Last week I went to see the movie Selma, which documents Martin Luther King's (MLK) campaign to secure equal voting rights as part of his civil rights movement in 1965.
MLK was an incredible, activist, humanitarian, leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. What sets him apart from many other revolutionaries throughout history was his unwavering belief in nonviolence as the most effective method for civil disobedience and change. King Jr was a faith-filled follower of Jesus Christ and his nonviolent thought was based on the teachings of Jesus, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as Jesus' orders of putting the sword back into its place (Matthew 26:52).
King was also inspired by Ghandi's successful non-violent activism and dedicated himself to these same principles. As a believer of non-violence as the greatest weapon against oppression and injustice, King has been one of my most revered role models and heroes. He occupies a special place of influence over the way I choose to live my life â along with Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi. Nelson Mandela, Shane Claiborne, and of course Jesus Christ.
And so my heart broke, when I discovered that my hero, King, had been unfaithful in his marriage throughout the time of his non-violent leadership. I was absolutely guttered, and it was all I could think about for the remainder of my evening as I reflected on his life and his amazing accomplishments.
Why is it that so many of our incredible leaders of social justice and human dignity, motivated by extreme love, have fallen into the trap of abuse or neglect of their own family? I have written a lot about our responsibilities as followers of Christ, to engage with the worlds oppressed, poor and vulnerable.
To be the change-makers and to defy the individualism, capitalism and greed that define our society today. But learning about the personal life of King, along with the knowledge of how some of my other heroes have lived outside of their public victories, has the coloured the lens through which I perceive this responsibility to be.
Martin Luther King Jr was and still is an incredible man, leader and hero. So is Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. But what led these men to the darkness of adultery and neglect? How could such love-driven, inspirational leaders commit such an unloving act towards the people closest to them? Was it the pressure of success, the loneliness of leadership or the absence from family life?
One or more of these things would definitely have contributed to the failings of our amazing leaders, but there is a much simpler explanation: they are human. In the midst of their drive for social change, their commitment to love, human dignity and equality, they are mere humans for whom temptation and weakness come only too naturally. And while God celebrates the wonderful achievements done in His name, He grieves with a heavy heart for the brokenness of marriage and family. We cannot judge these men for we are all sinners, but we can remind ourselves about what it means to be a true leader as a follower of Christ.
What is leadership?
When I reflect on the life of MLK and his epic fight for freedom, I ask myself if this amazing legacy can justify the price that was paid by his family. Can an unfaithful man or woman be a faithful public or political leader? The answer to that is Yes. Simply, because no-one is perfect.
But it begs the question, what does God actually require of us as leaders? Does He require us to be prominent political figures, to take on the weight of the world as we become drivers for social change? What the life of MLK teaches us, is that as humans we can do great things, but they will always come at a heavy cost. God does not delight any more in the mighty successes of our great, inspirational leaders than He does in the small acts of justice and mercy that go unseen every-day.
The prophet Micah writes: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
Justice, Mercy and Humility. It is these three attributes that make a great leader. As humans, we were not meant to take on the weight of the world. That was Jesus's job, and He did it with utter perfection and without sinning. But we, the mere mortals that we are, cannot take such heavy burdens upon us without hurting ourselves or others. We cannot carry the same cross as Christ without falling.
Instead, our job as leaders is to fight for justice, to show mercy, and to demonstrate humility in the daily patterns of life. To do small acts with great love, as Mama T famously taught us. Sometimes we may do great things that bring freedom to many, and we should feel empowered to do so with the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit working through our lives. But the great events of life should not be the fuel for our burning fire to love.
We all want to be heroes, and we want heroes to look up to, who inspire us to keep fighting the good fight. Martin Luther king will always be one of my heroes. He has taught me the invaluable lesson of accepting my mere humanity and remembering the perfection of Christ. I have found freedom in knowing that God delights equally in my small part of a bigger dream to realise His kingdom on earth.
I am excited when I look around me and see so many heroes and leaders. The ones who choose to rent so they can use their disposable income for supporting others. The ones who work less hours, to have more time for looking after people in their community. The ones who are friends with all of their neighbours. The awesome spouses and parents who also welcome the widowed and orphaned into their families. The nurses who go an extra mile to care for the poor and broken. All those who look out for the marginalised, the forgotten, the unlovable.
The unseen heroes who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
These are our great leaders.
Bex Silver is from Auckland, New Zealand and has recently returned from living on the Thai-Burma border working to help people displaced by war in Burma. She has a Masters in International Development and is passionate about advocating for social justice through her writing.
Bex Silver's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bex-silver.html