I’m usually pretty rough on institutions. If I am being truthful it is because I’m a trained cynic. The best training and advice I ever got as a young financier was to understand the compensation structure. Once you understood the compensation of everyone key in the room, you knew what position they were going to take. Crafting good presentations was all about making sure all the key people appeared to get a slice. The net effect of that is that institutions always act in their own best interest. Even if their mission or the collective best interest will be smothered and crushed. Here is a great example of the UAW turning down a contract that would have kept an ‘Old GM’ plant open because the current workers preferred to keep their slots at ‘new GM’. The chance at getting a UAW GM job was worth more than a current job and an increase in the number of jobs in the local area.
One of the tough questions I asked the confirmands last night was does following the 8th commandment (which according to Luther means putting the best construction on everything) mean being an idiot? Is my cynical take on institutions, which I have rarely seen violated, a breaking of the 8th commandment? (My answer is probably, but sin boldly.)
As much as the church usually confirms my cynical view of institutions, it still remains about the only place where I get surprised. And it is usually because of individuals who refuse to sin boldly against the 8th commandment. And while not being idiots, they choose to act like them and work within the institution. And they usually bear the price – the cross – of such a choice.
Jason Byassee at Duke Divinity recalls the good of institutions in the hellhole of the Sudan. It is a medicinal reminder of the good of functioning institutions.
I guess here is the crux of my problem. Acting like my cynical view rarely endangers the mission of most institutions. But the mission of the church is directly damaged. There is a sense that your could say the mission of the church is to be the anti-institution, the institution that acts not according to the rules of this world but according to the kingdom of God. The church here and now is about putting your neighbor at the same level, about being your brother’s keeper. When it works, when it is competent, it can give a glimpse of stitching the world back together as Mr. Byassee puts it. It gives a foretaste of the Kingdom currently hidden among the cynicism.