Because I’m a close friend of the host, he invited me to join a group of ten men for dinner at his home in San Francisco. He told me who would be attending and I felt blessed to be included. The guest of honor was a “name in the news” U.S. State Department official. His visit was only for one evening and was not part of his public calendar. The others were Presidents and CEO’s of international corporations, and two had flown in from the east coast that day with the rest being from California. A number of the men already knew each other quite well, so I think my friend thought he needed to justify why he had invited me. He introduced me as a trusted friend who had met with heads of state and leaders in politics and business around the world. I seemed to be accepted, and he made me feel very comfortable to be there. He went on to explain that each invitee was chosen because of his deep knowledge of a specific region of the world. That made me feel less comfortable, but I knew God had a purpose for me being there.
At dinner, our host explained that the evening was initiated by the State Department person in order to get feedback about trade and the geopolitical implications of our foreign policy. He told us that the guest of honor wanted to hear the candid off-the-record opinions of each man. That created an atmosphere of openness which provoked some intense discussions. Special emphasis was on the hot spots around the globe, and the man from the State Department told us 46 active shooting wars are going on at this very moment. The conversation was free-flowing about diverse topics, and there was genuine wisdom being expressed, which made each discussion seem very constructive. After three and a half hours of spirited dialogue, there was a momentary pause in the conversation. At that point, our host turned to me and said, Glenn, you have been usually quiet tonight. I know you well enough to know that you must have some thoughts on these issues.
I did indeed, so I shared the following. I am very impressed by the magnitude of knowledge you men have about the world, and how much you care about finding solutions. I know these conflicts affect your day-to-day decisions, so it motivates me to pray for you. As I’ve listened to you speak about the current state of affairs, I think you have described them accurately, and in my opinion, your insights are flawless. However, even though you have defined them correctly, I didn’t hear any lasting solutions.
I think we all can agree that most serious conflicts are not just people with a difference of opinion. Their issues are not intellectual; they are visceral, gut level, they hate each other. When you use words like love and hate, you are speaking about matters of the heart, not the head. If our efforts do not address the human heart, then we have short-term unreliable solutions. The United Nations and U.S. Diplomatic Corps are highly skilled and designed to appeal to rational people and negotiate an equitable solution to difficult situations. However, if the root-cause is hate, negotiation will rarely solve the conflicts. Therefore, we often have to send in troops, but they are not expected to solve the problem; they are only meant to keep it from getting worse.
I reminded them of a recent study authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon that states categorically, the number one problem in the world is alienation. That is true at every level of society, and reconciliation is desperately needed. So let me be so bold as to suggest what I believe is the answer. I’ve discussed it with senior business and political leaders around the world, so let me start by giving you the opinion of two of those leaders. These men are at the very center of a couple of the world’s most intractable problems.
I recalled for them a meeting with Supreme Court Justice Esteban Bendek from Columbia. As we discussed the drug problem, I asked, will there ever be a solution. He said, Glenn, we have tried many things, but nothing works for very long. We were having dinner, and he put his clenched fist on the table with his thumb raised. Then he pushed his thumb down with his other hand; then he put his other clenched fist on the table with the thumb sticking up and proceeded to push that thumb down. He repeated this several times and said every time we push it down in one place it pops up in another. Then Esteban volunteered that the only answer he could think of would require a change of heart on the part of people.
The second person I spoke about was Netanel Lorch, the Secretary-General of the Israeli Knesset. He invited me to a private dinner at his home in Jerusalem, and we were having a lengthy and very thorough discussion about the Jewish/Palestinian conflict. By any measure, he’s an expert on the issues and attitudes of the Middle East. He had worked on the Israeli Arab conflict for years, and one of his greatest achievements was to convince President Sadat of Egypt to speak at the Knesset. At one point, he expressed his frustration at the inability to find lasting solutions and volunteered that the hostilities would continue until people had a change of heart.
Both of these leaders are secular, unreligious men who were using terminology normally reserved for pastors. However, after working closely with the most serious problems of our day, they had concluded that the condition of the human heart is the true problem.
I suggested that the number one authority on reconciliation is Jesus. He said giving and receiving of forgiveness is the answer, but that takes a change of heart. Then I suggested that He can change any individual’s heart and I know that from personal experience because He gave me a new heart. At that point, in a sarcastic tone, one of the most prominent CEO’s said; “Oh my God, does that mean that everyone has to become a Christian before we can find a way to live in peace?” I answered that I was not talking about religion because it is often part of the problem. Since religion has caused so many needless divisions in our world, I was not promoting it as an answer. I was talking about Jesus of Nazareth, not a religion. Secondly, I don’t believe every person must follow Jesus in order for us to make some progress on reconciliation. Since people follow leaders, let me ask a question.
How many leaders do you think there are in the entire world. I mean leaders that make the macro decisions that others must respond too. The first man said there are around twenty and that started a discussion with them settling on just eight alpha leaders in the world.
I noted that a very small number of people provide leadership in every subdivision of culture whether an inner city gang or the United Nations. I know personally that there are only two or three unchallenged leaders within the thousands of gang members in Los Angeles. People follow leaders, and there are likely only a small number of leaders in every unit of society. This is true for the Rotary Club, a country club, your church, a Boy Scout troop, or an international corporation.
The need of the hour is for some of these leaders to have a change of heart. If that happened and they became authentic followers of Jesus, they would find themselves becoming more servant leadership oriented. History has shown that only when we have this kind of selfless leadership can we expect to see real solutions. It will never be a perfect world, but it could be much different and more hopeful than it is now.
The question is, do you agree that the most troublesome problems of our world really are matters of the heart. Just then the man from the state department said; “does anyone else in the world think like you do.” My response was, “Oh yes; you must be hanging out with the wrong people.” Then he said in a gotcha tone, “anyone in DC.” I said yes I could introduce you to a number of friends in DC that think like me. Two weeks later, I introduced him to a few friends, and he became a regular in a group that meets every Tuesday to study the life of Jesus.
As the meeting was breaking up, one of the men who came from the East coast said, you had some friends that think like you in DC, do you have any in New York City. I said yes, so this man asked to walk me to my car and I wound up taking him back to the Fairmont Hotel. As we sat in the car in front of the hotel, he asked, would you come to New York City and tell my friends what we talked about tonight. I agreed, so two months later, he flew Mary Ann and me to New York City and put us up in the Marriott Marquis hotel. We spent a week in one on one meetings and small group gatherings, and he started each meeting with an explanation of our San Francisco dinner. He then would introduce me and say, “Tell them what you told us that evening.” I could write several pages of memories about the prominent business and legal people we met. They included an evening with the owner of the largest Container Ship Company in the world. Another was a man from Saudi Arabia who handled all the real estate for the Royal Family. We spent one entire day with him and had substantive conversations about Jesus. He told us about his hometown, and the health of his mother then began to cry when we held hands and prayed for her and his family. While there, I also answered my host’s original question, “Do you have anyone in New York City?” I introduced him to an associate of mine, and they have been meeting one on one for some time now.
There is no way to know exactly how God will use that evening or the spin-offs that came from it. However, for me, it was fun to just go with the flow as He opened doors and gave me the opportunity to represent Jesus in that setting.