by Rev. Amanda Nesvold
As it turns out, WWJD does not stand for “what would Jesus do” in my life.
I discovered this a few months into my time at my first congregation, one night while streaming an old favorite on Netflix. Indeed, as a pastor, and, as I’ll explain shortly, as a voter, my WWJD will always be “What would Janeway do?”
Star Trek: Voyager premiered when I was seven years old. When I started watching it again at age twenty-seven, I was surprised to see so many of my own leadership habits and values reflected in Captain Kathryn Janeway’s leadership. Her determination, confidence in herself and her crew, and her compassion for even the most aggressive adversaries are all traits I ascribe to myself in my pastoring. (Not to mention actual facial expression reflection: I have a habit of visually reacting to a meeting after walking into the hallway where no one can see, which is also a habit of Captain Janeway’s.) Of course, much more than one show has shaped me: we are all shaped by the stories we encounter in our lives and how they are told to us. Stories of leaders and those they inspire, stories of problems to be solved and adventures to be had, stories of inspiring others and bringing together communities… these are the stories that shape us and shape our understanding of how the world could and should work.
When it comes to pastoring, these stories have shaped my leadership by shaping how I empathize with others, how I hear the stories of those I serve, and how I troubleshoot diplomatic encounters. Now, pastoring rarely involves interplanetary trade negotiations, but it does involve council meetings, budget meetings, and helping communities to come together for a common purpose.
When it comes to voting, these stories have shaped my sense of leadership by informing my leadership judgment system: how do good leaders inspire, direct, and serve their people? The question before us on every ballot is simple: which candidate would make the best leader for each position? The complexity comes in assessing for ourselves what “good leadership” looks like, what it looks like in different positions, and how different leadership styles can (or cannot) work in each position on the ballot.
But what about being a gay pastor? Does that impact who I think makes the best leader for each position on the ballot? Does having faith and being part of the LGBTQIA+ community impact how I interpret someone’s leadership and therefore if they are fit for public office?
Yes, being a person of faith impacts how I interpret leadership. Some of this impact comes from Biblical examples of leadership: Whose leadership is praised by God and whose is derided? Whose leadership helps to multiply leadership, and whose refuses to share power even when it would be for the good of the whole? Some of this impact comes from ecclesial and historical examples: Martin Luther was a prolific theologian and preacher, but was he a good leader? Who in the Church do I look up to for their servant leadership and whose legacies can I appreciate while wondering at their methods? (Of course, bad examples can teach us a lot as well, and I have also learned by negative example from both biblical and historical leaders!)
Yes, being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and being a woman also impacts how I interpret leadership. Issues of inclusion, welcome, and gender equality directly impact my life and the lives of many in my communities. If a candidate will not speak to these issues, will not enter into conversation with communities about the issues they are facing, or will not consider me and those in my communities to be worthy of their time, then their leadership style is not one that matches what I look for in public servants.
And, yes, being a nearly life-long fan of Star Trek: Voyager has impacted how I interpret leadership, how I myself lead, and how I vote. Neither starships nor pastoral offices are run by democracy, but starship captains, pastors, and elected officials all must lead by serving all, not just all who agree with them.
Pastor Amanda Nesvold (she/her/hers) is an ELCA pastor and redeveloper, most recently serving in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Passionate about liturgy, missional experimentation, and fiber arts, she is a member of Proclaim and the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians. She is currently on leave from call, and while awaiting whatever is next, she is serving as a governess and tech support to two children whose parents work full-time but whose school is 100% online.