On Monday evening, August 8, 2016 Bishop Edward K. Braxton spoke about the need for moral leadership in action in order to bridge the racial divide in the United States.
Addressing a large audience at the Cardinal Rigali Center in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the bishop pointed out that his academic training is in systematic theology and not in political science. He said that he had been Bishop of Belleville for more than ten years before he uttered a word in public about the racial divide.
But, he said, “As a citizen of this country, as a Catholic priest and bishop, and as an African-American, I am deeply distressed by the recent violent eruptions of the racial divide in the United States. I believe that a new level of moral leadership in action is needed if we are to bridge this divide.”
The bishop said that a key to overcoming this divide is the embrace of authentic moral leadership by all members of the community. He said that he has long been inspired by Robert K. Greenleaf’s book, “Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.”
“Dr. Greenleaf, a Harvard professor, spent much of his career in the field of management research, development. He brought keen insights into human nature in his reflections on effective leadership. He saw effective leadership as a form of service. In a time of the breakdown of a sense of togetherness among people, there is an acute need for a new authenticity. The moral authority needed to bring fragmented factions together can only come about if those in diverse positions of leadership are open to an attitude of genuine service to individuals and groups holding divergent points of view.”
He said that there is little hope of forging a path of healing between those who assert that “Black Lives Matter” and those who assert that “All Lives Matter” without moral leadership that is not self-centered.
“When more people bring openness, understanding, humility, and compassion to their positions of leadership, the potential for establishing or re-establishing community is significantly increased. This is essential if the community is to move toward common meaning, forgiveness, reconciliation, consensus and the conversion of hearts. We need servant leadership not only from the sitting and future President of the United States but also from every citizen.
Servant leadership becomes moral leadership in action. This is what we need from parents, extended family members, and parish communities. We need it from religious leaders of every faith tradition, including the Catholic Church, particularly the Christian faithful along with the religious sisters, brothers, deacons, priests, and bishops who serve them by leading them to the true meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This same attitude of moral leadership in action is needed in all areas of law enforcement and criminal justice, protest groups, participants in gun legislation debate, the media, civic and business leaders, and educators, coaches, and mental health specialists.”
A number of people in the audience spoke about their personal experiences they have been treated unjustly and unfairly in society and in the Church. They have felt that their lives really did not matter. They expressed their gratitude to the Bishop for giving voice to the concerns of African-American people. Several expressed their disappointment that the leadership of the Catholic Church has seemed hesitant to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement. They appreciated the Bishop’s constructive criticisms of some aspects of the movement as well as his clear explanation of the origins of the expression “Black Lives Matter.” He stressed that ultimately all lives matter even though in certain circumstances the lives of specific groups of people might be particularly endangered.
In recent weeks Bishop Braxton has been speaking on the importance of moral leadership in action in a variety of settings throughout the summer.
On Thursday July 21, he gave the closing address at the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors Social Action Summer Institute 2016 at St. Xavier University in Chicago.
Commenting on his recent presentations, the bishop said: “I certainly do not pretend to have the answers to the questions concerning renewed strife and conflict in this country. It is my hope that my lectures, addresses, and published writings can make a contribution to civil discourse about acutely difficult and painful challenges that we all have a responsibility to face. Everyone can and should do something. Listen! Learn! Think! Pray! Act!”