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. 

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