I don’t always notice the small moments of bravery around me. It’s much easier to notice unfortunate hairdos, sweaty garbage smells, or the good stuff like nice manners and sweet moments between lovers…but bravery? If you asked me if I see it every day, I’d probably say no. I don’t know that I see true moments of simple bravery very often.
So, when I agreed to visit a Sunday morning service at my mother and stepdad’s Methodist church on a recent trip home, I wasn’t expecting to have an experience. I am often impressed by the sermons given by the preacher, a family friend, but I haven’t much felt compelled toward church by the moments of sheer inspiration it offers.
This time, we got a tip of what the service was going to focus on in the car on the way there. You see, just a year ago my stepfather ended his tenure as a district superintendent for the United Methodist Church in his region. From his insider knowledge, he guessed that his liberal friend, the preacher, might be compelled to address the recent drama at the Church’s general conference earlier that week. Specifically, the conference failed to approve the removal of certain language from its Book of Discipline: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Mind you, the slogan of the Methodist Church is: Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.
The service that morning began with the scripture reading of Luke 12:51-57. “…He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and so it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
Then, our friend the preacher proceeded to defy the doctrine of the church he works under by declaring his intention to essentially ignore the renewed law of the church. He’d just watched practicing members of his congregation walk away from this community because they no longer felt welcome in their place of worship. “There are no bastard children of this church,” he solemnly declared, to uproarious applause (not a common occurrence in Methodist services as you might guess). He promised to welcome his gay brothers and sisters, regardless of the church’s language, in a sermon that could have cost him his job. Even though it probably wouldn’t, that he would probably see nothing more than a slap on the wrist, it was a moment of true bravery that moved me to tears and brought the congregation to its feet. As my stepfather pointed out, he transformed what could have been a stance of resignation into a moment of hope. I made a mental note. Two marks of a true leader: bravery and the ability to create hope out of defeat.
Just a few days later, President Obama made history by offering his public support of gay marriage, exhibiting what I think may be a third mark of a true leader. Citing a conversation with his kids, he said “it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them. And frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change of perspective—not wanting to somehow explain to your child why somebody should be treated differently when it comes to eyes of the law.”
Maybe the third mark of a true leader is knowing how to interpret the present time, even just through the eyes of his children.