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A Reluctant Pope & the GOP

After months of speculation, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels announced over the weekend that he would not seek the Republican nomination in 2012. Despite the support of some prominent Republican leaders, Daniels put family first and bowed out. The decision was a disappointment to many, but Daniels can hardly be faulted for demonstrating such humility and prudent consideration. These are virtues we should desire in candidates for high office. It seems reasonable that one shouldn’t be dragged against their will into a campaign for the most important job on Earth. However, there is a precedent for forced leadership, and the story may remind us of the rare necessity of hoisting responsibility upon a reluctant leader.

It was A.D. 590 and Rome was a disaster. The city suffered from the tragedies of a flood and the atrocities of war. A deadly plague was rampant, and had just taken the life of Pelagius II. When the monastic Gregory learned he had been elected Pope, he refused the office, fled from the city, and hid in the woods. Eventually he was found and physically dragged back to St. Peter’s to be consecrated.

While he was a very unlikely candidate for the papacy, Gregory wasn’t without qualification. He had served as Prefect of Rome under Emperor Justin and as a deacon under Pope Pelagius II. He was identified as the right man for the job. And though Gregory saw his election as a punishment, he nevertheless committed himself to doing the job well. He succeeded, creating order in the midst of chaos. Historian Bruce Shelley explains, the “prestige of the papacy in the Middle Ages rests in large part on the practical government maintained by Gregory” through those troubled times. As a result, not long after his death, the church labeled him “Gregory the Great.”

Gregory’s Rome is not very different from the U.S. today. We are in the midst of war and strife abroad and suffering from the plagues of unemployment, spending, and debt. History often demonstrates that dire straits open the way for a demagogue who inevitably makes things worse; other times, however, the magnitude of a crisis creates a unique opportunity best suited for an unlikely and understandably reluctant leader. Now is such a time.

Gregory was dragged into the papacy kicking and screaming and became arguably one of the greatest popes in history. For those hesitant to see a candidate dragged into the presidential race, it might be worth remembering how one reluctant, sixth century monk came to lead Rome into a period of stability. Many (if not most) conservatives are not convinced that the current crop of candidates includes a leader capable of presiding over a practical government that will bring order to the chaos. It’s time for those who are unsatisfied to band together, go into the woods, find a candidate, and drag them into the race.