In the first part of this topic I mentioned that rigidly hierarchical religious organizations, such as pyramidal para-church ministries and denominations, are unChristian. But then it struck me that I had missed the real point, which is that all hierarchical organizations: religious, political and economic, are unChristian.
Which frightened me. Is this true? And what does that mean for us? What are we supposed to do with this information, if it is true?
Am I supposed to quit my job because the employees have to obey the manager, who has to obey the assistant supervisor, who has to do what the supervisor says, who has to do what the owner wants? Am I supposed to quit my school, which required competition to get into, where everything is built around pleasing the professors, who are climbing the ladder by publishing academic journal articles? Am I supposed to leave my church because the pastor controls who serves on the board, which controls who serves on committees, which controls who teaches Sunday school, and controls the worship service, the budget for the salaries and the physical building? And what of those of us who belong to a denomination that moves the pastor around every 5 years and we have to accept whoever the denomination sends us next?
Probably not. Just because our organizations and churches don’t act like Christ or follow His teachings about power and hierarchy, doesn’t mean we should leave. Otherwise we would have to leave the world, as the apostle Paul once remarked about staying away from sinful people. But if we are to stay where we are, and yet practice Christ like anti-hierarchy, what will we do?
Well, how did Jesus do it? He worked and operated in the most stratified of societies (Roman governor, pyramidal Roman army, high priest, Sanhedrin Council, tax collectors, business owners, workers, slaves, women, children), with dire consequences for anyone who bucked the system. Yet he ignored, as much as possible, the powers that be. The courage he displayed in ignoring the temple guards and high priest by driving out the money-changers and sellers of animal sacrifices, is almost beyond understanding.
He was warned that his teaching was upsetting the leaders of the synagogues, yet he persisted with his teaching, and John says he was kicked out of all the synagogues. He warned his disciples that they would be rejected and flogged in the synagogue. I have been told many times not to preach on certain topics because: the people won’t like it, or are not ready for it, might get fired, might hurt your career.
His teaching differed from the Hebrew Bible tradition in that he treated women as equal learners, unheard of in his era, and scandalized the establishment by hanging out with both the socially and religiously disenfranchised. The gospel writers emphasize how he turned hierarchy on its head by stating that at his birth, born in a barn, the first to welcome him were shepherds, the very ones banned from giving testimony in a Hebrew court because of their reputation as liars and drunkards.
When the followers of John, Jesus’ forerunner, asked him specifically what they should do, he gave them simple instructions for each one of them: Don’t take advantage of your position, was one of the main principles in John’s teaching.
What should we do? We should ignore hierarchy like Jesus ignored it. We should go about practicing equality, mercy and justice like Jesus did. We should oppose institutionalized oppression when we find it. We should ignore threats of being fired, threats of the church or ministry not growing, or warnings that it will not be financially viable, as supposedly reasonable arguments in favor of hierarchy and power dynamics (over Christ like anti-hierarchy).