01 November 2007

Hierarchical accountability

So I've been a pretty vocal critic of certain assumptions regarding hierarchical accountability (as contrasted with relational / mutual accountability) in the Church. When a leader's accountability is the business of his or her boss(es) alone, all kinds of sick s**t will happen. When a leader's accountability is explicitly the business of his or her congregation, friends, mentors, etc. in a flat (or flattish) network of mutual friendship and honesty, then guess what? All kinds of sick s**t will happen. Why? Because we humans are sick, sinful, self-interested, cowardly s**ts. But my point is that this seems to be the most common defense of church hierarchies - denominational judicatories, Senior Pastors, Archbishops, etc. We need them, I'm told, to maintain accountability and discipline.

Well, I sincerely doubt it. I'm not aware of any sizable hierarchical church system in which appalling crap occurs at a rate greatly less than I would expect if there weren't bishops (or whomever) "maintaining order". Definitions of "appalling crap" will, of course, differ, but I believe this statement to be true no matter where one stands on various political and theological spectra. You may find gay bishops appalling, or you may feel that way about the exclusion of gay folks from leadership. Or maybe you're scandalized by Druidic Eucharistic prayers. Or maybe you're shocked by sexual abuse of children by clergy. I sure as hell hope you're shocked by that last one. Well, all of these things (and much more!) have happened in just my own denomination in recent years, despite all its bishops keeping order - and your church system (if you have one) is no more immune to bad stuff, I assure you.

So I found this story both affirming and challenging to this smack I like to lay down regarding hierarchical accountability. On the one hand, it's an excellent example of hierarchical accountability working. Yay - nay, mega-yay - for Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, for kicking the episcopal ass of this dude who, if these allegations are true, should probably not be out of prison, much less in a church leadership position. ++Katharine's kung-fu is strong.

On the other hand - UCK! What the hell is wrong if this crap has been going on with these two brothers since the seventies, and they made this (accused) spineless worm - this (alleged) craven enabler of kids' lives being f**ked up for all time - a bishop?? I know no human organization is perfect, but dude, we are one seriously broken Body. Not news, I know. :-(

HT: Steve (among others)


spankey said...

As one who lives in on both sides of the fence (I'm equally a fan of the historic episcopate and a hater of mid-level judicatories) I feel it must be noted that +Bennison was not a bishop at the time the alleged events took place.

In reality, Bishops are called to be "defenders of the faith." They are to have the final say, a sort of check and balance, for the theology the rest of us who are on the adventure of following Jesus might come up with.

Ideally, Bishops and the HoB should act like the review committee that wikipedia is playing around with; defining what is within and what is outside the bounds of truth and normality.

It is hard to allow a group of people to do that, but if we live into a flatish (not flat) world, it might be easier to deal with.

But dang it I don't love your righteous indignation! For the other half of a check and balance is the rest of us getting our chance to hold our review committees up for review.

Mike Croghan said...

Thanks, Steve - all of you points are well-taken. Well - OK - maybe I need to quibble on the whole "defenders of the faith" thing. Fine, so bishops are supposed to be defenders of acceptable theology and doctrine. So just limiting my argument regarding "appalling crap" to just theology and doctrine - not practice - I think my rant still holds just as true. No matter where you are on any given theological scale, if you're well informed, I bet there's theology/doctrine going on within the Episcopal Church that you find appalling. With the full approval of some bishop(s). So, to put it bluntly, thanks, +guys (and the occasional +gal), but I honestly think we probably do just about as well on our own.

I tend to think the Wikipedia review committee won't work that great either. If they get enough people involved to actually exert some control over something so huge, then some of those people are bound to be idiots. And the average person will be much less likely to want to hold the idiot review committee member up for review, 'cause the average person has now been officially divested of that power - and that responsibility.

Mike Croghan said...


spankey said...

OK Mike - the church and the Church don't give us much to hope for, but still, can't we have some hope in the goodness of human beings? I guess my thought is, if we can't trust a bishop to do good then can we trust a flat system to do it either? People are stupid; be they in management roles or the laity. Maybe it is about discernment and doing all we can to keep the Peter principle from playing itself out.

The key, it seems, is not allowing a review committee or a mid-level judicatory or whatever is "above" to take all power and responsiblity away. We often divest ourselves of power, giving it to those "above" uncrtically. Does a review com at wikipedia really have all the power? No, not really. All they have the power to do is say, "no, sinbad is not dead and whoever said he is is clearly wrong."

I'm rambling, but I think you can get my drift.

Mike Croghan said...

I do catch your drift, Steve, and as cynical as I can be, I'm also really, really hopeful, especially in the goodness of human beings. I hope I am, anyway. As I said in my original post, I *don't* think we can trust a flat system, because no human system is trustworthy. But I do think (or at least hope) we can trust our friends, whether those friends be bishops, parishioners, leaders in our congregations, or long-distance buddies. :-) My only point, I guess, is that the argument (mine or anyone else's) that "we need X system to prevent Y bad thing from happening" is probably a fallacy. I don't really think hierarchy is bad, and it's probably the thing that works best for folks in some contexts - but I really don't think we always *need* it either, whether for practical or theological accountability. And in some contexts it may actually work against those goals, while putting responsibility in a "flat" community / network of peers would be more effective.

spankey said...

Thanks for sticking with mike. i'm with you now. "we need x system to prevent y bad thing from happening" is indeed a fallacy. one size never fits all. thanks for clearing this up for me. oh and go historic episcopate!!!! ;-)