Monday, October 27, 2014

the hits just keep coming

Rod Dreher, regularly cited on this blog, commented on Philip Jenkins' "Last Episcopalian" post last week.  The results, apparently, were dramatic.  Dreher received one comment so long and insightful he gave it its own post.  A former United Methodist pastor weighs in on what drags down so many church organizations...

(When I left the UMC ministry – my district superintendent told me that he (along with over half of his colleagues) was on anti-depressants and that he suspected that when he retired he wouldn’t need them anymore.)
Understand – I’m not against anti-depressant medication – it can literally be a lifesaver for folks suffering from clinical depression – but he was telling me that his job environment was so toxic that he needed to drug himself to cope (and frankly saw no irony in that fact). This is just symbolic of the denial that so many in leadership in these denominations live in. Our annual conferences were multi-day exercises in self congratulation and furrowed brow deliberation over countless resolutions that accomplished nothing other than solidify the entrenched political power of the denominational apparatchiks. Clueless old-school church politicians fighting over the remaining scraps of organizational power deluding themselves into thinking all is well.

and Dreher extends that to organizations in general.

People from outside the bureaucratic structure typically have no idea how much being on the inside affects the way you see things. A good friend of mine worked for a big company that, because of changing market conditions, began losing a significant amount of business. He was in management there, and told me that the leadership class within the company was truly concerned about what they could do to turn around their situation. The thing was, all their proposed solutions favored what the managerial elites wanted to do in the first place. That is, they would consider no possible measures that would mean doing something that challenged their own settled convictions, and certainly nothing that would harm their own perceived internal interests.
Result: .... the management ... was so immersed in its own bubble that it did not understand how blinded it was by its own interests.

Since it's Reformation Day (i.e., Halloween), let's have a little more:

Don’t forget the late historian Barbara Tuchman’s elements that are present in all great and consequential institutional collapses (e.g., her account of how six Renaissance popes allowed conditions within the Catholic Church to degrade so much that the Reformation happened):
1. obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents
2. primacy of self-aggrandizement
3. illusion of invulnerable status
Again, this is not a Christian thing, specifically, but a function of bureaucratic mindsets within government, industry, academia, and all complex social entities. Being religious does not liberate you from being human. It can, though, convince you that whatever you’re doing as a leader within a religious bureaucracy must be right, because you are serving God. I’ll never forget the case in which a Catholic bishop told an adult victim of a priest’s sexual abuse — the priest was the woman’s confessor, and used information he gained in the confessional to blackmail her, a married woman, into a sexual relationship — that if she went to the authorities with this story, he, her bishop, would ruin her, “because I have to protect the people of God.” True story.

Pretty sobering stuff.  The Fall is real, folks.  No, I don't mean in a simplistic fashion, but that our humanity--intrinsically good and imbued with dignity and freedom by and from God--now can't help shoot itself in the foot.  Repeatedly.  And at the darnedest times.  We see this in our personal lives and relationships, and yes, Virginia, you can see it in the lives of nations.  We are capable of such good--and occasionally we come close to achieving it.  And at other times we seem capably only of screwing up things further, even as we claim to be helping.  Worth considering on this the 497th anniversary of the beginning of Protestantism.  No, we can't save ourselves.  Only God can do that--and Trent agreed.   God also gave us the Church and, despite the obvious problems as dictated above, that is the avenue through which we experience the justification God alone gives.

Read it all here.

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