30 July 2008

A taxonomy of problems

"Sir, you're drunk!" said a woman to Winston Churchill. "Yes," he replied, "and you're ugly--and tomorrow I'll be sober!"

Churchill's distinction reminds us that not all problems are alike. This is also true when it comes to religious bodies.

(1) Consider the recent troubles experienced by the OCA in Alaska. (I have no opinion on the case; I merely point out that a number of voices in the Alaska diocese had a problem with their bishop.) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the bishop in question *did* have problems. They would be personal problems--problems of character and/or conduct.

(2) But then there's the kind of problem that many Lutheran pastors have experienced in times of conflict, either with a parish or another pastor: there is no one who can step in and mediate the conflict with any real authority. There is no bishop, in the classical sense of that term.

This kind of problem is fundamentally different from (1) above. The system in which it exists is designed to produce it. It cannot be solved with a change of personnel. It is not personal, but systemic.

Nor can it be solved, from Lutheran presuppositions, say by beginning an office of bishop. For any 'hierarchy' now instituted would be self-evidently 'by human right.' At the next time of crisis, those who disagree with such a bishop can safely disregard whatever he has to say.

In my conversations with Lutherans on their blogs, this is one distinction that seems not to register with them: the distinction between personal and systemic problems. But it is an important one.


Anonymous said...

I remember sitting in the district president's office. Unfolding my soul to him in regards to the "mission plant" that I had been faithfully serving for several years. A plant which was really no "plant" at all, but in fact was a renegade breakaway from a nasty ubbiblical church split. It was this split (not a plant) that I inherited, and yet didn't really know it at the time. I remember the tears, heartache, pain, depression, bitterness, hopelessness, and sorrow over what my family and I were expereincing over those last years of trying to help fighters learn how to love. You see, we actually believed we could take a "plant"/split and run with the blessing of the Lord. But here is where the catch is. There was no Bishop... only a synodically elected staff member, who, yes, listened to me - but never heard me... I repeat, never heard me. Of course, no one in a conflict can claim sinlessness - and I, chief of sinners, certainly was not without fault in this saga. But here is the "Pastoral" advice of the synodcial employee... He said, "Well, you know, there are other options to life, sales positions and selling Lutheran insurance. These positions are wonderful ways to make a living..." Just like that my "bishop" said, take a hike - just move on out of the calling and the vocation that God had given to you and prepared you for - and that you were engaged in faithfully and successfully over the last ten years. Just go away. All of this from an employee, who was trying to make the problem go away by simply allowing an unrepentant body of believers to move on to the next unsuspecting pastor - and peddling the current pastor away to the secular world.

Fr. Gregory, this is why the church needs not elected political officials - but Bishops working in a conciliar not heirarchial fashion. A bishop in apostolic succcession who is given a gift/charism of teaching at their enthronement (and although he is human and is capable of error) this bishop is charged with the care of the Church of Christ - and of the protection/compassion for called men who are doing the work they were called to do. They are not elected on a ballot... they do not serve four year "terms" on the conservative or liberal ticket... On the contrary they serve Christ, His Church and His shepherds until they fall asleep in the Lord.

In the end if "Robert's Rule" runs the church - instead of the rightful Bishop in apostolic succession - then we will continue to get chaos: broken churches and hurting pastors.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Spot on, Mike. Thanks!