Saturday, June 30, 2012

Preventing Corruption In The Church

"Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption.  As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear:  by focusing on the poor.  The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation.  When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity.  It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness.  Paul says,  "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).  This is the true vision.  The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace." ~  Henri J.M. Nouwen
I agree with the late Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen that many churches can often get "caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness." Heated arguments break out in churches over whether they should ditch the pews in favour of padded chairs, or whether drums should be allowed during morning worship.  Gossip spreads like wildfire if a minister foregoes the traditional pulpit in favour of walking around the platform with a wireless microphone. I know of one pastor who caught a lot of flack over allowing people in motorcycle garb to attend Sunday morning services.  These are all petty things and it's sad to watch. Power struggles can also occur, sometimes between the church board and the pastor, sometimes between a wealthy benefactor and the pastor. And it goes on and on.

Nouwen is right that the solution to these problems is clear: churches should focus on the poor. In other words, the church must exist for others.  When a church becomes proud of how much it is growing and begins to rest on their laurels over Sunday afternoon post-service coffee, problems ensue. Christian churches in particular are called by Jesus in Scripture to look after "the least of these (the poor, the sick and lonely)," and that whatever one does for them they are also ministering to Him.  But I offer up that non-Christian churches would do well to heed the words of Jesus as well as Nouwen and concentrate on the poor.  A church that turns inward on itself will eventually cave.  That's why Social Action committees are so very important. These are composed of individuals who look for ways to engage society in a real way, both locally and individually.  

Finally, church is about relationship.  But not just being in relationship with people whom we have known and worshiped with for years. At the next coffee hour, make the effort to introduce yourself to someone you have never talked to before. And during the week look for ways to live out your faith by engaging with "the least of these."

Mark Andrew Alward