On the Lord’s Side: Humility in Leadership

Sunday, October 30, 2016 | 1:00pm

Join our “Brown Bag” two-part discussion focused on morality and leadership. Selected readings by American theologian and ethicist Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr provide our springboard.

“Ask if we are on the Lord’s side.”
— Abraham Lincoln

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
—Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a great American theologian of his time. Some consider him to be the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. Niebuhr, who influenced such greats as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed issues of morality in leadership and America’s place in the world. Yet Niebuhr remains relevant as he speaks to many issues which affect us today, particularly with regard to leadership and America’s place in the world as a global leader.

Niebuhr emphasizes humility in leadership, the ability to see ourselves as something more than “exceptional.” Niebuhr embodied the words of Lincoln, encouraging our leaders to ask if they are on the Lord’s side, rather than is the Lord on our side. Such virtues of humility and grace are in demand today. Leaders like President Barack Obama, have adopted Niebuhrism as a philosophy to govern a nation considered to be the most powerful on earth. See his interview with David Brooks.

Niebuhr also represents evolution. He symbolizes one who is able to modify his thinking over time, as we become more aware of God’s kingdom. He represents what we need in leadership: the ability to grow and evolve. Niebuhr began as a Socialist but drifted to the New Deal. He also began as a pacifist but saw the need for “just war,” in the face of Hitler. Niebuhr is said to offer a pragmatic view of the world, known as Christian Realism. His attempt is to reconcile faith with the new pluralistic world.

Best known for the Serenity prayer used in Alcoholics Anonymous, Niebuhr’s philosophy is critical as we struggle with the idea of faith and leadership. In this two-part discussion series, we will examine Niebuhr’s thoughts on religion and leadership. Religion, he felt, could be dangerous to democracy if we cling to the notion that we are infallible and innocent. Ideas of Puritanism and the Enlightenment, both of which have been the guiding principles of American democracy, must be put into proper perspective if we are to remain a viable nation and choose wise and humble leadership.

“Power always thinks it has great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating his laws.”
— John Adams

This program is the second in our series of Sunday Brown Bag Conversations on Leadership offered after the 11:15 am service.

Date and time: Sundays, October 30 and November 6, 1–2:15 pm
Facilitator: Paula Mays
Registration: No fee; all are welcome. Sign-up required. Please contact Registrations
Recommended Texts: The Irony of American History and Moral Man and Immoral Society by Reinhold Niebuhr


What is America’s Moral Place in the World
–Jeffersonian View (“Jeffersonian illusion”): only expands economic power not social justice
–Puritanism: The idea of special providence and the special inheritance; sees God as always having his hand in things to punish and reward
–By the 1950s America had become a power house: view that this is America’s special role in the world
Punishment and reward
–God seen as one who punishes and rewards like a parent
–Psalm 91- 7: A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
Role of God in American Democracy
–American Exceptionalism: Divine Providence
–Role of slavery and race: King rejected Niebuhr’s notion of waiting for social justice, Niebuhr later modified his view
–Concept of America as “Innocent”
–Concept of America as a “blessed nation”
–Moralism: It is easier to be moral as an individual than as a collective society—what does that mean for us?
America’s role in the world
“Power always thinks it has great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating his laws.”
— John Adams

To register please contact Registrations.

  • Admission
    • No fee; all are welcome. Sign-up required.
  • Dates Offered
    • January 1, 1970 |