Nearly two weeks ago, I expressed my observations about my own journey and struggles with being “moderate” and my ultimate realization that one can not even identify oneself as a “moderate” and faithfully follow Jesus Christ at the same time. There, the critique I offered was rooted in an analogy between Paul’s own struggle with the Roman world and its influence by the wisdom/philosophy, stating that being “moderate” wasn’t any more effective or honest than the “extremes” of progressive and conservatism.
But, I want to offer a praise of virtue that is specific to being in the middle, so that one does not simply treat being “moderate” as the same as being “progressive” and “conservative.” Rather, in identifying the virtue, it can also help us to identify the vice, so that we can identify the mistakes that we make when we try to go the middle route and how going the middle often times simply reinforces the extremes it seeks to avoid.
There are at least four, overlapping motivations behind being a moderate that I can think of. Firstly, it is to keep as wide array of people involved as possibly. Secondly, it is to avoid the damages that people who go off to the extremes can do when they obtain power. Thirdly, it is to recognize the insights and wisdom that various people can provide. Fourthly, it is generally the best route to keep everything together as it is, which is usually in the best, short-term interest of the most people.
Therefore, in order to operate in the middle, one must a) know what a wide range of people are saying and b) trying to combine what everyone is saying in one’s decisions and behaviors so as to find the best-fit for all involved. At the core of being in the middle is a virtue: listening and understanding. One must
What is the result of listening to diverse sources: ideally, a source of creativity that searches for deeper, transformative principles that can hit at the various concerns
However, there are many conditions in listening to a wide array of voices does not lead to creative, transformative learning. Let me suggest at least two conditions where this is the case.
Firstly, under conditions of extreme diversity, effective listening becomes nearly impossible. Human resources are limited as there is only so much listening and learning a person can do at a time before their mental resources of exhausted. As a consequence, there becomes a point where ‘listeners’ become more prone to use rigid labels and stereotype due to the lack of motivation and resources to continue in this direction. The result of this is that the ideas that moderates hold in their heads become
One solution to this is to attempt to try to include more and more people into leadership to try to obtain more human resources to listen to a wider array of people. And indeed, this can in certain conditions be a big help when there is a number of voices that are simply becoming noisome. But there are two principles that prevent make this option succumb to the law of diminishing returns. The more people you include in your learning and
Eventually, the time and resources necessary for keeping the leadership together itself become exhausted, meaning there becomes increasing division within the leadership. At this point, there is very little time, if any, to effectively listen to the rest of the people, but rather more time is spent maintain the interests that have formed within the leadership. Burgeoning hierarchies and leadership almost inevitably devolve into staking out particular interests that make them inflexible to the interests of another. Therefore, the division within the wider population one serves becomes characteristic of the leadership. It is through this process that the leadership increasingly becomes a mirror image of the society the leadership serves: look no further than the 2016 U.S. Presidential race where the two most popular candidates among specific sectors of the population, Bernie Sanders (who was railroaded by the Democratic National Convention) and Donald Trump, were people with rather extreme views. This principle I would suggest reveals the seeds of destruction from the success of the middle when operating in a democratic mode of valuing all people; the more one has succeeded in the past, the harder it is to maintain the necessary institutional cohesiveness that provided the basis for its earlier successes.
Instead, the leadership begins to devolve from this principle, and insofar as the leadership has the respect of portions of the population, it only further stokes the division among the people they served. Therefore, the people become more extreme in their views and expectations.
This leads me to the second principle that is both a condition for
In other words, as people begin to connect more to various smaller tribal, group identities, they demand more from the institution. As the institution
At this point, those who remain in the middle and have avoided moving towards extremes via the processes of radicalization and tribalization are put under increasing pressure in the way they listen to the various sides. What they hear about in their listening is less and less the actual experience of a
AT the end of the day of a formerly successful institution, you are left with a middle that is itself being torn to the extremes and is hearing more fixed ideas. At this point, mental and personal resources are cut thin to the point that in order to maintain things as they are, the only options the leadership can think of and prefer is to split the difference down the middle in some manner. Rather than providing transformative leadership that takes the various principles and come
In this case, the future of the institution is spiraling towards its eventually full decay and death. But, this is neither an inevitable future for the institution, or even if the institution fails, the people are not inevitably left with no hope for anything to replace what has failed. There are people who seek to learn and listen from the “middle”, but somehow, whether it be the grace of God, the convergence of circumstances, or both, manage to insulate themselves and/or overcome from the worst of the effects of being in the middle. Those
Firstly, a willingness to recognize the failure of the present leadership. This isn’t necessarily a hit to the leadership as people or as individuals, but it is simply a recognition that for whatever reason, whether it be personal capacities or life circumstances, one does not have the resources necessary to lead transformatively. Collectively, the leadership must say “we cannot!” Without this recognition, the next steps can not occur.
Secondly, they must have a trust and hope that there are people who can, even if one can not immediately identify them. Without this faith and hope, the recognition of inability will simply lead to a spiraling of despair.
Thirdly, they must seek to learn to identify and discern what these will people will look like. Now, this is going to be hard off hand because we will
Fourthly, in seeking to find leadership, one must avoid the anointing of
Fifthly, don’t overly fix on one person as is commonly the cases in periods of looming crises. In cases of overwhelming diversity, you will need a diverse array of leaders, but much, much, much less numerous than those who have lead (otherwise, you simply recapitulate the problems that created the institutional decay in the first place). If these people share a common heart and mind, they can work together.
Sixth, as those who can help are
Seventh, amidst the vacillation of chaos and rigidification, one can still listen and hear in the midst of that, allowing the expression of concerns and thoughts that were either previously muted or were not considered important early on. In other words, you may find important insights in midst of the period of
Finally, the leadership must accept the risk that what is being done may fail, that the institution is just going to decay and die. Sometimes, this happens. Apart from God’s unilateral Word and powerful Spirit to make it so, there are no real guarantees in life. But without accepting this possibility may come to pass, the leadership will circumvent the struggles that are experienced, thereby hindering transformation in the name of protection from risk.
Of course, institutions may find the resistance to such a pattern too much to overcome, that the vested interests are too strong to allow the necessary humility, repentance, faith, and steadfastness. There is a reason that institutions, more often
So I will leave this with one comment that is more specific to my present circumstances in the United States and the United Methodist Church. Many are looking towards us Millenials as the future, as we have been told time and time again growing up that we were the future and have been given dreams to change the world. Let me state something really hard to say: most of us are not primed to take on that role. We have been formed with increasingly greater and greater expectations for our future that has made us more extreme in our thinking as the gap between expectations and reality is markedly high: mots of us have not adjusted our actual dreams, but have rather vacillated between narcissism and despair, between outright dread and excessive optimism. Many