Three Kinds of Leaders

There are three kinds of leaders:
Those who oppress, those who have a vision of peace, and those who are weak.

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Isaiah’s Description of Good Leaders

It is a modern myth that history progresses, which makes us automatically wiser than people who lived three thousand years ago.  But one thing that they could see as clear, if not clearer, than we, which is human nature and human society. I find that history teaches us not that we progress, but that we have to keep re-learning the same lessons.  Technology progresses, but humans have to go through the same lessons again and again. Because our nature hasn’t changed and while the name of politics may be different, the practice of it is just the same. We have just rulers and unjust rulers, whether it be one person, a few people or a large society ruling.  

Isaiah is giving us certain principles of the kind of rulers to look for, and these principles haven’t changed.  And just like in the ancient world, popular rules are often the very ones that we don’t want to have anything to do with.  Often because a society’s deepest desire has nothing to do with justice. But here are some principles that Isaiah holds forth as a promise of God.  The nature of the good shepherd, the true leader that we should seek.

True Leadership does not Oppress

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us and the government will rest on his shoulders and his name will be called wonderful counselor mighty God eternal father, prince of peace.

So a leader that does not create slavery, but fair wages.  A leader that does not steal people’s homes, but establishes secure homes.  A leader that creates opportunities for the forgiveness of debt or of crimes paid and doesn’t hold onto these items as a way to control people.  A leader that brings healing and doesn’t leave the mentally ill out to dry. These are basic characteristics of good leadership, found in the ancient texts of the Bible.  And yet, we find so few people that meet these basic criteria. So many people hold land that could be used for housing. Leaders force people to work for less than survival wages.  Leaders that create debt so the justice system controls them. Leaders that withhold healing from those who need it. That is the world we live in today.

Why do leaders bring oppression?  Because they can obtain power through pointing at others and building up fear against them.  Telling people that those who aren’t like us deserve punishment, need to be controlled through force.  And it is in our human nature to believe that.


True Leadership serves

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him: the spirit of understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength; hat spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.  And he will delight in the fear of the Lord and he will not judge by what his eyes see nor make a decision by what his ears hear;

Isaiah teaches us that good leadership has as their first thought the needs and survival of their people. Not their own political gain or financial gain.  They don’t use leadership for themselves, but for the people whom they serve. Woe to us that we do not live under that kind of leadership.


True leadership works for the marginalized

with justice he will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;

Isaiah says that the true leader has her eye specifically on the needy, those who cannot receive justice or basic survival without special assistance.  In the ancient world, this is the widow and the orphan and the immigrant— people who do not have advocates in the leadership. In the modern world, these are the immigrants still, but also the houseless, the desperately poor, the mentally ill, those in foster care, people who do not have a voice in the legal system, but can be trampled on by whoever has money or power.  The true leader specifically watches out for them.


True leadership has a vision for peace

And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat and the calf and the young lion and the rattling together; and a little boy will lead them.  Also the cow and the bear will graze, their young lie down together and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

It is not an easy thing to have lambs rest comfortably beside wolves, whether that is meant literally or figuratively.  And yet excellent leadership has a vision to make that very thing take place. On the surface, we can say, well, that is impossible.  You cannot change basic nature. A wolf will automatically attack helpless victims. It is their nature. And so will evil people.

There was a group of foxes in the Soviet Union that was attacking a community of humans.  Humans wouldn’t have anything like that, so they began killing the foxes. Unfortunately, as humans are, they are killing both foxes that attack and the foxes that do not.  So a scientist decided to do the impossible— to breed out the attack gene. He took the conventional attacking foxes and started breeding them with other foxes that didn’t attack and so they bred that habit out.  It is still in process, but it looks like it might work. Scientists are now talking about replacing mosquitos that bite people with those that don’t.

I don’t know if these practices are best for ecosystems or not, they are still in process.  All I am saying is that a good leader has a vision of how to create peace. And God planted in us the very creative inspiration that was used to create the whole universe.  Step by step, we are using the tools, both biological and physical, used to create. A good leader has a vision of how to use those tools to create peace.

True leadership sacrifices oneself

Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great; and he will divide the booty with the strong; because he poured himself out to death

Isaiah took one more step into discovering something remarkable about true leaders.  This is a principle you won’t find in leadership classes or business seminars. But this is that a true leader sacrifices him or herself to accomplish justice and peace in their community.  They will give up their leadership, give up their rights, give up their money, and even give up their lives in order to accomplish justice for the poor. The true leader knows when to lay down their own lives for their people.  This is what the prophets did, what the apostles did and, of course, what Jesus did. This is what Wes and Josh could not do and why their visions faltered.

We speak of the suffering servant in Isaiah, and as Christians we like to point that example specifically to Jesus.  And that is a true mark. But Jesus is not the only leader that meets these qualifications. So did Peter. So did Thomas, who went to India.  So did Jeremiah. So did Isaiah himself, who is supposed to have been sawn in half, according to the tradition. So did Francis. So did Elijah.  So did anyone who showed a path of justice and peace and then got out of the way before they screwed it up, allowing others to be led by the Spirit to guide their community to peace.  These are true leaders.


Steve Kimes