Sunday, July 8, 2012

"Subsidiarity" at GC

If you've been following GC, you'll have seen that Structure is the topic du jour.  How should it change?  Who should change it?  There's a lot of discussion about "empowering the people".

Interesting article in the HuffPo by The Rev Mark Eddington considers how things got here.  He's clearly one who wants to send the question back down to the people.
One blessed result of nearly 30 years of tumult and controversy is that the Episcopal Church now stands unquestionably for a progressive vision of the Christian message. In a nation, indeed in a world, torn apart by religious extremism and intolerance, and in a historic moment that tends to reduce religious meaning to hardline ideologies, the church has articulated an idea of Christianity that is open to examination, unafraid of difficult questions, and characterized by an essential humility about the claims it makes. 
So you might think this would be the perfect historic moment for the Episcopal Church. Though the road has been hard, the church has come to a place clearly distinguished from the loudest Christian voices in our civic culture -- conservative Evangelicals -- as well as from the increasing doctrinism of a Roman Catholic Church that has chosen to turn away from 50 years of Vatican II-inspired reforms. It should be a church that appeals to an increasingly educated, increasingly diverse, increasingly global population. 
But so far, at least, it hasn't turned out that way.....
He goes on to consider all the issues that have challenged mainline protestantism, and the move culturally away from authoritarian and hierarchical structures.  Should churches mirror that?  he thinks so.  (Tell that to the RC....)

This nearly hidden notion of a church that places an idea of subsidiarity at its heart gives a vision of a future in which a church transformed by the wrenching changes of the past decades now finds the faith to risk reinvesting at the local level. It would be a church that empowers bottom-up solutions to bottom-up problems, and which holds up against that standard the initiatives that come from the top 
It would be a fairly radical change for an institution first gathered in 1785. But then again, it is a church that began with a fairly revolutionary idea -- democratic governance, a bottom-up solution to a bottom-up problem. And it offers a message that gives a desperately needed counterpoise to the increasing violence in the religious rhetoric of much of the rest of the world. 
THis seems to sum it up. But don't throw out babies with the bathwater.  there's a lot that an institution can do that a single parish can't.  The creative tension between top-down and bottom-up is important.  Otherwise, why be organized at all?


Counterlight said...

Very interesting article. Not quite sure I entirely agree with the changes in the church being entirely "top down." As I recall, they were more the initiatives of small groups within the church that went "rogue" and then managed to enlist a sympathetic bishop, who then enlisted a few more sympathetic bishops, who were able to influence enough opinion to create critical mass for change. I notice that the right wing that left the church used these same tactics, though with much more limited success in creating the critical mass for change in their direction.

I think it's a very fine balancing act. I'm all for a democratic church (that's why I joined this one 30 years ago), but as John Adams warned, democracy can be the worst form of tyranny. The Southern Baptist Convention is arguably a democratic institution where majorities rule, and it makes life extremely uncomfortable for those who do not conform to the will of the majority.

I think center and periphery need each other to keep each other honest, that a certain amount of conflict is actually healthy for any institution.

Anonymous said...

One must remember that Prop8 was passed by a majority.... ;-)

I think the key is many voices.