This fascinating video from the Washington Post by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori opens with this comment:
…and at some point it became necessary to shift approach and to say: “If you’re going to stay as a leader in this organization, you have to be engaged, even if you don’t like this decision over here. And if you are not willing to be engaged it’s time to let go of your leadership position, and that’s hard, that’s hard…”
Just about everyone knows that KJS is an expert in giving people the boot. But in watching this video something else occurred to me: has the entire Baby Boom generation, especially in churches liberal and conservative alike, given up on any kind of democratic process in the church, with the messy and slow politics that go with it? And is this reflected in our society at large?
The answer to the second question is obvious to anyone who watches our polarised system and the demonisation that is stock in trade these days.
With the first, KJS speaks of the urgent changes that she think TEC needs to respond to ASAP. If we look at her time as Presiding Bishop, we see her both ignore the canons of her church when she deems it necessary to deal with those who oppose her and change them radically when the opportunity presents itself to centralise the church. TEC historically has a more decentralised organisation–one that, as she admits, wasn’t accidental–than most other churches with diocesan bishops. Her idea, of course, is that this has to be changed to meet the challenges in front of her as she sees them, and her actions speak of a “take no prisoners” approach to leadership.
On the conservative side, I see my own church centralising in many ways, eliminating elected offices, tightening the central structure, lengthening the terms of its own presiding bishops, etc. Conservatives, however, have Bill Gothard as their eminence grise in this project. Beyond that though, we have the endless corporate example, where a certain leader comes in and transforms the corporation (or is up from nothing in a corporate start-up) and makes it successful. This “hero narrative” relegates the messy politics that churches as standing in the way of progress. That’s why we have so many leadership seminars.
So we see a centralising–and anti-democratic–ethos on “both sides of the aisle”. But will this result in institutional progress in either case? I doubt it.
In the case of TEC, the whole idea of embracing the culture’s elite conventional wisdom is a dead end. Why go to the trouble and expense of being part of a church when you can achieve most if not all of what the church is doing in a secular context?
In the case of my own church, the “missional mandate” masks the preservation of the centrality of a Scots-Irish core with a penchant for expansive physical plants and the debt to go with it, neither of which is particularly missional.
The church needs a remaking, but Boomer “top-down leadership” isn’t the answer.