The Spiritual Landscape
Pope Francis: Laid-Back or Authoritarian?
I can't speak to Cardinal Bergoglio's exercise of authority as a Jesuit. I do know that historically the order has been shaped by a charism that combines a unique blend of military-like discipline (big surprise, Ignatius of Loyola was a soldier) and daring, innovative ministry. (One professor observed, "The only thing God doesn't know is what a Jesuit means by obedience.")
My suspicion is that any exercise of genuine, boundary-preserving behavior in the Society of Jesus is likely to look like authoritarianism to people on the outside, whether it is or not. On the whole, the average layperson does not work in or belong to organizations that operate on the assumptions that shape Jesuit life. Corporate life does not come close. The United States Marines might be a better analogy.
Three: The dictionary definition of "laid back" is "relaxed, easy-going." That, as far as I can see, has to do with style and temperament. It has nothing to do with either a sense of humility or the exercise of genuine authority.
Contrary to the inference drawn by the reporter, "humility" and a "laid back" demeanor is not the same thing.
So, how will all three characteristics mark the leadership Pope Francis provides?
- He could be all three: a humble pope who exercises authority, and is, at the same time, laid back.
- It is hard to imagine him being genuinely humble without it driving him to nurture and preserve creative boundaries.
- It is equally difficult to imagine him being that kind of leader without being humble.
I hope he is both. I could care less whether he is laid-back (although it might work to his benefit).
Come what may, we would all benefit from some clarity about the nature of leadership. It is actually possible to be a laid back, pride-ridden, autocrat. I think that Francis will be a far better pope than that. But people who don't take the time to define leadership often get the worst of all worlds.
Gracious Lord, bless your servant Francis. Grant him the charisms of your servants Francis and Ignatius and so uphold him as a leader of Christ's One Holy and Apostolic Church that his ministry might bless those who enter its doors, care and minister to those far outside its walls, and truly be the body of the One in whose name we pray, Jesus Christ, your son. Amen.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/
You may also be interested in these stories:
- Stepping Bravely Into the Future: A Conversation with Bishop Andy Doyle on the Episcopal Church, Part Two
- The Spin Is In: Reflections on Clinton, Bush, David, and 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
- Denomination, Community, and Culture: A Conversation with Bishop Andy Doyle on the Episcopal Church, Part One
- In the Name of YHWH? Reflections on 1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-39