CHRISTIAN INSTITUTIONS IN CRISIS
Several Christian institutions are going through deep crises – financial, administrative and moral. Many of them have deeply entrenched issues of corruption, nepotism, denominationalism and regionalism. Conflicts between people become inevitable as one person makes adverse comments or asks probing questions, while another becomes defensive and angry and yet another reacts with suspicion or, worse, abuse. Disciplinary actions are initiated, some justified, while others are obviously trumped-up to protect those in authority from uncomfortable truths. Sometimes there are unjustified suspensions, denial of promotions or facilities to staff and even termination of services resulting from these conflicts.
Needless to say, these issues create a horrible ‘stink’ and the institutions suffer as people around watch and gossip. Most regrettably, the image of Christianity is tarnished.
What should Christians, who work in conflict-ridden places, do? Get into the system? Compromise Christian values in exchange for favours from the powers-that-be? Avoid being actively corrupt and look the other way when money matters are casually handled or abused for someone’s personal gain? Do their own work and keep out of the mess? Ask questions and demand accountability? Speak up when someone is unjustly terminated? Try to get into a position of accountability and work the right way?
All of us, at some time or other, may have acted in one or more of these ways, and there may be much we need to repent of.
What is the Biblical view on these burning issues?
Justice And Righteousness
God is just and righteous (Psa.11:7), and His people are to mirror the same attributes. “Follow justice and justice alone…” (Deut.16:20). All our actions should promote the cause of justice. What is justice? The two Hebrew words used for justice in the Bible, tzedek and mishpat, reflect the idea of right relationships, dealing with people in fairness, equity and generosity, and ensuring that people get their rights and dues. This would mean that justice embodies concern for those who are denied their rights – the poor, the low caste, widows, vulnerable women, migrants, labourers, orphans, the elderly. Do we, in our institutions, raise our voices against injustice? Do we care for the vulnerable, whether they are our co-workers or staff or the ones we serve? When God seeks justice for the widow and the orphan, do we neglect them? Or is our concern only to please the rich and powerful so that our jobs are secure?
Attitude Of The Leader
Worldly leadership is largely authoritarian, with power vested in the hands of a few who have to be obeyed by the majority. They ensure that they benefit from their position financially and socially. The kings of old amassed vast fortunes from taxes paid by the poor and their labour. Today’s leaders are no different. They are wealthier than their staff and subordinates, with bigger salaries, houses, cars and personal staff to pamper to their wants. They are not easily accessible. They are dominating, treat others’ opinions casually, and usually surround themselves with less competent people who will not question them. When questioned, they can be vindictive and tyrannical.
The Bible, however, teaches a different leadership style. Kingship – leadership by one – was discouraged by God (1Sam.8). Israel was to function as a loose federal group, looking to God for guidance, aided by the prophets, as seen in the first seven books of the Old Testament. The leadership of each tribe was flexible, with no permanence, leading to more equity, better communication, humility, and wisdom. However, God acceded to their demand for a king (a lesser leadership style) but warned them of its dangers (1Sam.8:10-17).
The king was told (Deut.17:14-20) not to think of himself as superior to the common people. His job was to ensure justice and goodness for the people. He was strictly warned against accumulating wealth, servants, horses and carriages for himself. He was warned of the dangers of giving free rein to his desire, of the tendency to be distracted from his moral and spiritual duty to God and people by desiring things and wives. These rules were flouted by every one of the kings!
In the New Testament, Jesus was radical when He taught that leaders should be servants, just as He was (Mk.10:42-45). He was accessible to the poor widows and blind men. Jesus was simple, with no desire to get wealth or form rich connections. He demonstrated this servant-leadership style in every action, doing the lowest, least desirable task that needed doing – for instance, washing the dirty feet of His friends who had walked the dusty roads for their Passover meal. The purpose of life in His kingdom here was loving service – serving God and others (Matt.20.28). Wealth, clothing, houses and carriages were not important, nor were they to be actively pursued. Seeking and working towards God’s kingdom values of justice and righteousness was to be every Christian leader’s goal.
Stand Up For The Persecuted
Often when the powerful descend with punishment on those who stand up against them, their friends disappear. This is human frailty and was seen so dramatically at the time of Jesus’ arrest. The disciples deserted Him and fled (Mk.14:50). Why? From the Jews’ point of view, Jesus was a trouble-maker, undercutting the authority of the Jewish leaders. Association with Him would cost the disciples dearly, as it did after the Lord’s resurrection, when they gained the courage to stand up for the truth. In our times, too, association with those who stand up for justice, or question the corrupt, will certainly cost people something. It becomes all the more complicated when they unintentionally commit a ‘blunder’ during their fight for justice for which they will be accused by the corrupt leaders. Nevertheless, standing with those fighting injustice is still the right thing to do.
Prayer is that mysterious connection that we have with God. While there is much we do not understand about prayer, we do know this much – God wants us to pray, and He loves to answer prayer (Matt.7:7-10). In prayer, we acknowledge our dependence on Him (Matt.6:9-11) and His lordship over all. In prayer, we admit our inability to see the whole picture and are reassured that God does, that He is not asleep but is working with His people. In prayer, we correct our own faulty attitudes and re-align them with God’s (Matt.6: 12). We shed our anger and acknowledge that we would do His will in all things, including loving those who have corrupted institutions, served their own selfish interests or wronged others. Prayer is central to any attempt to correct injustice or sort out conflict.
However, those who ‘say’ their prayers actually go through a mere ritual. This is an incorrect understanding of prayer, since in prayer, when we align our will with God’s, and ask that His kingdom come, we are committed to also doing our part to bring His kingdom and kingdom values into our homes, families and institutions. Prayer is a dialogue, not a monologue, and as we pray sincerely, God leads us to act as He wants us to.
What Should We Do?
As Christians, we should pray for our institutions and churches, that our leaders would be humble, simple and focussed on serving others. We could pray for more participative and group leadership, whether in marriages, families, churches or organisations. We also need to pray that we would set aside denominational and regional differences, and seek the good of the institutions and the people they serve, not a denomination. As leaders, we need to set examples of simplicity, transparency, un-corrupt, unbiased and fair dealings with everyone, encouraging group leadership, listening to everyone, and encouraging dissent and questions. When things go wrong, when there is corruption, tyrannical leadership, financial mismanagement, a loss of vision of service to the poor, or evangelism, we need to ask questions and seek a change.
More Christians need to take responsibility and get involved in running the institutions with honesty, transparency and accountability. If there is a conflict over issues, we should try and understand them, and speak up for what is right, good and pleasing to God. If we do not, we will continue to see Christian institutions slide into chaos and internal squabbles, as selfish leaders fight to keep themselves in power and others close their eyes to this tragic reality.
May God help us!