantine's legalization of the Faith than before.) I look forward to the book.]

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Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 17th, 2011 at 8:19 am

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