“Let the Leaders Take the Lead,” by John A. Mackay

From a turbulent time in ancient Israel words come down to us which sound a trumpet note in the present hour. In days when public order was so deeply disturbed that the highways were abandoned and traffic flowed only through byways, the crisis was overcome through the devoted cooperation of the country’s natural leaders. Leaders and people together, through their clear vision of danger, their spirit of comradeship, and their self-sacrificing devotion, under God, were able to face the national situation in such a way that peace and order returned to the land. Hence the words of thanksgiving in the immortal saga: “For that the leaders took the lead and the people offered themselves willingly, praise ye the Lord” (Judges 5:1).

Today in the mid-forties of the twentieth century, with the horrors of the Second World War behind us and the specter of a Third dismaying the hearts of men, when the crisis that besets the world is manifestly spiritual, the Christian Church cannot escape the responsibility of leadership. Its clergy and its laity are the natural leaders of our nation in a time like this.

The Church must take the lead in the exercise of a prophetic function. It is not our task, fellow churchmen, to offer programs for the ordering of human life today. It is our function to present to those concerned with the secular order those theological presuppositions which are the indispensable basis of national and international health. Scientists and statesmen, journalists and men of letters now frankly recognize that every human problem is in its last analysis a theological problem. The growing confusion and tragedy of the human scene force men of the most diverse backgrounds and the most varied outlook to recognize this fact. What people think about God, the concept which they have of man, their view of the meaning of life color their approach to every question. Let churchmen make clear to all who are engaged in political reconstruction and in the direction of culture those imperishable principles of living human relationship which are founded upon the nature of God and man.

It is important that statesmen, as well as ordinary citizens, be made aware that the elevation of security into the chief category of political thinking, as is now being done, is not going to provide our nation or the world with the necessary safeguards against disaster. It is no less important that men engaged in the reorganization of life in the lands of our defeated enemies should know that the exercise of forgiveness and the manifestation of mercy can have great political significance. Merely to approach the problem of our vanquished foes in terms of penal reprobation and condign punishment will not solve the German or the Japanese problem. It will be tragic if we forget this very basic fact of human nature: Masses of people, when in desperate plight, respond to strong leadership in any direction. All that is required is that peoples’ emotions be aroused in favor of a program that appears to solve their basic needs. The fact that multitudes of plain folk followed the culpable leaders of Germany and Japan does not mean that the same people will be unwilling to follow in all sincerity a great new ideal of social reorganization, if the promotion of the new ideal succeeds in kindling popular emotion. Moreover, when the need arises, as it does continually in these days, let the Church fearlessly and unequivocally call the American Government, the British Government, or the Russian Government to account when basic human justice is being violated.

But there is something even more crucial. It is that the nations should witness the reality of an ecumenical fellowship whose membership crosses all geographical boundaries, transcends the frontiers of class and race, and overcomes denominational prejudice in a great society of love and good-will. Christian leadership today can make no greater contribution to these sad times than by offering to the world the reality of human fellowship in which, in an atmosphere of allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ, Christians dedicate themselves to meet the needs of men and undertake those human tasks for which they should assume responsibility at the present time.

With clear insight into the divine truth and the human situation, fearless in calling rulers to obey the basic principles of human relationship, and cooperating in a great adventure to restore the spirit and life of mankind, let the leaders take the lead.

John A. Mackay (May 17, 1889 – June 9, 1983) was a Presbyterian theologian, missionary, and educator born in Scotland and educated at Princeton. He was an advocate of the Ecumenical Movement and World Christianity.