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D. Michael Lindsay

Beyond Platitudes

A model for civic leadership that takes religious pluralism seriously.

Susann, an exchange student from Germany, approached me recently after class. "Why are Americans so concerned about the private lives of their leaders?" she asked. Referring to a chapter we recently read about President Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinski, Susann was shocked at how the president's personal life could frustrate the political agenda of his final two years in office.

Ever since the visits of Tocqueville, Europeans have been surprised by religion's influence on American public life. Indeed, religious morality provided the spine that allowed democratic muscles to stretch and grow during Jacksonian democracy. And today, faith grounds the actions and ethical deliberations of leaders throughout the halls of power.

Shortly after my conversation with Susann, I read Douglas A. Hicks' refreshing new book With God on All Sides: Leadership in a Devout and Diverse America. Hicks brings together several different streams of thought from religious studies, history, and current affairs while reflecting on the unique challenges and opportunities that leaders face today. This book—more than any other I know of—provides insight and direction on how leaders ought to respond to America's increasing religious pluralism with both openness to the perspectives of others and fealty to their own faith commitments.

As associate professor at the University of Richmond's Jepson School of Leadership Studies, Hicks is working with his colleagues salism. His book, then, successfully bridges two bodies of knowledge—religion and leadership studies—both of which have suffered, sometimes justifiably, from an intellectual inferiority complex.

The book's title plays off Lincoln's observation that leaders of both the Union and the Confederacy thought God was on their side. "Today we see images of God, faith, and morality on all sides of society," Hicks writes. "These images are not only political claims but also religious, cultural, and social expressions of God in ...

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