"You're terrible leaders," pastor tells divisive politicians

Andy Stanley delivers a brave truth bomb to Georgia’s House of Reps

Pastors don’t get all that many opportunities to address politicians. They get even fewer opportunities to advise them – a reality Georgian pastor Andy Stanley seemed especially aware of when he recently addressed the US state of Georgia’s House of Representatives.

The Georgia House of Representatives invited the North Point Church pastor to speak to them as chaplain of the day. And he didn’t waste a second of the twelve minutes allocated to him.

“I’ve never done what you’ve done. I couldn’t do what you do … You have permission to talk bad about me behind my back …  because I really don’t know daily pressure that you live with and the responsibility that you have. But I do have some unsolicited advice,” Stanley told the House.

“Disagreement is unavoidable, but division is always a choice,” the pastor said. “Now, unfortunately, in your world, there are advantages to division. You can raise more money when things are divided and sure that the other group is out to get them.

“Politically speaking, fear of the other party is an asset. A division makes it easy to demonise and mischaracterise the other folks. So, unfortunately, to use it – fear and demonisation and disunity – is to your advantage.”

Stanley continued with a brutal assessment of leaders who divide.

“Those of you who pander to and foster division, you are terrible leaders,” he said. “If you need an enemy in order to lead, you’re a poor leader.”

“What if we, as the leaders in the state decided we’re not going to ‘kick off the wall’?  That we don’t need an enemy in order to win and we don’t need an enemy in order to lead? Jesus says – this is important – just because somebody considers you their enemy, you do not have to take your cues from your enemies and call them or treat them like an enemy.”

Stanley described what psychologists refer to as a “fundamental attribution error”. A fundamental attribution error is when someone ascribes character issues to someone due to their behaviour. But when they themselves do the same thing, they justify the behaviour based on circumstantial issues.

“For example, when I’m late to work it is because I was helping my wife and being a good husband and a good father and there was an accident on Georgia 400. When you’re late to work, I decide that you’re just lazy. You don’t care. That you’re irresponsible, you’re disorganised at home, and you’re not really committed to the organisation,” he said.

At a political level in the US, this translates to partisan stereotypes such as “all Republicans are ignorant racists” and “all Democrats are godless socialists,” Stanley explained.

The pastor challenged Georgia’s political leaders to stop these ways of thinking and relating, and to refuse to affirm it in others.

“When someone with a microphone starts geeing up the crowd with all that crap, don’t clap and say, ‘Amen’. Don’t get caught up in it. Don’t approve of ‘divide them up and keep them scared’ leadership,” he urged.

“Just walk out. Better than walk out, walk toward the middle, because the middle is where the problems are solved … But to walk toward the messy middle, we all have to get out of our Republican and Democrat bucket and walk toward the middle and that’s not popular.”

“What if, in the state of Georgia, we decided, you know what, we’re not going to be political, we’re going to be leaders?”

Stanley said he had learned about the messy middle when reading Letter from a Birmingham jail by Dr Martin Luther King. King asserts that you get shot at from both sides when you stand in the middle. Jesus understood it, too – he was attacked by both the temple and the Roman empire.

“Everybody wanted Jesus to be a part of their thing. Everybody still wants Jesus to be a part of their thing, right?”

Stanley acknowledged that standing in the middle was especially difficult for a politician.

“I understand – but not as well as you do – it is hard to raise money in the middle. It’s hard to get people angry enough to vote in the middle. It’s hard to get people to turn out and vote if you’ve not made them afraid of their enemy in the middle. It’s hard to do what you do if you don’t play this silly game,” he said.

“What if we just stop with all that?” Stanley asked. “And when we catch each other doing that, we call each other out?” he asked.

“Now to do this requires a lot of personal maturity and personal security to lead from the middle. It will require you to love our state more than you love your party. Do you love the state of Georgia more than you love your party? … I know that’s why you got into this.”

Again, disagreement is always going to be there, but disunity – it’s a choice. So you’ll know which one you love more, and the people around you will know which one you love more based on your willingness or unwillingness to move out of your partisan corner towards one another.”

Stanley prayed a closing prayer thanking God for sending Jesus to stand in the middle as an example.

“Regardless of what we believe or who we believe in or who we worship or pray to, I pray that we would have the courage to move toward each other and to listen and to love our state and to love the people in our state more than we love the categories that we’ve been strapped with.”

Resonances in Australian Parliament

No doubt, many of Stanley’s points will resonate with Australian Christians. With a federal election to be announced any day, the temperature in Australia’s national conversation about political leadership is rising daily.

Christian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s character has been called into question several times in the last week by political colleagues from outside and even inside his party. Accusations levelled at the PM have included bullying, racism, and using unethical political methods to gain power.

Perhaps some of these criticisms could be explained by what Stanley described as “fundamental attribution errors” in his address to Georgia’s politicians.

But interestingly, it was Morrison’s failure to work in a bipartisan manner for the good of Australians – or “move to the messy middle,” to use Stanley’s words – that drew the ire of another Christian politician across the aisle last week.

Labor’s Kristina Keneally delivered a scathing speech in the Australian Senate last week, accusing the Prime Minister of making Immigration Minister Alex Hawke renege on a deal over the proposed Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019.

“The minister sat there in his office and agreed with me that he and I would work together, over the next fortnight, to finalise these changes to the ministerial direction to keep women and children safe. What, if any, changes we might make to the government’s own amendment to its own bill to ensure that low-level offending was not inadvertently captured by the bill. That was at noon yesterday. Just before 5 pm, the minister’s office called mine and pulled that deal,” Keneally told the Senate.

“Extraordinary. A minister – a recently promoted cabinet minister, no less – makes a deal to work with the opposition, to deliver real changes that would make a real difference to real women and children who experience domestic violence, and then the minister yanks it just a few hours later.”

Keneally told the Senate that “there is only one person who can make a cabinet minister renege on a deal, and that is the Prime Minister.” She questioned the PM’s commitment to Australians over his own political gain.

Labor politicians have faced their own accusations of political gamesmanship in recent times, too.

In the aftermath of the Queensland floods last month, federal Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers told ABC Radio National’s Breakfast program that Service Australia teams had been disproportionately allocated to electorates held by Liberal MPs.

But Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds rejected his assertion, replying that the locations of Service Australia teams were determined by state authorities, not the federal government.

“It’s disappointing to see Labor playing cheap politics while we’re focused on the disaster response,” Senator Reynolds said in a statement.

It seems Australia’s politicians could also do with a little encouragement to follow Jesus’ example and move to the messy middle – especially with the ugliness of an election campaign bearing down on us. Perhaps someone could enquire into Pastor Andy Stanley’s availability?