Tony Jones has a couple of posts up on the woes of the Methodist Church in the wake of it's recent General Conference. In the first, he notes (emphatically):
All bureaucracies are good at one thing: self-perpetuation. They may be good at other things, too, but the propagation of the gospel is not one of those. Bureaucracy is good at distributing drivers licenses. But bureaucracies are bad for the gospel.
I just hope that enough of you young UMC clergy have the temerity to stand up and walk out of that system. Trust me, what you’re putting up with is not worth the health insurance — you’re getting the raw end of that deal.
Apparently that got him some push-back. So today he went to the blogs to make his position a bit clearer:
I took a lot of heat from my Methodist friends last week for suggesting that young clergy forsake the denomination and go do something new. Let me be clear: I don’t expect one single Methodist clergyperson or seminarian to jump ship because I blogged about it. Puhleeze, people.
I will reiterate something: It is virtually impossible to see the dysfunction of a system when you’re inside it. Ask anyone who’s married to an alcoholic; ask a prison guard; ask Michel Foucault.
SometimesOften it takes an outsider to speak truth into a system.
I think I get what Tony is trying to say. The point, it seems to me, isn't that clergy should necessarily leave denominations that have entered cycles of bureaucratic self-perpetuation. But there is a case to be made for a kind of "inner-worldly migration" away from denominational structures that are unhelpful and even damaging in the name of a greater vision of what the denomination is supposed to stand for.
But in a very real sense, this is an inescapable reality of institutional life. Whether it's a church, a university, a government agency, or any other form of institution, they ultimately become instruments of their own self-perpetuation. To leave them for the sake of starting another, "purer" institution, is simply to start the process over again, not to escape it. Organizations and movements that are begun in a wave of charismatic fervor must ultimately either find ways to "routinize" that charisma, or else burn out when its charismatic leadership ends.
So while "schism" may always be an option when folks get fed up enough with a particular manifestation of bureaucratic malaise, it's not a cure, only a relocation of the disease. The harder problem is how to renew the charism that motivated the creation of the institutions that have now fallen into disrepair. Having routinized its charisma to the point of death, is resurrection possible? If not, then schism or self-destruction may be inevitable. But in any event, the problems of sustaining institutional life will always remain.