Moral Leadership for a Divided Age

Fourteen People Who Dared to Change Our World

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We can't help but be inspired by great leaders--those who led lives of moral purpose and in some way left the world a different and better place. Great moral leaders inspire, challenge, and unite us. In the midst of our increasingly divided age, examining remarkable leaders can help us understand the central qualities of moral leadership and discover lessons for our own lives and times.

Moral Leadership for a Divided Age explores the lives of fourteen great moral leaders of recent centuries. Short biographies of each leader combine with a tour of their historical context, unique faith, and lasting legacy to paint a vivid picture of moral leadership in action. Through skillful storytelling and honest appraisals of their legacies, we encounter exemplary human beings who are flawed in some ways, gifted in others, but unforgettable all the same.

Moral Leaders Time Line
Introduction: The Study of Moral Leadership
1. William Wilberforce 1759-1833
2. Abraham Lincoln 1809-65
3. Florence Nightingale 1820-1910
4. Harriet Tubman 1822?-1913
5. Ida B. Wells-Barnett 1862-1931
6. Mohandas Gandhi 1869-1948
7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-45
8. Mother Teresa 1910-97
9. Oscar Romero 1917-80
10. Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
11. John Paul II 1920-2005
12. Elie Wiesel 1928-2016
13. Martin Luther King Jr. 1929-68
14. Malala Yousafzai 1997-
Conclusion: Daring to Change Our World


"In the midst of an 'I'm right, you're wrong' national conversation, this book can help us bridge divides without abandoning our convictions. Gushee and Holtz tell the stories of an inspiring, diverse set of leaders--leaders who struggled for freedom, equality, and justice--and do so without shying away from the messy truth about their lives. This is a stirring and necessary read for leaders and aspiring leaders alike. If you want to create change in a time of division, you need to read this book."

Van Jones, host of The Van Jones Show, CNN; president of Dream Corps

"To ascertain and analyze great moral leadership in this contentious and divided era necessitates intellectual accuracy, social vulnerability, and faithful witness. In that spirit, Gushee and Holtz set a new standard in interdisciplinary as well as intersectional scholarship that has social relevance for our times."

Stacey Floyd-Thomas, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair in Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University

"There is nothing more important than moral leadership--especially in a time when there is so little of it on the national stage. Understanding moral leadership, where it comes from, and how it shapes the lives of leaders and those around them are some of the valuable insights found in this important volume. Gushee and Holtz have chosen excellent leaders as moral models for times like these. We need moral leadership now more than ever, and learning how each one of us can provide such leadership in our own circles of influence is the key to moving forward."

Jim Wallis, New York Times bestselling author of America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America; president of Sojourners; and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine

"This accessible and informative collection of carefully chosen biographies excels at showing how exemplary moral leaders mobilized followers and how they set about pursuing their lofty reforming goals. It offers a great deal of sharply focused historical insight but even more much-needed wisdom about how the virtues of past leaders can inspire the pursuit of justice and truth today."

Mark Noll, author of Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity

"As someone who has written on martyrdom and explored its role in the cultivation and nourishment of shared moral norms, I greatly appreciate this effort by Gushee and Holtz to write a modern-day Lives of the Saints or Book of Martyrs. Yet, unlike such narrowly confessional precursors, this volume brings together fourteen exceptional moral leaders who transcend religion, culture, and time to speak to contemporary readers with passion and power about the possibility of a common moral discourse. More than a mere historical study or set of inspirational biographies, this volume seeks to engage the reader in the hard work of transforming our world in light of such timeworn--yet much-needed--concepts as truth, justice, and compassion by drawing upon the wisdom and experience of some of the most influential moral leaders of the modern age."

Rubén Rosario Rodríguez, Saint Louis University

"I have read hundreds of books on leadership, but Moral Leadership for a Divided Age is unique. In addition to being a joy to read, concise, and well organized, it includes superbly helpful chapter summaries and excellent discussion questions for use in classes and small groups. Equally helpful, the book teaches leadership through the lens of actual leaders, nearly all of whom we have heard about, but about whom we have so much more to learn. It is easy to imagine this book becoming a classic, a book readers will discover when they're young and to which they'll return throughout their lives."

Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration

"Moral Leadership for a Divided Age is a social-historical treatment that emphasizes values, a sense of calling, and the impact of actions upon people and communities. Of particular significance is how the book addresses the human dynamics of leadership while simultaneously providing a lens for assessing the importance of character and accountability in leaders. In a time when lying is increasingly touted as a virtue, this book is a must-read!"

Angela D. Sims, author of Lynched: The Power of Memory in a Culture of Terror

"Whether it was intended or simply providential, this is a timely text. In Moral Leadership for a Divided Age Gushee and Holtz offer us significant help in navigating the difficult theological and ethical terrain of our day. By paying attention to the biographies of historical moral leaders, we get to reflect in a more textured way on their faults and their successes as we consider their response to their times. A tremendously helpful book."

Reggie L. Williams, associate professor of Christian ethics, McCormick Theological Seminary

The Authors

  1. David P. Gushee

    David P. Gushee

    David P. Gushee (PhD, Union Theological Seminary) is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and chair of Christian Social Ethics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam/IBTS. One of the world's leading Christian ethicists, he is...

    Continue reading about David P. Gushee

  2. Colin Holtz

    Colin Holtz

    Colin Holtz, a writer and strategist at the intersection of church and world, is a ten-year veteran of issue advocacy and political campaigns. His writing has been published in the Guardian and HuffPost. He has led national campaigns on education...

    Continue reading about Colin Holtz


Outreach 2019 Recommended Resource of the Year (Leadership)

"Ministry leaders will want to add this resource to their library as it is packed with helpful insights."

Ron Edmondson,


"Offers a look at leadership through role models such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, whose lives left a lasting impact on the world. . . . Moral Leadership for a Divided Age features real-world examples of each subject's life-long leadership."

Publishers Weekly

"Delving into the histories of each subject, the issue that galvanized them, and how they met the challenges of their day, the authors emerge with a few themes: leadership has many personalities and backgrounds; and it's impossible to predict who will become a moral leader. Moreover, the causes these individuals pursue at times place them in ethically ambiguous situations (e.g., the pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the plot to assassinate Hitler), but those with moral imagination will persevere. . . . Gushee and Holtz provide a rich mosaic of personalities, any of which readers may wish to follow or aspire to become."

James Wetherbee,

Library Journal