Recently columnist Elizabeth Farrelly wrote an article calling for a project to “Rescue Christ from the Christian church.” Her call was a plea for people not to give up on spirituality because of the heinous crimes of the Church and simultaneously a scathing critique on the Western Church because it has lost its way. This fall of the Church, she believes, is evidenced by the church’s lust for power. In my view, Farrelly’s point is not so much that the Church itself is a failure, even though Farrelly chastises it, but rather that the Church has become compromised in the most profound way because of its hierarchical structures, patriarchy and entrenched institutionalism. Farrelly writes
So abandon religion, by all means – if by “religion” you mean the badged and epauletted corporate hierarchy. Sooner the better. But never abandon the right to spiritual beliefs or, more difficult but every bit as important, the search to retain the ancient sacred mysteries while losing the patriarchal superstructure built over them like a skyscraper on a well. Indeed, demolishing the skyscraper should liberate the well – a resonant, deep-spring belief system – to save the world. God knows we need it. Project: rescue Christ from the Christian Church.
From this comment and previous writings, it’s clear that Farrelly is obviously hopeful about corporate action channelled for good in the world. So isn’t this the very purpose and mission of the church? The church is called out of darkness to embody good in our world. Even though Farrelly dichotomises corporate and personal, she believes that corporate action with a purpose for benevolence in the world is sorely needed.
How is it that a body of people who have a mission for benevolence in the world have become compromised by power, fame, sexism and institutionalism? We could lazily surmise that the Church is a human institution and people are not perfect. However, this does not justify the abuse and horror that has been and is surfacing regarding crimes committed by the Church towards the vulnerable members of our society.
In the painful to watch movie Calvary (2014) , the good priest, Father James is hated by his community. He has not committed any crimes, the opposite in fact, he works for good. Yet the Church he represents is detested by the people he shepherds. In one scene, the priest’s dog dies and he weeps for the death of his faithful companion. One of his parishioners, a victim of child abuse, asks him “Did you cry when your dog died?” “Yes” says Father James. The parishioner asks “Did you also cry for all of those children who were abused by the church?” The good priest says no. When the parishioner angrily asks Father James why not, he says “I guess I was detached from it all.”
One of my friends shared with me recently that he was sexually abused by a priest in his church when he was growing up. Suddenly it became very personal for me. I grieved for my friend first, then for the Church. The Church is meant to be a protector and advocate of those who are small and weak yet it has become the opposite, a perpetrator of pure evil. So we should not be carelessly throwing around comments such as “The church is an imperfect institution.” Not now. Maybe not ever. We the Church need to grieve, and repent. Then we need to take action. We must demolish sexism, model Christ’s weakness rather than asserting our power and break through the hierarchy that muzzles the voices of the poor and abused.
Even though Farrelly is confronting in her words, there is truth in them. The Church needs to return to Christ, and let go of its sinful addiction to power.