The Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January 2015 left 12 people dead. It was not the only attack perpetrated in the French capital that year. After that first incident, people linked arms on the streets, carried placards and posted in the media under the banner “Je suis Charlie.” The intention was to show solidarity on the issues of free speech and freedom of artistic impression. People saw something of value they wanted to affirm through personal identification.
Who we identify with and where we see ourselves in a story can be powerful but we have a tendency to be selective. I am writing this in California during the US Presidential primaries. I have spoken to many people around the world about Donald Trump. The recurring theme is something like, “What is the US thinking? How could anyone think that he could make a suitable president?”
Here is my problem. As much as I believe in freedom of speech, I also tend to prefer my prejudices, opinions and ideas over facts and to dismiss the media or anyone else who disagrees. I am Charlie but I am also Donald.
When I bolster my own position by being critical of those who do not meet the same standards, “Je suis Donald.” When I describe the behaviour and beliefs of others in a disparaging way with the intention of affirming my own, “Je suis Donald.” When I use race, gender, affiliation or culture to marginalise others and promote a unity based on fear and superiority, “Je suis Donald.” When my narrative is marked by racism, sexism, self importance, superiority and smugness, “Je suis Donald.”
As long as I am infected with this mindset I will not be able to stand against it.
What I find deeply troubling in this is how “Donald” Christian leaders can be. The challenge is not to become more like Charlie but to be more like Jesus. The challenge is to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to welcome the outsider, to develop and nurture the gifts of the men and women under our care, to show proper respect to everyone, to love the fellowship of all believers, to fear God and honour the King, to be a community that extends hospitality and welcomes all regardless of social class, ethnicity, age or colour, to be devoted to engaging with the Bible, prayer and the breaking of bread, to be ready and willing to take the whole gospel to the whole world and to make disciples of everyone, everywhere, to endure hardship, share money and resources, build God’s kingdom until he comes. When I live like this, “Je suis Jesus.”
I am not there yet and we will not get there in this life. I do not believe there are political solutions to many of the biggest challenges facing humanity. Nevertheless, I want to support politicians who have a vision to build a better society for everyone. I reckon most of us want to live in a place where equality, justice and prosperity for all are valued, where quality healthcare, nutrition and education are readily accessible and where freedom, peace and security extend beyond our place to those who live in less fortunate circumstances. How do we build a longer table, rather than a higher wall, and how do we share the good news of Jesus in compelling and credible ways?
The big leadership challenge is to grow a new generation of Christian leaders who can make this a reality in the complexity of growing inequality, food and water shortages, religious and political fundamentalism, war, terror, abuse and violence.
We are absolutely at the cutting edge of developing this critical resource, Christian leaders who will see the good news of Jesus proclaimed and the kingdom of God extended in our nation and the world. How do we embody and exemplify the kind of leadership that is needed in our families, schools, communities and nations? We may well lament the quality of Presidential candidates in the US and the system that perpetuates polarization. But the challenge is to have a style of leadership that is visionary, positive, inclusive, generous and is becoming more and more like Jesus.
Interestingly, “je suis” in French can mean “I follow” as well as “I am.” We are working hard to help students follow Jesus and to enable Christian students and graduates to keep following and to become more like Jesus.
Je suis Nigel. Je ne suis pas Charlie, je ne suis pas Donald, mais je suis Jesus. (I am Nigel. I am not Charlie, I am not Donald, but I follow Jesus).
Nigel Pollock is TSCF’s National Director.