Monday, April 9, 2012

Protecting an Institution

In a conversation with someone recently, she stated there are different ways of dealing with problems--patiently, working within the system for change, or impatiently, going outside the system to attack it. Her point was that it was always best to work within the system.

Some would argue this is biblical, as even Jesus said he did not come to overthrow the law, but to fulfill it. He explicitly did not want to usurp the authority of the Roman or Jewish governing bodies. But did he really work within those institutions to evoke change?

This issue was a central debate in the Protestant Reformation. For many people who agreed with Luther's criticisms, they recoiled at the thought of separating from the Roman Catholic Church, saying it was better to change it from within. Virtually all of Luther's reforms were adopted by the Catholic Church, albeit a century later. Most Protestants today, though, are quite happy about the Protestant split, thinking it was necessary.

Last week, I talked about the balance of peaceful dialogue versus active criticism. I think, once again, that there is balance here. Using the example of Luther, he did, in fact, try to work within the Catholic Church's systems to create the appropriate and needed change. When he no longer believed that was possible, he then led an assault on the institution, calling for a split.

I personally agree with this approach. It is great if we can reform institutions from within. There is so much manpower, capital, organization, etc., that can continue to be used for good (and not have to be redone for developing something new). Yet there comes a point at which an institution has gone so far in the wrong direction that it is beyond hope of salvation and the reset button needs to be pushed.

A while ago, I wrote a personal reflection on the events surrounding the Crystal Cathedral. I saw its implosion from the inside. And while several us tried some things to fight for it from within our section of the Cathedral, I got to the point where I predicted and hoped for its demise. The Penner-Coleman group had become so focused on maintaining the institution that they lost sight of the true purpose of the organization.

When an institution is more focused on self-preservation than its true purpose, then major problems have arrived.

I cannot imagine loving an institution as much I had the Cathedral, yet I voted for our group to leave it and become its own congregation. I continue to follow the news and proceedings of the Cathedral with sadness, but with a sense of comfort that the dangers of institutional self-preservation are no longer wrecking havoc.

While I continue to desire to hold internal reformation as the ideal, I am willing to see institutions close when they no longer live according to their values and purpose.

What about you? When, if ever, would you vote for an institution to close?

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