When is it time to take a stand?

Many church leaders find it difficult to take a stand. We are afraid of offending or causing conflict. But sometimes avoiding conflict causes more long-term problems than it solves. When leaders are brave enough to stand up for what they believe, followers, and organizations as a whole, do better.

Eleanor Roosevelt understood this. I’m still reading about her later life, a little at a time. Eleanor Roosevelt was a delegate to the first meeting of the first session of the United Nations General Assembly in London in January 1946, within 8 months of her husband’s death. She wrote in her diary about Secretary of State James Byrnes, another U.S. delegation member: “Secretary Byrnes seems to me to be afraid to decide on what he thinks is right and stand on it…we could lead but we don’t. We shift to conciliate and trail either Great Britain or Russia and at times I am sure a feeling that we had convictions and would fight for them would be reassuring to them (Joseph Lash, Eleanor: The Years Alone, p. 50).

Taking a stand doesn’t mean a rigid insistence that others agree. It’s saying, as Martin Luther did, “Here I stand.” We can invite others to stand with us, in a way that is not arrogant or willful, but open to possibility. As ER notes, it is reassuring when the leader has convictions and will take some risks for those convictions. Sometimes people initially get anxious when a leader takes a stand, but over time, anxiety will be lower with a calm, clear presence at the top.

4 replies on “When is it time to take a stand?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Yes, I agree that reactivity to the leader taking a stand is not about rationality. Our preparation and response will be most useful if we work on keeping ourselves in a thoughtful, or as you say, curious, place. Marshalling our best arguments is rarely useful. It’s more about our clear presence than it is about convincing people to agree with us (which doesn’t work very often, anyway).

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  • IGalindo

    “Part of the clear thinking in advance can include not only our own position but what the expected response may be, and how we are going to deal with it.”

    I agree, but only if the anticipation of possible response is from a stance of curiosity and imagination and not of machination. It’s one thing to playfully ponder “I wonder where the reactivity is going to pop up and what form it will take?” It’s another to spend time parsing logical or “reasonable” arguments to counter protests or to try to “convince” or win over detractors. For one thing, it’s too akin to “mindreading,” and for another, it misses the point. Any reactivity is more about “emotional process” and not about rationality. Trying to reason with an angry, reactive, willful person is a waste of time.

    I’m not referring to those few whose assumptions, beliefs, or values have been challenged and they take responsibility for engaging in dialogue. Those who take that mature stance are always open to “negotiation” and finding the middle way rather than cutting off. But the others, the reactive ones, are not interested in rationality—-they just want their own way. (When reactive people ask me the “Why?” question for justifying a decision I usually ask, “How many reasons do you want me to give you? I can give you one or twenty.” The point being that for reactive persons, no amount of “reasons” will ever suffice. Do I need to add that they don’t “get” the question?).

    So, yes, we shuoul anticipate reactivity when we take a stand—and we should work more on anticipating what OUR own (emotional) responses and function will be in the face of sabatoge, resistance and confrontation. But I’d work hard at avoiding the myth of rationality when it comes to reactivity.

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  • Margaret Marcuson

    Yes, it’s true that you never really get away with it when you do take a stand. It’s important to remember so you’re not blindsided by the reaction when you have the courage to do it. Part of the clear thinking in advance can include not only our own position but what the expected response may be, and how we are going to deal with it.

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  • IGalindo

    This issue of leaders taking a stand is a tough one. I suppose that one reason leaders in any system—a congregation, organization, or family (and people in general)are reluctant to take a stand is that when we do so there are consequences. Taking a stand means you need to take responsibility for your convictions and decision, that you’ll be held accountable for them, and you will indeed force a decision for or against you or your idea. To put it bluntly, taking a stand requires courage, a quality in short supply these days.

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