I was once asked to be on a panel with Bishop Janice Huie to discuss the place of religion and spirituality in higher education and particularly liberal arts education and colleges. I was honored and nervous. As a college president I had ideas, but I am not a biblical scholar or expert like her.
Fortunately a way opened and I was drawn to John 18:33-38. Pilate asks Jesus,”are you a King?” Jesus answers,”who told you this?” Jesus goes on to say,”you say I am a king, for this I was born and came into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Anyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate then asks Jesus in a vexed fashion “What is the truth?” Pilate then leaves Jesus and says to his accusers,”I find no fault at all in him.”
No matter your faith or belief tradition, (Jewish, Muslim, etc) here is how I read this and I may be wrong. Pilate is actually genuinely confused. He wants to know what truth really is – Truth is not a part of the metric that he is familiar with in making leadership choices and if Jesus is a king this mode of thought makes no sense to Pilate. His leadership model is only one of self interest – expediency or of a kind of utilitarianism. “The greatest good for the greatest number” or the good or truth is whatever promotes his interest or cause.
Jesus is speaking truth to earthly power. It is an ethic that looks at things, actions, and choices as true or untrue, good or bad in and of themselves. It is a radical and dangerous way to regard the world in terms of earthly power and decision making.
Many or most of our leaders, CEOs, and politicians are more likely than not it seems to me to be familiar with the leadership ethic of Pontius Pilate. As a leader you are likely to be confronted with demands from friends, board members, shareholders, or other constituencies that pressure you to make decisions that may be popular and wrong, but may be justified by expediency or utility.
Think of the CEO asked to kick business back to powerful friends or bosses. Choosing not to do what is asked would be unpopular, but right. The consequences of not doing what was asked would in most cases be bad for that CEO’s career, his family, etc. The ire of scorned friends or others in power could lead to rumors or the release of damaging partial or (dis) information that could harm a CEO who made a decision not to do the wrong thing based on truth and not to agree based on expediency or utility.
Liberal arts colleges teach students to reflect on such issues. They allow for both the assertion of truth and for the question “what is truth?” but they teach students no matter their faith tradition that there are better and worse ways to live a life.
If you struggle with what is truth over the ethic of Pilate you hear what I mean just as you hear what Jesus means.