Moral Leadership and Fifty Shades of Grey

MUNCIE, Indiana NEWS – We were warned to stay out of politics several years ago. Keep it light and full of good news. We obviously didn’t listen.  We literally got pulled in another direction based on research and our findings. Muncie wants to transform itself, and so does our nation. We aren’t happy with the current direction our country is heading. Our way of life is changing…old beliefs replaced by new realities. This creates fear – lots of fear and anxiety. As opposed to trusting the process as part of a larger plan – we grow more nervous about our future. Unfortunately, there are many people and institutions who prey upon our fears and convince us to act against our own self-interest. Much of the dysfunction we see in our world today symbolizes we are way off track.

If you look at American polls, the citizens are tired of the dysfunction, but it’s only getting worse. As we point out below, the experts in moral leadership have written about our lack of moral leadership since the late 80’s and early 90’s up through today.

Our political and private sector leaders aren’t listening. We were also advised to avoid religious topics, and for the most part, we have done so. However, when lawmakers use wrecking balls on the ‘wall of separation’ between church and state, we’ll follow them ‘down the rabbit hole’ to hold them accountable.

We’ve been accused of being anti-Christian, but it’s an unfair assessment. We advocate for inclusivity of all religions and give no preference to any one religion, even though 70% of Americans show they are, in fact, Christians. We consider all religions under the same umbrella as spirituality. Spirituality is about how we humans struggle on our material, physical plane and how we try to make sense of it all.

So, why venture into the spiritual realm now?

Because studying this invaluable topic and the vast religions which fall under it, is one of the places we’re taught about morals and values. We are taught morals and values from those who influence us – parents, family, teachers, coaches, friends and religious people. We also get it from our life experiences, making good or bad decisions, and learning from our mistakes. Self awareness is essential as we explore moral issues.

When we discuss moral leadership though, we aren’t necessarily talking about religious leaders. We are talking about transformational leadership and effecting change. Consider this definition from one of the fathers of moral leadership, Bernard Bass:

“Moral leadership helps followers to see the real conflict between competing values, the inconsistencies between espoused values and behavior and the need for realignments in values, changes in behavior, or transformations of institutions….[However] the transformational leader may be a breaker and changer of what society has regarded heretofore as right and wrong.”

We believe a lack of ethics and morals is the most relevant topic today for which we hear absolutely nothing about. Our corporate owned media bombards us with fear and hate, relentlessly, non-stop, 24/7. Consumerism, materialism are at the core of our economic system. You’re “successful” if you live in a certain neighborhood, drive a specific car, work in the right industry, drink the right beer, wear the most fashionable clothes, etc., etc.

So, when we are presented with a chance to explore individual and collective moral issues, we want to take advantage of the opportunity. We believe our morality, or lack of morality, is at the heart of many issues plaguing our country. We follow Twitter closely to get a read on the pulse of our community, nation and global communities. Many of the stories involve moral dilemmas, but they don’t spell it out.

Recently, a religious leader, Pastor James Johnson of  the Temple Baptist Church in Muncie, asked us to critique his Op/Ed about the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, which was published in the Herald Bulletin.

We are sure everyone knows about the movie inspired by the exploits of a billionaire who commits adultery with a younger woman. Our admission is we only saw comments about the book and memes on social media. Christian Grey’s romantic escapades weren’t much of a draw, so we had no idea it was classified as “pornography”, until we read Pastor Johnson’s letter.

In his letter, the pastor points out the hypocrisy of Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, who promoted the movie on Twitter. For you folks who don’t watch football, Russell nearly always gives thanks to God for his athletic performances. The pastor writes:

An outspoken Christian, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, was among those who watched the movie. With no sense of disgrace, Wilson tweeted to his 1 million followers that it was a “great movie.” This is a significant problem because someone who calls themselves a Christ-follower must follow the example and instructions of Christ. Christ teaches against adultery over and over in the New Testament. He also condemns allowing your mind to be focused on adulterous thoughts. If Russell Wilson is going to claim the name of Christ, it would be better if he didn’t drag Christ’s name with him through the cesspool of this world’s filth. I would encourage Mr. Wilson, and any Christian who believes it is OK to endorse “Fifty Shades of Grey,” to read and consider 1 Thessalonians 4.

According to our definition of moral leadership, the pastor is correct in pointing out Russell’s discrepancy in values. You probably shouldn’t advocate for the principles taught by Christ on Sunday afternoons, if you don’t plan to follow those principles daily. Unfortunately, this is a trap for most who openly advocate their religious beliefs. We are all sinners, or make mistakes, so claiming moral high ground is almost asking for it (karma).

Looking back at our definition, moral leadership is about serving others. The reason followers seek you out is because you’re role modeling behavior they aspire to have for themselves. From this place of influence, you can empower them to do better and make better decisions. However, you do this as a servant, not as an authority figure.

Generally, what we see from our public and private sector “leaders” are positional power. Their title determines their authority. Based on modern-day organizational charts, or “hierarchies”, what you’re really looking at is distribution of power within an organization from top (being the most centralized power), to the bottom of the chart (no power). True leaders can occur at any point in the organization, even at the bottom where they have no positional power over others.

To reiterate this point, leadership and authoritative power aren’t the same thing. To prove this point, “How many of you had bosses who couldn’t lead anyone to the cafeteria, but were in charge of your division?”

So, how does Pastor Johnson want to carry out change in our society – in what he refers to as a “cesspool of our worlds filth?”

We believe his solution is flawed because it’s the same approach we witness in Indianapolis from the evangelicals petitioning the government to make policies allowing them to openly discriminate against others of different beliefs. This doesn’t make you want to follow religious people, it makes citizens resentful of religion – it drives people away. We need more people attending spiritual services, not less.

In our case, Pastor Johnson wants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to wake up and take a more active role. To illustrate his point, he uses the 1950’s TV series of “I Love Lucy”, and how CBS put Lucy and Desi in separate beds. He writes:

CBS was unwilling to allow the word “pregnant” to be used on the air. This stands in stark contrast to our culture, where TV shows and movies abound with adultery as the main plot-line. It would seem, to any observant Christian, that the FCC is asleep at the wheel. In our society, there are many people who would call this 60-year cinematic evolution “great progress.” I call it moral regression and a massive disgrace.

Listen, Pastor Johnson is rightfully upset with how our society is behaving. However, let’s step back a moment and look at this from a moral leadership perspective. At Muncie Voice, we are very selective in what we share on social media and on our website. We try to choose the most relevant topics available for our readership which is Muncie, but also Chicago and Indianapolis. In Indianapolis, our elected leaders can’t pause long enough from violating ethics to discuss, and sign, a new law about ethics.

The Speaker of the House, Brian Bosma, has been clamoring about ethics reform after multiple high-profile infractions the past several years. Yet, just this past week, we learned that he failed to disclose legal work for the $88 million soccer stadium owners while he was advocating others to approve the funding request – a clear lack of ethics.

Trust us, these aren’t isolated cases. They run rampant throughout our private and public sectors.

So, I’m not convinced we want our government writing moral codes for John Q. Public to follow. We already seem to work under two distinctly different justice systems. One for “them” and one for “us”.

Going back to moral leadership, shouldn’t we be demanding that our public and private sector leaders be held at a higher standard than everybody else? Shouldn’t our leaders be role modeling the values and morals we want as a community and country?

Forget the justifications, as President of the United States and leader of the free world, George W. Bush lied to Americans, and the world, about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As a result of this lie, nearly five hundred thousand people died. What were his consequences for lying to the world? Nothing.

As Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren keep pointing out, we have many of the “too big to jail” CEOs of major financial institutions who committed fraud against the American people – crashing the global economic system, but not one of them has spent an hour in jail.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone famously coined them “Banksters”. We’ve both written about Wall Street CEOs being sociopaths. This means they don’t have a moral conscience – no sense of right or wrong. They don’t feel guilty for their bad decisions. With those exceptions, everybody has a moral conscience. We try to ignore it, or deny it, but it’s deep down inside.

Both our public and private sector leaders seemingly run under a system of pure self interests where there are no consequences, legally or morally. Our approval of them is at an all-time low while the level of corruption is at record highs. If they get booted out of a political office, they are quickly picked up by the corporations who supported their campaigns. K Street is a revolving door.

Should we be asking these guys and gals to tell Americans what is moral and what isn’t?

Pastor Johnson should be asking – more like demanding, that our local, state and national leaders become better moral leaders. In fact, all the faith leaders should be advocating for strong ethical reforms for our public and private sector leaders. Let our faith leaders rally against the “love of money” which permeates our political and economic systems.

We don’t need to shame people, or scare them with images of eternal damnation in fire and brimstone, but we do need to be aware of our choices and taught about making better decisions.

Think about it, what kind of moral statement are we making as a society when we pay Russell Wilson more in wages in one year, than a lifetime paid to our teachers, or religious leaders?

In conclusion, Pastor Johnson writes this summary:

God’s Word takes sin very seriously, and so should we. Sin is a problem for everyone. Jesus Christ is the only remedy for sins of nations and sins of individuals. He is the only way to have forgiveness and be reconciled to God.

We hold officials accountable on a daily basis for making poor decisions motivated by greed or self-interest. As a representative of Christianity, he provides a remedy through Jesus Christ. Each world religion offers a moral path, and so do atheists.

If you think about it, if God holds us accountable for our sins, then there is no reason to have the FCC step in and censor the movie industry. Hollywood and its movie watchers will have to atone for their own sins. We believe Jesus Christ would offer forgiveness –  not grab a stone and join the crowd.

We agree with Pastor Johnson about our country becoming a “cesspool”. When we ignore the spiritual realm, we become a bunch of self seekers looking out for number one – both the actors and directors. We each play God thinking the world revolves around us.

We forget we are on this planet together to serve one another – to lift up our less fortunate brothers and sisters. As our president likes to say, “We are our brothers keeper”.

We are also stewards over the animal kingdom and our environment. Neither of which is to be exploited for profits. There is no justification to abuse Gods creation – none. If we destroy our environment which supports us, then we are putting ourselves and our children’s future in peril.

We hope to see more moral leaders emerging as this country continues its downward spiral. As we learned, moral leadership is at the heart of transformational change. All the experts below have clamored for moral leaders since the early 1990’s.

For those wanting to know more about moral leadership, Google names like:

  • Bernard Bass
  • James MacGregor Burns
  • Stephen Covey
  • Jim Kouzes
  • Joanne Ciulla
  • Robert Greenleaf
  • Lawrence Kohlberg
  • John Maxwell
  • Parker Palmer
  • Barry Posner
  • Larry Spears
  • Gary Yukl

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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