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Getting along with each other

What lens do we view Scripture through?

One’s culture can limit one’s perceptions. This is the principle of ethnocentrism, the viewpoint that “one’s own group is the center of everything,” against which all other groups are judged.  More  A common idiom for ethnocentrism is “tunnel vision.” In this context, ethnocentrism is the view that a particular ethnic group’s system of beliefs and values is morally superior to all others.  All about philosophy.org

The LCA has been accused of tunnel vision, but it could be said that faith of any persuasion walks close to ethnocentrism. How does one hold a conviction without implicitly asserting that one’s system of beliefs and values, one’s worldview, is superior to somebody else’s system of beliefs and values?   Under ethnocentrism one consciously believes that one’s cultural arts are the most beautiful, values the most virtuous, and beliefs the most truthful. Is this the perspective of those proposing a male-only pastorate?

On the other hand, those who counsel tolerance of diversity may be accused of cultural relativism (where there is no absolute standard of right and wrong). Is this the perspective of those proposing women’s ordination?

Perhaps it would be better to use the term, pluralism, which stands in opposition to one single approach, or homogeneity. Is this the perspective of those proposing women’s ordination?

Theocentrism may be suggested as a third way. This is where God’s will is accepted and adopted regardless of any controversy.  Deciding just what is God’s will, however, is the issue.  At this time the lenses we bring to a text, the hermeneutics we use to interpret Scriptures from another time and culture, becomes a new focus of discussion.

Are these terms necessarily exclusive?

Theocentrism does not exclude pluralism. The key convergence between theocentrism and pluralism lies in the concept of God-centeredness in our life and acceptance of unity in diversity as a divine mandate. This “theocentric view of pluralism” presents a solid moral basis for tolerance of other religions and cultures. … Pluralism and theocentrism are compatible and complementary and can lead humanity to peace, collaboration and mutual respect both locally and globally. Ref

While this passages refer to inter-faith and inter-cultural tolerance, and the building of world peace, they are just as appropriate as a call for mutual respect within the LCA over women’s ordination.

We suggest, rather than looking at how we operate, (progressive/conservative, liberal/fundamentalist, ethnocentric/cultural relativist, theocentrist/pluralist) it could be useful to take a broader perspective and look at our culture, from where our tensions arise and divisions become attractive options. We find that our culture is not alone in displaying a disparate and conflicted membership.

We have learned from work in critical sociology and postcolonial, feminist, and cultural studies that cultures are heterogenous and heteroglossic (K+M: a diversity of voices, styles of discourse, or points of view), written through and through with complexity and difference, with conflict over power.  Ref. Reading Online – Research: Four Resources Model.

Any culture, or Christian denomination, is heterogenous and ‘written through with complexity and difference, with conflict over power’.  Despite beliefs of institutional homogeneity, and beliefs about consensual rules and cultures, the LCA is complex and far from being homogenous. Pretense of homogeneity is pointless.  Pretense of the Church, shining like a beacon of unchanging theology in a storm-tossed society is counter-productive. It is time for another paradigm of God, of faith and of our evangelical presence in our society and culture.

We have experienced change through women’s new voice and position in society, through leadership of lay women and men within the Church, through the watering down of ‘German-ness’ in the LCA, through couples living together outside of marriage, through a new era of information and education, from ecumenism, inter-church dialogue, inter-faith dialogue, through birth-control, television, the pill, social networking, through the ease of international travel, through awareness of different theologies within other Lutheran synods, through the reporting of war and civil strife on news broadcasts, and so on.

The LCA will continue to change at an increasing pace. Women’s ordination will be a reality soon in the LCA, however, asserting something is right doesn’t make it right. Our key challenge is how to get along with each other fairly. Ref

 
 

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Sickness and Power in the State and Church

You may have noticed the strange behaviour of many heads of state.  The experience of being in power brings about psychological changes that can lead to grandiosity, narcissism, and irresponsible behavior. A few examples: Bob Hawke’s inability to pass the reigns of leadership to Paul Keating; John Howard’s dispatching the troops without even consulting his cabinet;  Kevin Rudd’s tyrannical attempts to micromanage just about everything; George W’s slash and burn around the world; Tony Blair’s maverick ignoring of his party.

Lord David Owen, a UK ex member of parliament, and neurologist, proposes a “hubris syndrome’, akin to post-traumatic distress, to explain the behaviour.  He discusses the extent to which illness can affect the decision-making of world leaders in his book In Sickness and in Power, and was recently on Radio National.

Leaders suffering from this political hubris syndrome believe that they are capable of great deeds, that great deeds are expected of them, that they know what is best under all circumstances, and that they operate beyond the bounds of ordinary morality.  Lord Owen gives examples of leaders who have lied about their health, had a compromised judgement and made irrational decisions.

Some definitions:

  • hubris – overweening pride, superciliousness (patronizing those considered inferior), arrogance, great belief in your own importance.  It was a crime in ancient greece.
  • ‘Hubris Syndrome’ – an acquired personality disorder that develops in high office, with three characteristics: excessive self-confidence, restlessness and inattention to detail.

Now, consider President Mike Semmler of the LCA.  He is a pleasant character, and pastorally has stood beside many in their time of need. However, when it comes to power, there is a change of character and many boxes can be ticked that might indicate hubris syndrome.  As Vice-President of the LCA, standing for the position of President in 2000, he declined to inform the Church that he was booked into hospital for a heart bypass.  If his use of the Presidential flowing red cloak is any indication, he clearly considers his position and himself as highly important.  Judging from District Presidents’ comments on how meetings of the Council of Presidents are administered, and how General Synod is manipulated he considers that he knows what is best under all circumstances.

Recently it has come to our attention that President Mike Semmler is considering standing again for the position in 2012, after a period of leadership that already spans twelve years.  Like Bob Hawke and many before him, this seems to indicate that he sees himself as being the only suitable person for leadership.

Hubris syndrome may well be an appropriate description for our Church leader, never-the-less, we have to rely on the institutions of democracy and divine inspiration to correct this situation.

“Angelo Roncalli was an Italian peasant who rose to become Pope John XXIII, one of the most beloved figures in Christian history.  During his service as pope, the Roman Catholic church underwent the major upheaval known as Vatican II, a tumultuous and controversial time of reform and change.  It is said that in the midst of this volatile time, Pope John would read his bedtime devotions, say his private prayers, and then, before turning out the light, would say to himself, “But who governs the church? You or the Holy Spirit?  Very well, then.  Go to sleep, Angelo, go to sleep.”

Here is the testimony.  We are all floating in a sea of mercy and grace and providence.  So go to sleep.  In confidence and trust, go to sleep.” (Long, 2004)

Reference:
Long, Thomas G. Testimony : Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, Practices of Faith Series. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004, 156.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2011 in sociology

 

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