What Do Leaders Do When Faced With Evil?

What do leaders do when faced with real evil?

Illustration by Beyond Franks Grave. Available at Flickr.com.

By now you have heard about the massacre in Colorado. James Holmes painted his hair red, dressed in black, put on a ballistic helmet and gas mask, walked into a movie theater where the midnight showing of Batman was underway, and began shooting. Before the mayhem was over, he had killed 12 people and wounded dozens of others.

I watched the frantic recordings of one of the attendee’s iPhone camera recordings that showed a man walking out of the theater dazed with blood splattered across the back of his shirt–probably from someone who had been sitting behind him.

It is too soon to analyze the motives of this man, but one thing is clear: evil exists.

I know that, in today’s pluralistic society, we don’t like language that sounds exclusivist, but I must admit that I believe Christianity offers the only world view that takes into account the true nature of evil. Psychology, Economics, and brain Science help us to understand many of the contributing factors, but each of these domains fall short when it comes to understanding or explaining evil.

This is because evil is essentially a theological concept. It’s about a spiritual presence that exists in a dimension that is different yet parallel with human experience. It is a personal presence with a malevolent purpose. It is constantly at work under the surface of human interaction. Most often, it works with subtlety and stealth, but occasionally it pops up its ugly head to be seen by all.

We could say many things about evil, but the question that is in my mind as I write this post is this: “What is the responsibility of a leader when faced with real, unqualified, evil?

I know I’m walking on dangerous ground here; it’s easy to identify something as evil simply because it is different. I’m not denying the fact that we need to understand the social, psychological, and even chemical factors that contribute to anti-social behavior. Certainly, it is a leader’s responsibility to investigate the facts and to consider alternative interpretations.

Nevertheless, there are times when we are faced with raw evil. How do real leaders respond?

Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Wow! Such words are devastating for those who feel fulfilled and comfortable with simply condemning evil. True leaders go beyond this and actually oppose evil. They understand that with genuine evil, there is no compromise; there must be no tolerance. We must oppose evil with the intent to defeat it.

Evil, however, does not always appear with a semi-automatic firing into an innocent crowd. It often sneaks in the back door in tiny, silent, incremental steps: altering a number here, misrepresenting a fact there.

In any case, whether evil appears through subtlety or savagery, good leaders oppose it in their organizations and in society as a whole.

What do you think? Can you share with us some examples of how evil has raised its ugly head in organizations you have known? How was it dealt with? What have you learned? Please share in the comments section below.

4 thoughts on “What Do Leaders Do When Faced With Evil?

  1. Using the Batman movie, I think the Joker during the Dark Knight movie was a perfect example of how Satan works. The Joker in that movie was extremely smart and devious, and the Bible says the same about Satan. One of the biggest tactics he used in that movie was pitting people against each other. There was that scene where the two boats were in the harbor – one full of convicted criminals, one full of “ordinary” citizens – each with the ability to blow the other up. The conversation that follows is very revealing about how we think about each other. Also, by the end of that movie, The Joker had successfully turned Harvey Dent against Batman and Commissioner Gordon, even though those two were clearly his friends that cared about him deeply.
    I still think this is the main tactic Satan uses against the church. He’ll get people to be mad at each other on a small scale (one person against another) or on a large scale (church splits). I think the solution is to promote an atmosphere of love where true forgiveness and restoration is practiced. Unfortunately, humans (including Christians) are generally not good at forgiving others. I don’t have that part figured out yet. How to get people to truly forgive one another from the heart and have full restoration – get the relationship back just as it was without harboring any bitterness from here on out.

  2. Jeremy,

    Thanks for sharing! Interesting you mention the strategy of relational discord. This has also been a theory of mine for some time. This is how the enemy finds entrance, by inserting thoughts that one has been left out by others, or unfairly treated, etc. It also seems to fit the descriptions I have heard of Holmes as well.

    Regarding your last comment about how to develop a loving corporate culture–I would submit that it begins with leadership transparency. As the leader(s) begin to live authentically, followers begin to get the message that there is a safe place to be authentic themselves.

    Also–in a church situation–believers must be taught the theology of grace. Many times our sermons and lessons focus on what people must do to be true Christians. There certainly is a place for this, but I think the bulk of our message and teaching should be about what Christ HAS DONE and IS DOING for us and in us. When the focus is on what we must do, then comparisons begin, judging others, and so on. When the emphasis is on Christ then it places all of us in the same place–hungry beggars who have found the source of bread.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  3. I agree completely about the “sneak in the back door in tiny, silent, incremental steps.” I’m with a Sunday night Bible-study group that recently studied the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Satan does not like to distort everything suddenly til sinners are in “distortion shock” — lest the sinners realize exactly what’s going on and repent. No, Satan takes baby steps, gradually distorting — as you put it, “alter a number here, misrepresent a fact there” — trying to keep all distortions unnoticed. The more his victims compromise, the farther Satan will try to get away with.

    • Thanks Drew for your thoughtful comments. The Screwtape Letters is perhaps the most brilliant depiction of evil ever written in the English language. I remember reading where Lewis talked about intense strugles as he wrote that book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand the dark side of human nature. Thanks for coming by and sharing your insight!

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