Thursday, August 16, 2018

“I don’t do organized religion.”

In "Willow Creek, the Catholic Church, and Perils of Organizing Religion" Chris Gehrz writes about the necessity of accountability — necessary but obviously not sufficient:
“Sorry, I don’t do organized religion.” That’s what a friend of mine says whenever faith comes up in our conversations: “I don’t do organized religion.” ....

...I wrote about the importance for people in my Christian tradition of reading the Bible communally, as a way of checking the limitations of our individual understanding. “None of us,” explains my denomination, “has the breadth of experience, intellectual skill, social sensitivity, or spiritual depth to interpret the Scriptures alone.” Among the many other complicated benefits of Christian community, seeking to understand God’s word together “creates a culture of mutual openness and generosity among us and among our diverse cultural contexts. This in turn creates the kind of spiritual maturity that helps us live with the ambiguity often present in our life together.” ....

So no, I wouldn’t want to seek after the community of our Triune God without being part of the community of the Church. I don’t trust myself enough to do that.

Instead, I find myself enchanted with Christianity precisely because it is organized.

But right now I’m also feeling more disenchanted than usual because we’ve seen so clearly the dark side of organizing our religion.

Consider two terribly disturbing stories from the two largest groups in American Christianity: Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants. I’ll start with the second....

For irreligious skeptics like my friend, I’m sure the Hybels case confirms their belief that organizing religion only enables the abuse of power. But to religious onlookers like Katelyn Beaty, a “healthy reckoning with power in Christian communities” actually requires an organizational solution:
Churches must seek leaders who are accountable and vulnerable, not just charismatic and driven. Every leader, no matter how spiritually mature, educated and gifted, must submit to normal structures of unbiased accountability on multiple levels. This would mean, at least, a board of elders who are chosen independently of the pastor’s preference; a larger denominational body or regional pastors network that governs local affairs; and a supportive setting in which pastors can share vulnerably about all dimensions of their spiritual growth and challenges.
It’s not the only way of creating systems of accountability, but one of the most venerable solutions is to embed clergy and congregations within a denominational structure. ....

Time for the other story, which, I’m sure you’ve guessed, has to do with clerical abuse in the Catholic Church. ....

...[T]he layers of organization meant to provide accountability betrayed the trust of the faithful. In theory, the existence of a hierarchy above the local church and its pastor could have provided safeguards lacking in a case like Willow Creek’s. Instead, concern for the reputation of the larger organization apparently led many such officials to conceal the truth and suppress justice. Several were rewarded with even more authority and responsibility in the process. The angry frustration of the grand jurors is palpable:
…despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.
[more]