mountain, desert, earth sky
The other day a friend of mine sent me an article about a veteran Jesuit priest who has made a decision to resign his priestly ministry as a protest against the structure of the institutional church. Bert Thelen was a highly-placed superior in the Jesuit order who had been a priest for 45 years. In a very public letter, Thelen writes:
All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. We need conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as interdependent partners, sharing in one Earth-Human community.
In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, "Don't lord it over anyone..serve one another in love." As an institution, the church is not even close to that idea.
In these few brief sentences, Bert Thelen wonderfully captures what is perhaps the greatest flaw of not only the the established church, but the inherent weakness of any institution that is intrinsically hierarchical.
We human beings are indeed "interdependent partners." The entire creation "is" an "Earth-Human community." Any social system "designed" to place a chosen few in positions of power over others on lower rungs of the ladder is inherently flawed because that system is inconsistent with the flow and design of all creation.
When Jesus came among us, his life and teaching offered an alternative way of living in contrast to the prevailing culture of his day; a culture that exalted the mighty, and oppressed the lowly. Jesus leveled the playing field of life by exalting the humble and casting the mighty from their thrones - "Do not lord it over anyone...serve one another in love." And he invited his disciples of every age to follow in his footsteps.
But that's not what happened over time. The teaching and example of Jesus has been essentially ignored.
The very "system" of the institutional church is designed to separate and divide people. The hierarchically-ordered institution inherently gives power to the mighty to lord it over the lowly, and this flies in the face of what Jesus taught.
The church is supposed to be a light to the world. The church is supposed to be a model of an alternative to a world of the mighty having dominance over the lowly; and instead the church has become the very world Jesus opposed.
We live in an age in which all institutional religions are experiencing severe decline and viewed with great suspicion. This is especially true in established churches with hierarchical systems. Perhaps it's time to actually do what Jesus did, and pay attention to what he taught:
Do not lord it over anyone..serve one another in love.