institutional disgracism

26 02 2013

We can’t move for distrust at the moment. Trust in the institutions we know and take for granted is being dismantled, news report by news report. The BBC, the Police, banks, MPs, supermarkets, Lords, the EU, the Church, the NHS, Premier League… by the time you read this I will have been be discredited for talking out of my horse.

I’m not sure if it’s real news or lazy news. It is important if there has been a cover-up of historical wrong-doing, yes. Meanwhile Syria burns, Sudan falls apart, and UKIP pretend their breed of selfish nationalism is ‘mainstream’. 

What does it all mean? I know every generation has its ‘what is the world coming to?’ moment, and maybe this is mine, but really, what does it all mean? A suggestion. Our culture has a few meta-narratives that don’t quite work together. One is that the individual is the most important thing. Me and my life. The most important thing is that am able to ‘be myself’. Great. This could work, if humans knew when to stop.

Another meta-narrative is that ‘I’ can be trusted. We don’t need old-fashioned regulation and supervision, we are post-modern, civilised adults. Trust me or you disrespect me. This could work, if humans knew when to stop. 

Worked through to its logical conclusion, without a framework of accountability you end up with people in finance making money for themselves whilst society pays the price. Well, nobody told them they had social responsibility. You end up with politicians/supermarkets/NHS contractors getting the best deal for themselves (and their friends) whilst society pays the price. Well, nobody held them accountable to their social responsibility. The same goes for the church, the Police….

Our institutions are a disgrace, at times, because they are full of disgraceful people, at times. At least, they are full of people. A meta-narrative I hold is that we people, whilst we try to be good, are not very good at it. This is why we ask God to help us. This is why each week in our church we say the sorry prayer, the confession, remembering our wrongdoings of action and inaction. This prevents us from joining in the sport of institutional disgracism, in which we point the finger at everyone else for their wrongdoing, setting ourselves apart from them with the arrogance that comes so easily in the self-righteous. Remembering being the opposite of dismembering. Remembering, in order to put things back together.

Image from ASBO Jesus

This is not to say we let the disgraceful behaviour go on. Of course not. But we challenge is fairly and robustly, and where we are a part of it we do our best to influence for the better. We try not to generalise, ‘all bankers’ are not bad in the same way Jesus did not say all tax collectors were bad. I believe he invited one into his inner circle.  All priests are not bad, in the same way Jesus did not say all Pharisees were bad. I believe he was very kind to Nicodemus.

Jesus slated the institutions as much as we do for their dishonesty, hypocrisy and oversight of the important things. But he did not just shout and point and lead a high horse to an abattoir. No, he was about redeeming from within. Questioning, challenging, holding to account especially for the needs to society over the individual; specifically, the weakest of society over the strongest of individuals. 

So as we continue to hear more and more about why we cannot trust anybody or anything, remember that our third cultural meta-narrative is called inaction. Disconnection. It’s got nothing to do with me. It’s their fault. Abdication of responsibility. Combined with individuality and freedom from accountability, this is the fatal third blow. And as followers of Jesus we cannot subscribe to it.

We are to be people who think and who act, who get cross and then act against injustice or inaction or wrongdoing or whatever. Knowing we too are sinful and we too need forgiveness. We cannot rant and then sit down. Our institutions are people. We are people. Let’s claim them back, not just shout at them. 



One response

26 02 2013

Well said Kevin.
I think there are some other things going on though. Firstly there is the internet and all the instant “communication” of today. It is so easy for something, true or false, to get reported and go viral. Accusations and judgements rattle around world without the judgement of time or investigation, and then we have a public enquiry to get to the bottom of it, except that it doesn’t.
That leads on to the second thing. We think we can cure it all by finding out what went “wrong” and putting in some regulation to stop it. Well we can’t. Systems wont stop sinful people and there are an awful lot of us sinful people around. Man is not as powerful or all controlling as he likes to think.
Thirdly we do a lot of redacting into history judgements based on today’s understanding of what is right and not so right. Many of these wrongs were happening years ago. They weren’t right then but it was a different world and there were different accepted levels of behaviour. It would have been a lot more difficult for a whistleblower in Savilles youth than it is now, even. Thats not to say it was OK, it wasn’t but don’t lets put today’s thinking on it without question.
Finally we sometimes think that what goes on today is much worse than what used to be. Bunkum! I am just reading the biography of Winston Churchill’s mother and the exploitation of positiohn for personal profit, the theft of assets from people bu ministers and the outright corruption that went on amongst the ruling classes was just as bad as that which goes on amongst our own ruling classes today. So too the sexual abuse and affairs. We haven’t invented sin we just live in a sinful world.
Of course that doesn’t mean we have to accept it or worse still join in. No we have to take a stand.
I know the pope had a twitter account, whatever that is. I sometimes wonder whether God is using the internet to bring about the downfall of the arrogant. Listen to Mary’s song
“Powerful things he has done with his arm:
he routed the arrogant through their own cunning.
Down from their thrones he hurled the rulers,
up from the earth he raised the humble.
The hungry he filled with the fat of the land,
but the rich he sent off with nothing to eat”. Luke 1 51 – 53

Is God working to expose the sinfulness of people so that they can be driven out and replaced by humble. Is he purging Governments and the Church? Its something to pray for.

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