Telling, yelling, whatever it takes

November 1st, 2012  |  Published in Favorites, Power & Politics

This second post is a first attempt at locating discussion of social justice within a context of the operation of power within organisations and institutions (such as Churches).

As a child of the hellfire and brimstone tradition, I would not expect to find the Catholic Church, as an Institution, on too many shortlists for social justice awards. I did, however, find myself agreeing with aspects of Will Day’s article, Don’t Tell the Cathedral, in which he talks of the large numbers of rank-and-file faithful who do much good work in areas including refugee advocacy, homelessness, and education despite the oppressive and authoritarian hierarchy of the organisation.

There is, according to Day, a long-standing Catholic tradition of “grumbling patience” towards injustices within the church; often, it seems, and ironically so, by the same activists who are working against injustices in the wider community. His own grumbling patience, he says, turned to something else when faced with the dire consequences of teaching young people that homosexuality is disordered, unnatural and sinful; a young acquaintance, subjected to such teaching, committed suicide.

“Imagine”, he invites, “if every priest and bishop in Australia who believed that official church teaching on homosexuality was wrong stood at the pulpit one Sunday and said as much.” This, he thinks would bring about powerful change for young people as well as “older queer folk within the congregation and within the priesthood.”

I wonder. Firstly, I wonder if it could ever happen. The sort of organisation that breeds “grumbling patience” and “exhausting discretion” and “sotto voce” protest also seems to create a culture that makes it head-bangingly difficult to develop the community of trust necessary for collective bottom-up resistance. There is too much lurking fear and too much likelihood that some conscientious underlings will feel duty-bound to report the threat of treason to their superiors. If this happens, stand back all those silly enough to think they could make a difference.

Even if Will Day’s fantasy could be realised, and affirmative messages about sexuality did issue forth from next Sunday’s pulpits, I wonder what the effects would be. There might be benefits for members of participating congregations, and that’s certainly important in itself, but I seriously doubt any impact on official church dogma. More likely, I expect, would be a flurry of activity aimed at silencing such ungodly voices and doing whatever necessary to bring dissidents back into line. One of the privileges of power is the prerogative to write the rules and, in the process, to protect the vested interests of the powerful. There are no establishment prizes for unsettling the status quo that I am aware of.

cathedral2Despite my cynicism, however, a large part of me believes we should “tell the Cathedral”, or whatever the equivalents are in our lives, when we witness injustices perpetrated by them. Indeed, we should grab the Cathedral by its phallic dome, and bellow into its orifices. Not that I believe that would change anything within the top echelons either. I’ve done a bit of yelling over the journey and vocal outrage still feels better than complicit silence, but I’m not necessarily recommending it. “Telling the Cathedral” can indeed come at a cost – to those who do the telling or yelling as well as to those who provide support.

I don’t know how to make power accountable to those it has power over, instead of simply on some bean-counting ledger. I wish I did know how to “tell the Cathedral” in such a way as to be heard and create change. Social justice does, after all, go beyond self-determination within the existing status quo. It is about changing the operation of structural and organisational power so that those with more of it are accountable to those with less of it. That is a landmark en route to equity.

I would love to hear your comments, ideas, or success stories, and to continue conversations by responding in turn. If you have general messages about social justice, or my blog, you can make contact by clicking here. I am also keen for feedback on my novel, Swimming with Sharks, which likewise features themes of organisational and institutional power.

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3 comments on “Telling, yelling, whatever it takes”

  1. Julie Morsillo says:

    Yes, I agree. Actually, Rev Francis has managed to collect over 15,000 signatures from other Christian supporters of gay marriage, which is more than the total membership of the conservative Australain Christian Lobby group that opposes marriage equality. So Carolyn is rightly proud of that. She also lobbied to meet with the PM (not sure what happened there though) . . .

  2. joanbeckwith says:

    Well said, Julie, and Rev Francis. There are undoubtedly courageous clergy prepared to speak out. I always hope they are well supported personally, well equipped for swimming with sharks, and can also act act collectively to create a groundswell for social change.

  3. Julie Morsillo says:

    Here ia a relevant comment by a hero of mine, Rev CAROLYN FRANCIS (pastor of Collins St Baptist – and she officiated my son’s wedding) on a 7.30 report on marriage equality a couple of months ago: “I am alarmed at the way in which some leaders are so quick to condemn, to judge, to belittle and to marginalise people, rather than using their position to create bonds within communities, to strengthen loving relationships and to build up the society that is based on those relationships.” Go Carolyn 🙂

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