I try to stay current on what's going on. I believe it helps me minister more effectively and relevantly–and I find it interesting. Virtually every day, I spend a small chunk of time swinging by the web sites of the Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and others. I read news pieces and opinion pieces. I have various newsfeeds going to my phone, and subscribe to people's feeds on Twitter. All of this helps keep me current and stimulates my own thinking about issues of the day.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have my own biases as everyone else does. However, I try to discipline my thinking to be fair to people, and to be open to other perspectives—as long as they are "above the belt." Tough criticism of people and organizations is OK and often important—even really tough criticism. I also believe this is especially true of those in power. However, I typically find "below the belt" criticism offensive, and such criticism tends to lower my view of the person offering the critique.
Someone once said that people are like fruit, you get to see what's inside when they're squeezed. I've found this to be true. Toughness is a test of leadership. Whatever you think of President Bush, the man could take a beating. He was hammered minute to minute in the most personal and vicious ways for 8 years by the media—but kept his head toward them. Even as the current administration has, against precedent, blamed him for virtually every American problem, we have heard nearly nothing from him. Dick Cheney—another story…but even his critiques are few and far between. This isn't to portray "W" as a saint…or even a great president…but rather as a man of unusual stamina. I respect him for that.
After nine months in office, President Obama is fighting back against one network he believe is on his case unfairly. What does that say? It may be a smarter and more effective strategy. Or, it may show fragility of leadership. Nixon was criticized for this fragility in composing his infamous "enemies lists."
Many Christian leaders I know do the same. I have too. What? Compose enemies list whether formal or informal. We attempt to silence and shun opponents without first attempting dialogue. We take criticism too personally, and to attempt to demonize those who try to demonize you. We try to lock them out. This isn't to say that there is never a time to rebut unfair or inaccurate criticism. But, Scripture guides us in how we do that. One thing is for sure…reconciliation is the goal.
Without patronizing anyone here, I believe they are "In the Box" toward Fox News (a phrase borrowed from the book Leadership and Self-Deception…a must read). The book defines self-deception as a kind of "insistent blindness." This blindness puts us "in the box." And when we are in the box not only do we not solve problems effectively, but also we actually create problems for ourselves and others. When we are in the box, we provoke people to resist us. We tend to aggrandize our enemies' faults while diminishing our own, and we aggrandize our accomplishments and traits while diminishing those of our enemies. Being "in the box" blinds us to the true cause of problems, and once blind, all the
“solutions” we can think of will actually make matters worse.
Here's the truth about Fox News: Fox News' ratings are at least double the other networks combined—and growing. Independent studies also show their audience is extremely diverse politically (roughly 50% are Democrats or Independents), racially, and socio-economically—despite the caricature of the Fox audience by the main-stream media and President Obama's administration. Non-partisan news studies also continue to show that Fox News, contrary to criticism, to be the most balanced news coverage in the business. It seems that Fox News has earned some engagement from the President…and especially if he feels he's being skewered.Talk to them. Talking about them hurts you and helps them.
President Obama's case needs to be heard as well. Is Fox unfair to the President? I do believe the commentators (in contrast to the news coverage) are at times. That's worth saying. However, we have a credibility problem here. The President's critique of Fox as partisan rings hollow when the administration itself shuns Fox News, derides it as partisan, encourages others to do the same—while simultaneously holding private dinners at the White House with Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow. Some are thinking to themselves, "Physician, heal thyself."
Let's also be fair to Fox News and note that White House communication—the biggest communication stick in the business–is less than "fair and balanced." White House communication has always been a place for the administration to sell it's agenda. So, why would it be wrong for a news outlet to hold that agenda up to scrutiny? If the President finds Iran's President Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez worthy of dialogue, certainly Fox News is.
I fear the President has picked the wrong fight here, and is coming across as a petty and fragile man to some. I don't believe he is. You can't become President of the United States if you're made of glass. He must be a strong man. However, his leadership needs to get stronger. Healthy leadership avoids blaming and instead focuses more intently on making things better.
I don't want to be unfairly critical of the President here. His job is the toughest there is. It would be tough to be under the kind of scrutiny he was all the time. However, it comes with the turf, and thus the past couple of weeks has shown us some interesting things about his leadership.
This is all a wonderful case study with implications for church leadership…though Washington D.C. and the church are unmistakably different arenas. Here are some reflections:
- Fragility in leadership usually leads to overreactions and the creation of unhealthy communication patterns in churches. Often, this begins with fragile leaders–not fragile members. If leadership models and upholds healthy communication patterns in the church, unity will result.
- The only way I've found to become less fragile in leadership is to do leadership for a while. Eventually, skin grows thicker. I am a much more patient leader than I was 10 years ago…and am probably much less patient now than I will be in another 10. I'd love to hear any ways you've found to "leatherize" your skin and increase patience with those who are tough on you.
- You earn the respect of critics by handling conflict in godly ways and continuing to do ministry effectively through it.
- Criticism comes with ministry. Some contexts offer more and more vicious criticism than others…but it always comes. I've been called, "Satan," cussed at, and worse. Those are the extremes. But, I don't know that I've ever gone a week in ministry without some criticism. This isn't to say we should just let it happen as par for the course. No, I'm just saying that we should handle it in biblical ways. We shouldn't be arrogant enough to think we're above it or naive enough not to expect it.
- We must embody what we preach in our attempts to handle conflict within the body. If we abuse power or lash out inappropriately, we do so at our own peril, and that of the message we preach.
- The high road is sometimes to simply take yer' whoopin'. Other times, it's to confront in love. It takes spiritual discernment and wisdom to know which is called for.
- If church leaders are "In the Box" toward critics, they serve the Kingdom well to get out of it by prayerful engagement with whomever they are in the box toward.
- To be sure, there are sometimes people who are simply out to destroy you or the church. Not every critique is offered in good faith and pure motives. Some are flat out destructive. These situations should be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. But, most of the time, some headway can be made by engaging significant criticism without stopping to combat every letter, email, rumor or call.
- Steadfastness is important in ministry and in the Christian life. It's source is the Holy Spirit.The more God is present and working in us, the more righteous courage will abound.
- Jesus' words are still true, "Love One Another."
Any others you can think of?