Safe is Insufficient

We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership.  These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders.  This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.

Nona Jones is a black woman, author, speaker, pastor and head of Faith-Based Partnerships at Facebook. An expert in expanding the influence of the Gospel through social technology, she coined the term “Social Ministry,” pertaining to the digital world, and partners with churches and ministries to help them fulfill the Great Commission through digital impact.  Her latest best seller is Success from the Inside Out: Power to Rise from the Past to a Fulfilling Future. 

Ms. Jones was a speaker at the recent Global Leadership Summit and had some pithy and on target reasons why leaders do not talk about race.  Many of you may find yourself in one of the categories she identifies.  I certainly did.  I learned the “Why” of the behaviors she describes and I hope I can live into the leadership qualities that would empower me to be more open and less blind to the need to discuss racial injustice with others.  Let’s see what Ms. Jones had to share.

Some leaders tend to retreat to their safe zones where they can avoid having that racially charged conversation.  There are several “reasons” for this:

  • Fear.  “If I have that conversation, or go there, it will cost too much.  I will lose too much.”  It might be the perceived unpleasantness that could ensue from talking about race.  Maybe it’s the fear that it could end up in a more than unpleasant altercation.  Fear can be paralyzing.  Courage is not the absence of fear; courage is fear while moving forward.  Leaders don’t ignore fear. They turn it into a motivator.  What is this fear trying to teach?  Fear is an invitation to preparation.  Prepare for these conversations and you can corral your fear so that it doesn’t run roughshod over you.
  • Inadequacy.  “I can’t do anything about this; I don’t have the power or position to speak up.”  The lie we tell ourselves is that there is someone else better prepared to do the job, so we do nothing.  The truth is, no one is inadequate when the task is this simple:  see injustice-speak out!  You see it-you speak it.  If not you, then who?
  • Self Isolation. Some will hide, both physically and mentally.  Leaving a race discussion or a meeting headed in that direction or falling silent are all self-isolating behaviors.  The antidote:  a pack, a tribe that reminds you that this is too important for you to opt out or quit.  It’s the trusted community who is on the journey with you, even if they are not in the same room.  They are your “accountability buddies.”

Leading while in fear or feeling  inadequate or isolating yourself from the issues is a betrayal of Christ’s leadership.  He feared yet moved forward.  He might have felt inadequate at times, but He was powered by the Holy Spirit and given the courage he needed to act in the ways he could in the places He found Himself; He had those hard conversations with those who opposed Him.

So what does this mean for ecclesial leaders?  First, look inward and see how these three feelings may prevent you from standing up for racial justice.  Next, remember that God has called you to lead and leaders are called to go first.  Finally, put on the mind of Christ.  He knew safe is insufficient.  Silence is not an option.


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