Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Life of the Exiles Part 2


Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the second in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the life of the biblical exiles. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance—and the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.

Providential Positioning

“And who knows but you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
(Mordecai to Queen Esther when the Jews in Medo-Persia were threatened with genocide[1])
“O King…. acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
(Daniel to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in interpreting the king’s dream[2])


In an earlier study entitled “Faith and Politics in the Life of Moses” we examined the concept of “providential positioning”—how Moses was uniquely positioned by God to play a leadership role in liberating Israel from Egypt by virtue of his princely position in Pharaoh’s household while still being in contact, through his mother, with his Hebrew heritage.[3]

In a later study entitled “Faith and Politics: Lessons in Leadership from the Life of David” we saw a very different aspect of providential positioning and leading. In David’s case there was very little in terms of family position or visible circumstances that would lead anyone—even the spiritually perceptive Samuel—to believe that the shepherd boy David could become a future King of Israel.[4]

Like Samuel, in seeking to ascertain whom God may have in mind for political and spiritual leadership, we need to be reminded that He “does not look on the things that man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[5] And what the Lord sees and does there—especially if He perceives a yielded and contrite heart—can lead a shepherd (David) to the throne of Israel, a slave (Joseph) to become vice-ruler of Egypt, an orphan girl (Esther) to become Queen of the Medes and Persians, and a teenage exile (Daniel) to eventually become the First Minister of Babylon.

“For Such A Time As This”

All three of these believers—Joseph, Esther, and Daniel—attained high office and political influence in the non-believing societies in which they found themselves. It is significant, however, that it was major disasters and calamities, not far-sighted planning and ambitious ladder-climbing, that led to their positions of influence.

In the case of Joseph, an impending famine and his God-given ability to interpret Pharaoh’s predictive dream concerning it led Joseph to his political position. And his God-given wisdom in managing the response to that national calamity—storing up grain in advance of the famine and utilizing its distribution to secure ownership of the land for Pharaoh—maintained him in his position and increased his influence even more.

In the case of Daniel, it was again a God-given ability to interpret the obscure but predictive dream of the king of Babylon that gained him his position of political influence. He was then able to use that influence to save Babylon, at least in part, from the wild excesses to which Nebuchadnezzar was inclined, including the wholesale execution of his advisors, few if any of whom would have shared Daniel’s faith.

And in the case of Esther, the “such a time as this” for which she was providentially positioned in Medo-Persia was a time when the exiled Jewish people were threatened with genocide—a threat which Esther’s positioning and influence with King Xerxes enabled her to avert.

A 20th Century Example

So does God still work in this way—using disasters and calamities often brought on by mankind’s fallen nature and propensity for greed and violence—to lead believers toward positions of public service and political influence?

I believe he does. In fact, one could argue that this is one of the chief mechanisms of “providentially positioning” believers in this world. “Who knows but that you are being led to political involvement and public service for such a time as this?”—the “such a time as this” being one of the contemporary economic, social, or political crises of our times, affecting many people very few of whom may share your personal faith convictions.

For example, in Western Canada—one of two regions in our country (the other being Quebec) which tend to innovate politically by creating new political movements and parties—it was the Great Depression of the 1930s which led a number of professing Christians into positions of political prominence.

J. S. Woodsworth was a Methodist minister and proponent of the social gospel[6] who publicly sided with rioting workers during the great Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.[7] Together with Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister, and others, he eventually formed a social democratic political party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) which later became the present day New Democratic Party (NDP). The CCF/NDP were strong advocates of social justice, campaigning strenuously for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, and universal medical insurance coverage.

Another but similar example involves the other major western Canadian political party spawned by the Depression, namely the Social Credit Movement in Alberta. It was led by a Calgary high school principal and Christian layman, William Aberhart. Aberhart pioneered Christian radio broadcasting on the Canadian prairies in the 1920s, focusing on the personal salvation aspects of the gospel and his interpretation of the prophetic scriptures.[8]

Aberhart founded a training institute in Calgary, Alberta, for would-be ministers of which my father, Ernest C. Manning, was the first student. During the Depression that institute operated a soup kitchen to serve the poor and unemployed. In the long lineups which formed outside it, Aberhart began to see former public-school students of his whom he had sent off to be teachers, doctors, and lawyers. But now they were “riding the rails” by the thousands, from city to city, searching in vain for work. The experience impelled Aberhart to search for answers to the Depression and he settled on the idea of social credit—a primitive form of Keynesian economics which maintained that the economic pump should be primed by expanding the money supply during times of economic contraction. Eventually Social Credit became a provincial political party, strongly supported by evangelicals, and formed the provincial government in Alberta in 1935 with Aberhart as Premier. My father succeeded Aberhart in 1943 and served for another 25 years as Premier, all the time carrying on the evangelical radio ministry which Aberhart had pioneered in the 1920s.[9]

Whether or not one agrees with the political positions of Woodsworth and Douglas, Aberhart and Manning, or their respective interpretations of the scriptures, there is no question but that it was their faith-based responses to an economic and social disaster, the Great Depression, which prompted their political actions and propelled them into positions of political influence.

What About You and the Leading of Contemporary Crises?

If God still works in this way—using disasters and calamities which are often the product of mankind’s fallen nature—to lead believers toward positions of public service and political influence, what about you?

Could it be that you are being led by your Christian convictions to some such involvement by one of the many economic, social, and political crises that afflict our current world, regardless of whether the people of your community, province, or country share your personal faith convictions?

The Challenge of Caring for the Sick

Our world is periodically wracked by health crises—the AIDS disaster that began in Africa and is now world wide; the recent Ebola outbreak on that same continent; the SARS outbreak of 2003, which provided Canada with a foretaste of what a pandemic-like health crisis might be like and how to deal with it; and the increases in cancer cases, hereditary diseases, and end-of-life heath issues that lead so many today to despair of life despite all the advances of modern medicine. Such crises challenge individuals, communities, governments, and societies to conduct medical research, to engage in health-care education, to pursue preventative and supportive private initiatives and public health-care policies, and of course to engage directly in the administration and delivery of medical care for the ill.

Could it be that, for some Christian believers, a personal and acute consciousness of and concern for these health-care challenges constitutes “providential leading”—a providential call to become personally and actively involved in meeting the health-care needs of others in the Spirit of Christ? The New Testament abounds with stories of Jesus and his disciples being confronted with the needs of the sick and being directed by the Spirit to respond to them with compassion and care. The history of the western world includes numerous accounts of Christian believers who were confronted with health-care crises and out of their faith convictions risked their own health in order to respond to the needs of others.[10] Could it be that a condition of our “times” of which you are acutely conscious is a health-care crisis that you are being led to address in some way? And could it be that God is putting to you the same question which he posed to Esther long ago through Mordecai, “Who knows but you have come to your position—a position of awareness of a need and the opportunity to help—for such a time as this?”

The Challenge of Environmental Stewardship

Our world, including your local community, is increasingly faced with serious environmental challenges—the increasing degradation of soil, water, vegetation, and atmospheric conditions as a result of our insatiable appetite for goods and services and the means we employ to satisfy that appetite.

But could it be that, for you as a Christian believer, an increasing consciousness of and concern for environmental degradation constitutes “providential leading”—a providential call for you as a believer to act: to constrain your own demands for goods and services in the spirit of Christian self-sacrifice; to rediscover environmental stewardship and “creation care” as a spiritual obligation to our Creator and His creation; and to participate in issue and electoral campaigns to raise environmental conservation and responsible resource stewardship on the agendas of local, provincial, and national governments?

In other words, could it be that a condition of our “times” of which you are acutely conscious is environmental degradation—a condition that you are in a position to address in some way? Who knows but that you have come to that position for just such a time as this?

The Challenge of Conflict Resolution

It is also true that our modern world abounds in conflicts—economic, social, environmental, cultural, and political. But could it be that the existence of conflict in whatever circumstances you find yourself again constitutes “providential positioning”—a providential call for you to exercise at a human level what the Apostle Paul called the ministry of reconciliation, serving as a self-sacrificial mediator of conflicting interests after the example of Jesus?[11]

In many respects, democratic politics at its most profound level is all about the reconciliation of conflicting interests by non-violent means. During my time in Canada’s national politics one of the greatest and most worrisome conflicts facing the country was on the national unity front, with a growing portion of the political class and population of the province of Quebec desiring to secede from the Canadian federation.

My own awareness of this challenge—secession challenges being among the most dangerous crises that can afflict an established state—began in the 1960s and led me to study secession crises in other times and countries, especially federations,[12] and the various ways of dealing with them.[13] By the 1980s, growing discontents in western Canada were leading to the creation of an embryonic secessionist movement in the West as well, which, had it succeeded in gaining momentum, would have put intolerable strains on the federation and the national government, no matter who formed it. It was to address the underlying factors that were fueling the western separatist movement—fiscal and economic mismanagement by the federal government and institutional indifference and unresponsiveness to legitimate western interests—that my colleagues and I formed the Reform Party of Canada with the slogan “The West Wants In.” [14]

Our general approach was to give strong but responsible voice to western discontents while proposing reforms to the federation as a constructive alternative to tearing it apart. We subsequently elected a significant number of Members of Parliament and were active in the House of Commons and on the national unity front when the Quebec secession crisis was brought to a head in 1995 by a province-wide referendum on whether that province should secede or not. The referendum was won by the No side (No to secession) by the narrowest of margins[15] and legislation,[16] originally proposed by one of our members, was put in place to better equip the federal government to deal with secession crises of this type should they ever arise again.

During all this time I must confess that as a Christian believer participating in the politics of my country I was not particularly conscious that I and my Christian colleagues in Parliament might have come to our positions of influence, however modest that influence may have been, by providential leading for “such a time as this.” During this period we received many briefs and representations from all sorts of interest groups on how best to deal or not deal with the unity crisis. But I cannot recall receiving any from the faith community or Christian organizations that raised this possibility or sought to specifically apply the Christian teaching on reconciliation to Canada’s unity crisis in any practical way. In retrospect, however, Mordecai’s question is surely relevant to our case—“Who can tell but that we were brought to our particular political positions for such a time as this?”

Christian believers who find themselves in positions of influence in such conflict situations in the future should be more acutely conscious of the possibility and direction of such “providential positioning”—positioning for the express purpose of playing a reconciling role.[17]

From Macro to Micro

Finally, it is important to recognize that the “crises” that may eventually lead to political involvement and influence need not always be macro crises as described earlier. They may be micro crises—crises in the lives of individuals whom we encounter every day—the crises of individual and personal deprivation, poverty, sickness, abuse, alienation, loneliness, persecution, and bad choices.

Moses’ first step toward his political role as the liberator of Israel from slavery in Egypt began with a personal incident in which he saw an Egyptian abusing a single Hebrew slave and felt compelled to intervene.

Toward the end of his earthly ministry Jesus spoke of the providential positioning of believers in the kingdom-that-is-to-come and linked that positioning to how we as his professed followers respond when confronted with these micro crises in the lives of others.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory … All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’[18]

Jesus was speaking of our personal responses to these personal crises in the lives of individuals we encounter. But if laws, public policy, public expenditures, and other actions of governments can have anything to do with alleviating the causes or effects of deprivation, poverty, sickness, alienation, loneliness, persecution, and bad choices it may well be that God will also use such encounters to lead some of us toward playing a political role in shaping collective responses to such micro crises just as he did with Moses and has done with others of his politically involved followers down through the ages.

In one sense engaging in economic, social, and political crises—whether on the macro or micro scale—is counter-intuitive. Our natural instinct is to avoid, even to flee, situations characterized by conflict, hatred, injury, uncertainty, despair, darkness, and sadness. But could it be, as it was in the case of believers in exile in times past, that it is these very conditions which constitute our providential calling to involvement? And rather than avoiding them, we are to engage with them, praying the prayer known as the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

As a believer in the providence of God but living in “exile” in a hostile world, whatever your position in time and relation to the crises and tragedies of our age both small and great, “Who can tell but that you have been brought to that position for such a time as this?”


[1] Esther 4:14

[2] Daniel 4:24-25

[3] Preston Manning, Faith and Politics in the Life of Moses (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2013).

[4] Preston Manning, Faith and Politics: Lessons in Leadership from the Life of David (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2014).

[5] 1 Samuel 16:7

[6] Woodsworth left the Methodist church over its emphasis on individual salvation while neglecting, in his judgment, the deplorable social and economic circumstances in which so many of those individuals lived. It was said that if you dropped Woodsworth’s Bible on the floor it would open by virtue of frequent reference to the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel, the story of the Good Samaritan—a man who “loved his neighbor as himself,” even someone of another race and religion—to whom Jesus pointed his hearers, saying, “Go and do likewise.”

[7]During the strike, which became quite violent, Woodsworth was charged with seditious libel for a speech he wrote and published using verses from the book of Isaiah as a text. The indictment read in part: “That J. S. Woodsworth …. unlawfully and seditiously published seditious libels in the words and figures following: ‘Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed; to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey and that they may rob the fatherless,’ ISAIAH [10: 1-2]. ‘And they shall build houses and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.‘ ISAIAH [65: 21-22]." The King vs. J. S. Woodsworth; Court of King’s Bench for Manitoba, Proceedings held in the City of Winnipeg, commencing November 4, 1919.

[8]It was said that if you dropped Aberhart’s Bible on the floor it would open by virtue of frequent reference to the 3rd chapter of John’s gospel and Jesus’ admonition to Nicodemus that he could not enter or serve the kingdom of God unless he was “born again” of God’s spirit from within.Later commentators on these two religious streams that crossed the Canadian prairies in the 1920s and 30s have pointed out that if you put the vertical shaft of personal salvation and the horizontal crossbar of the social gospel together, you have the cross—the great symbol of the Christian faith and a more inclusive picture of the life and teachings of Jesus.

[9] For a more thorough description of this period and the activities of William Aberhart and Ernest C. Manning see Brian Brennan, The Good Steward: The Ernest C. Manning Story (Fifth House Ltd., 2008).

[10] Historians documenting the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire have noted that it was the active and compassionate response of Christian believers toward the victims of the plagues (likely smallpox) which wracked the Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries—in contrast to the response of pagan leaders and physicians who tended to flee the scene—that increased the appeal of the Christian faith among the general population. To quote Charles Moore in Pandemic Love: “During the plague of Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering food and water, and consoling the dying…. (They) not only took care of their own, but also reached far beyond themselves. … In an era when serving others was thought to be demeaning, the ‘followers of the way,’ instead of fleeing disease and death, went about ministering to the sick and helping the poor, the widowed, the crippled, the blind, the orphaned, and the aged. The people of the Roman Empire were forced to admire their works and dedication. ‘Look how they love one another’ was heard on the streets.” (posted May 15, 2009, in the online Plough Weekly, at

[11] 2 Corinthians 5:17-21

[12] In particular, I focused on studying the most prominent and disastrous secession crisis to afflict a major federation in the 19th century, namely the secession of the southern states from the American Union, which triggered the American Civil War. My focus was not on the war itself but on the thirty-year period preceding it and the various legislative, judicial, and political means employed in attempts to resolve the conflict between North and South by peaceful means.

[13] See 1 Kings 11-14 and 2 Chronicles 10-12. It should be noted that the Old Testament itself contains a detailed and instructive account of a secession crisis, namely the secession of the northern tribes of Israel from the united kingdom established by Saul, David, and Solomon. This crisis, precipitated in part by the heavy taxes imposed by Solomon to finance the building of the temple and his palaces, and the ill-advised reaction of his son Rehoboam to Israel’s demands for relief, had dire consequences for both Israel and Judah—civil war, religious apostasy, and eventually military defeat of the divided kingdom by the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

[14] See Preston Manning, Think Big: My Adventures in Life and Democracy (McClelland & Stewart, 2002).

[15] 1995 referendum results: No 50.6%, Yes 49.4%. Margin of victory, 1.2%.

[16] Bill C-20, commonly called the “Clarity Act,” passed into law in 2000. See S.C. 2000, c.26.

[17] Some uncertainty as to whether we as believers have been “providentially positioned” to play a role in such situations is probably a good thing, guarding us against arrogant presumption and driving us to prayer, consultation of the scriptures, and seeking the advice of fellow believers as to the course we should take. It is significant that Mordecai’s counsel to Esther on this subject was given, not in the form of a declaration as to her duty in the situation in which she found herself, but in the form of a question: “Who knows but you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Who knows? Presumably God knows, but it is up to Esther to decide whether and how to respond. And if she does not, Mordecai is convinced that God will still achieve his purposes. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish” (Esther 4:14).

[18] Matthew 25:31-40

Source: Marketplace Institute

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