c. 2008 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) Imagine that the four politicians running for president and vice president were clergy seeking to lead a large diverse congregation instead of our nation.
Here’s what the minutes of a congregational search committee might look like:
1. John, in his early 70s, is the oldest of those being considered. Eight years ago he sought the same leadership role, but was rejected in a fractious inner-denominational fight.
Back then he proudly bucked his denomination’s orthodoxy, even labeling some of his detractors “agents of intolerance.” Today, John has, at best, a wary coexistence with members of his denomination.
Despite his claim of independence, search committee members found John’s views quite orthodox, and his sermons were neither inspiring nor well-delivered. He sees the world in stark “us versus them” terms, and John pledged to undertake a relentless campaign “to defeat evil” everywhere.
If elected by the congregation’s members next month, the quick-tempered John would not be, as he told us, a “congenial” leader.
The search committee believes that John, even with his long experience, relies too heavily on instinct and improvisation. Although he is from the traditional “old school,” he would be an unpredictable leader, and the committee was keenly aware this was John’s last attempt at congregational leadership.
2. Barack is 47 and the search committee found him highly disciplined in message and leadership style. He is far and away the best orator of the four candidates, and in his uplifting sermons Barack claims to represent “post denominational” amity combined with meaningful “change.”
But some of the older committee members had trouble seeing Barack as the congregation’s premier leader, citing as problematic both his age _ an entire generation younger than John _ and his constant calls for change.
The elders are not certain he understands the special needs of older congregational members. In addition, while his education and organizational skills are first rate, they feel Barack is still unseasoned and has not served “in the vineyard” long enough to merit the top job.
But the committee’s young members were enthusiastic about the charismatic Barack, expressing belief that sound judgment does not necessarily come with age. The young folks are confident he would provide dynamic leadership for what the entire search committee clearly agrees is a highly cynical, financially frightened and deeply divided congregation.
3. John wants Sarah as his associate, the No. 2 slot. At 44, she is even younger and newer on the scene than Barack. If chosen, Sarah would be the first woman to occupy such a top congregational position.
In her meeting with the search committee, she exuded enormous self-confidence and ambition, but some members were troubled by what they perceived as hubris and arrogance for someone with so little experience. At first, the committee’s members were attracted to Sarah, a mother of five, who for the past year and a half has led one of our 50 smaller congregations.
However, on closer examination, her sermons were a litany of cliches, and her initial appeal packaged in folksy down home language waned. Many committee members felt she was “not qualified” for the job she seeks.
4. Although Joseph is only seven years younger than John, he is applying for the associate position to serve with Barack. Everyone on the search committee “knows” Joe because he has been a major denominational fixture for more than 35 years. In his interview, Joe exhibited sincerity and a vast knowledge of congregational life in the United States and abroad.
Like John, Joe is from the “old school,” and we were pleased he now delivers shorter sermons than his previous (often ridiculed) rambling speeches.
Joe prides himself on “being one of the flock” who understands the special requirements of our congregation. We were more at ease with Joe than with the other three candidates. After his interview, Joe threw down a few beers with several committee members.
All four candidates will be presented on Nov. 4 to the entire congregation for its decision, but only two will be chosen.
(Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is the author of “The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us.”)
KRE/JM END RUDIN