Monday, June 22, 2009

The Church as Institution--One or Many?

Last night, I met a woman at a party who talked about the Church. She made clear that she was talking about the Church as an institution, which bothered me, but I couldn't puzzle out why just then.

This morning, it hit me: the Church isn't just one institution--and I could argue that its face as an institution changes through the years. Thus, it fascinates me when I meet people in their 50's and 60's who are SO angry about the Church. But as I talk to them, I realize that they're angry at the Church of their childhood--and frankly, that Church doesn't much exist anymore (Christopher Hitchens, I'm talking to you). Many of these people aren't keeping up with Church developments, and clearly haven't been, as I often find out when I talk about the Church of the Northern Hemisphere and the Church of the Southern Hemisphere, and the coming clash. Blank looks. If I could convince those folks to read only one book on the Church, it would be The Next Christendom by Philip Jenkins; I suspect this book would completely scramble the way they view the Church as institution.

The group I was with last night are still ANGRY about the Catholic Church. Last night, it was the wealth of the Vatican which raised ire (other times, I've noticed that pedophile priests cause a similar outrage).

It's very intriguing to me, because when I think of the Catholic church, I think of any number of solid Catholic schools, I think of Catholic Charities, I think of Archbishop Oscar Romero, I think of Catholic Worker houses, I think of Flannery O'Connor, I think of the fall of Communism, for which I give partial credit to Pope John Paul II and the partially Catholic Solidarity movement. I think of all the good that has been brought into the world with that Vatican wealth. I don't think in terms of people harmed.

It might help that I was never personally harmed by Catholics. I have some friends who still carry psychic wounds. I understand that those wounds are hard to heal.

I grew up in the U.S. South, where there weren't many Catholics, but about a gabillion Southern Baptists. I didn't grow up in a city where Catholic leadership was corrupt and was involved in corrupt politics. Maybe I'd have a different world view if I did. But the first Catholics I knew were in college, and they were student activists and liberation theologians, working for the poor and the oppressed.

When these conversations like the one I had last night arise, I always try to remind the unchurched and the atheists that the Church as an institution is not exactly what God might have intended. Maybe I'll also start reminding them that the Church isn't one monolithic institution--it's an interesting crazy quilt of institutions.

1 comment:

AMIT said...

Oh that woman really thought in a wrong way that Church is like an Institution.

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