04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

The motivation not to speak up may be because one has nothing to say. It may, however, be because there is so much to say, but one represents so many different opinions.

An emerging and dangerous trend in America is for corporate CEOs to write opinion pieces and jump on television to comment on political and social issues. In apparent attempts at standing for social justice, advancing a cause, or simply to prove oneself relevant and engaged, mostly these executives are only proving the old adage that you can’t please everyone.

Every corporate position seems to bring a boycott, social media furor, and unequal and opposite reactions. Board members, stakeholders, and consumers all ask how the CEO could possibly speak for everyone when it seems that as a country we are divided on, well, everything. I’m not sure that even sliced bread, Mom, or apple pie could bring unanimous consent right now!

In the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, only the National President of a country can “speak for the Society”, and this can be prudently delegated for local issues, during crisis situations, or when the CEO (in countries that have them) is so allowed, usually on administrative issues. This is a precious, protected, and potentially dangerous responsibility. We have all seen instances when a reputation was harmed more by the response than by the originating action.

Our National President Ralph Middlecamp and I routinely get asked to speak up about an issue of great importance to the one making the request. Many such requests are in regard to valid concerns either to Americans, Catholics or Vincentians, and perhaps to all three. Ralph and I could distribute a scathing press release, get on Twitter, or hold a news conference almost daily. Here is why we don’t.

First, we try to “stay in our lane” as the Society. While there are many issues and causes that fall under Catholic Social Teaching, for example, the Society’s sweet spot is in matters that concern our friends in need. While a dotted line could be drawn from almost anything to how it more adversely affects people in poverty, we choose to focus on the more direct issues and impacts. Admittedly this can be a fuzzy line to draw.

Second, we recognize that while all of our members are united in their Vincentian spirituality, they are not so aligned in their politics, social causes, or even their views on the Church. We feel it is disingenuous to speak on matters without hearing from you, and we can for the most part be assured that there is no unified Vincentian opinion. You can speak for yourself without a Vincentian “tag” that inadvertently ties us together against your will.

Third, and just as importantly, when you stand for everything you stand for nothing. Not everything warrants a response. Responsible leaders, and usually the most effective ones, speak more rarely and thus are heard when they do speak. Think about the celebrities and political opinion givers: Are their comments sometimes above, or below, their jobs or relevance in our lives? Haven’t we all at one time asked why we should care about that actor’s opinion, or why the elected representative is commenting on an issue s/he clearly knows so little about? While it is our American birthright to be free to give an opinion, it doesn’t mean we should use it so darn often.

When you see that President Ralph (or me, or our national Voice of the Poor group) has commented publicly on an issue, know that it has been carefully considered in light of the above. Likely there was a discussion first about our specific Vincentian/SVdP stake in the game, our objectives in speaking, and how we think our members will respond. That’s what servant leaders do. Together we don’t want to be just another voice; we want to be your voice.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

  • 👍👏🙏

    Ron Szejner
    Diocese of Nashville Council

  • Richard E Bulkowski April 15, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    Hello Dave,
    This is very well written and thoughtful. You had me until that last phrase, and this is why? Two paragraphs above you basically state that there “is no unified Vincentian opinion” and that we all have to own our own voice. So maybe your last phrase could have been something like, “we want to be a voice that is valued” or “we want to be a voice that you value”? Just a thought…..

  • Deacon Steve Cenek April 15, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks to all Vincentians who keep their mouth shut and continue to do the work of serving the people in need, and not voice their political opinion one way or another.Sure we can speak out but our actions can speak louder than our political rhetoric.
    Stay healthy and pray for Peace in our country.
    Blessed Frederic pray for us.

  • Maybe you should have heeded your own advice and just said nothing on this topic. The tone sounded like a Fox News commentary for CEO’s to stay out of politics (almost verbatim from Mitch McConnell). Progressive voices suggest the contrary- corporations have an obligation to address social justice. So by deciding to justify staying out of the fray, you actually took a side – a very right wing side. I would have preferred you said nothing. Now I worry I’m volunteering for a closet right wing religious/political organization. I’m seriously considering ending my Vincentian relationship because of your words. You used the same rational about being silent that caused the Church to be silent about some of the greatest human tragedies in history.

    • I agree. It would have been better to say nothing rather than rationalize silence.

    • Margaret Kolman-Mandle May 3, 2021 at 4:56 pm

      I agree. Why denigrate corpoations that choose to speak out on social issues. This letter leaves me feeling very cold.

  • Nicely said. In my old age I have come to realize that battles must be selected carefully. We appreciate your care and this servant leadership.

  • I may be wrong, but you seem to say that it is unwise for corporate America to speak up about the right to VOTE! Corporation have more voice than I do in the U.S. and I personally am happy to see them use their power in favor of everyone’s right to vote. This is a human issue. I understand your reasoning about having St. Vincent de Paul speak up on vast issues of public policy, and I agree with them. But the Supreme Court has given corporations the right or personhood in making donations.
    I know you did not mention the word VOTE, but we know what you were referencing. You have every right to make St Vincent de Paul decisions, but please do not stand in the way of justice for voters. Even Mitch McConnell backed down on his negative words about corporations speaking out for voters.

    • You have expressed my very sentiments. I now question my continued participation in an organization being led and guided by the current CEO and President. Since Corporations have been given the right to donate to political campaigns, it seems they have a right and obligation to speak up where they see social injustice being systematically being implemented in this country. We talk about wanting to make systemic change for the betterment of guests/clients who visit our pantries., your cover letter leads me to believe that these are just empty words. Quite frankly, it would have been better that the. SVdP CEO and President had not addressed this subject.

  • Annette Gryglewski April 15, 2021 at 6:37 pm

    I love your heartfelt letter! We have the freedom of speech but at this time families are being torn apart just from differences of opinion. We need to be more respectful of all!
    God bless you in your vocation!

  • Great (irony here), but there is a reason the First Amendment to the Constitution is the First Amendment.

    Bravo to the corporate leaders who speak out against injustice, like the recently enacted Georgia voting laws.

    Leaders lead.

  • Dale Canady Secretary, St. Helen SVDP, Glendale AZ April 15, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    Makes sense to me. Thank your for your dedication and great response to the issue

  • Angeline Susan Epperson April 15, 2021 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you for your honesty and deliberations. We always felt that you and Ralph were think before you speak kind of servant leaders. Because you represent us and basically love us. You show us how to be better servant leaders. God Bless you both. In Him and St. Vincent, Paul and A. Sue Epperson, Springfield-Cape Girardeau Council.

  • The most successful presidents also had the shortest inaugural addresses.

  • David Barringer, National CEO SVDPUSA April 16, 2021 at 11:35 am

    Thanks everyone for your comments and for reading the egazette! This column made no mention of the voting issue. In fact it was written before that issue blew up nationally. CEO commenting was already an emerging national trend.

    The range of responses to the column support its point about how difficult it is to speak for all employees, customer and in our case, such dedicated Vincentians.

    • Many thanks to you and Ralph for representing out Society and speaking so wisely. We are blessed to have you!

  • Dave, You did nothing wrong. There is so much unrest in the world today. Just like You said , You can t please everybody. And that s ok. Let’s all help each other to serve others like JESUS said.

  • Richard B Chobot April 17, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    I agree that national leadership of an organization such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul carries with is the requirement to be judicious in speaking in the name of that Society. However, to be judicious is not the same as being silent. Silence can be judged as consent. There are some issues that require a leader to speak out. We serve not only the poor, but also those who are unjustly deprived of their rights. Note the following:

    While scholars might not agree if the Constitution guarantees the right to vote, the U.S. Supreme Court does not hesitate to affirm the notion. In the 1972 decision in Dunn v. Blumstein, Justice Marshall stated, “In decision after decision, this Court has made clear that a citizen has a constitutionally protected right to participate in elections on an equal basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction.” And again in the 1974 Richardson v. Ramirez case, Justice Rehnquist wrote: “Because the right to vote ‘is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government,’… voting is a ‘fundamental’ right.” By Sarah Swisher THE SANTA BARBARA & VENTURA COLLEGES OF LAW – TUE, SEP 17, 2019

    The proliferation of proposed legislation to restrict the right to vote, and especially the strong correlation of these legislative actions and the voting behavior of minorities in certain states during the last election, represents an existential threat to our democratic values and the franchise of many of those whom we serve. It demands a reaction.

  • Your comments are timely and heartfelt.I appreciate them.Some of the negative comments thereafter merely reinforce your points.Those who read them yet see polarization or take offense? Well that is a CHOICE they are making .The offense felt to every comment or viewpoint (no matter how well intended) seems to have become a mental health crisis. Most importantly for Vincentians it interferes with our ability to help our neighbors and to help our wider world as well. Peace be with you all.

  • Mary Anne Classen April 23, 2021 at 9:46 am

    I agree with the comment by Cheryl Sperry noted above. All the diverse comments prompted me to go to the Voice of the Poor page and read some of the leadership comments in years past about immigration. Some comments were about voting rights, so from the ‘getgo’ we have diversity in the topic(s) interpreted in this leadership letter. We are a diverse group of individuals that participate in the Vincentian society. Our views are formed by our understanding of our Catholic faith and Catholic social teaching, our individual life experiences, in addition to local and state governance. We come from all walks of life and engage in different ways to address those in need in our communities. I recall that Vincentians practice subsidiarity. Let’s not forget that our true mission is our call to holiness so that we may bring Christ to those in need. In friendship with one another are we best to join in serving the ‘poor’. It seems even we Vincentians need to work on our spiritual poverty. Vincentians are best poised to do God’s work in our local communities. If we all would concentrate on the systemic change needed in our communities, we will go a long way in fulfilling our vocation as Vincentians.

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