If you are alive and reading this right now, chances are you make decisions about to whom you will listen and like based on personality. For some, you will consciously ignore their personality because of the benefits he/she purveys to you; others, you will not tolerate, no matter what their message, stance, deal, whathaveyou. I’m not talking about the realm of legality; e.g., you will do as President Obama says because he, in the end, puts the rubber stamp to the laws, whether you like his personality or not.
But what about the church leaders with whom you agree, despite disliking their personalities? Or the professors whose books you enjoy reading, despite the fact that you wouldn’t be caught dead having coffee with them?
The interesting thing about history is that these lines are blurred very, very quickly. We know that MLK Jr. was a great guy, and combined with his message, hardly anyone would admit to not liking him. Probably the same is true for someone like Billy Graham or Abraham Lincoln. But what about people like Glenn Beck? I know plenty of people who ascribe to his political ideology without even realizing it, though they publicly decry his attitude and personality. They’d never in a million years say he was a good guy.
Reading about the life of Athanasius got me started on this. There is no doubt that his writings and his stances on the being, essence, and divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit are monumental, utterly influential, and will continue standing the test of time as they already have for well over 1600 years. Recent (within the last 50 years or so) historiographical research, however, seems to be of the opinion that he might not have exactly been a model Christian. (Being embroiled in politics does that.) But does that seem to affect people’s reception of him? Not so much.
All that to say…time blurs lines between the things that last and the things that don’t, even if you think some of the things that don’t last might be more important. How will the public, or the Church, remember certain leaders 50-1000 years from now differently than we see them in this moment?