Reflections On The Scandal
RESPONSIBILITY AND CHOICE
by Archpriest Ted Bobosh, Dayton OH
The discussion about whether "it is right" to withhold the assessment from the central church administration means that at least in parts of the OCA today we are having serious ethical discussion about our own behaviors as Christians. It is an essential discussion because it brings to the forefront the issue of what if any responsibility do we have personally and collectively as members of the Body of Christ in, to and for the Church. It is a serious discussion because it is about what it means to be members of the Body of Christ, and ultimately it is about our own salvation.
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 argues that in the Body the hand cannot say, "because I am not a foot I don't belong to the body." But can the hand argue that since I am not the foot, I have no responsibility for what the foot does or nor concern for what happens to the foot? No, because St. Paul says, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (12:26). Each member of the Body of Christ, each member of the Church shares a mutual concern and responsibility for the health of the entire Body. The hand cannot be just concerned about the hand and not care about the foot, for an injury to or infection of the foot can lead to incapacitation and even death for the hand as well. Each member of the Body is indispensable to the Body (12:22).
The Body imagery of St. Paul treats the Church like the living organism it is. The health of each and every member is affected both positively and negatively by every other member, no matter how insignificant or honored a member is. In the healthy organism all members share responsibility for the health of the Body. Well being is not the responsibility of only some. In the body when an infection or cancer arises, the whole body together responds to the threat. The heart cannot say, "it's only the lungs that have cancer, not my concern. I'll just do what I'm supposed to do." Every member of the body is threatened by a disease that affects any one member, and all members have a responsibility to contribute to restoring the Body to health. The entire body rallies to the immune defense of any and every member.
This, I think, is a key to our understanding of the current scandal and problems that plague the OCA. Too many are being tempted with the thought that "it's not my responsibility to help fix the problem - I'll just do what I'm supposed to do and not worry about the rest." But just because you are only an eye or only an ear or only a hand or only a foot does not mean you are not part of the Body nor does it mean you are not responsible for the health of the Body. If each member decides that "I will do only what I am supposed to - only what concerns me immediately", each member in effects is saying what St. Paul rejected: "I am a foot not a hand therefore I am not part of the Body."
I think the issue is that we each are actually afraid of moral responsibility. We are afraid of judgment and are trying to avoid personal moral responsibility for what happens to or in the Body to which we belong. Our thinking seems to be if we pay the central assessment and the central church mishandles the money, that is "their" moral responsibility and God, not us, will judge "them." We then imagine that we are off the hook in terms of responsibility because we did what "we were supposed to do." (and there is no responsibility if you do what you are supposed to do - just ask any Nazi at a war crime trial) If on the other hand, we don't pay the assessment, it means we are taking personal moral responsibility for events,for the Church, and for our life in Christ, and then we risk that God might judge us badly for what we did. (God is going to judge us, that we cannot escape, whether He will commend us or condemn us is the worry). We have come to believe that if we do nothing or do "what we are supposed to" God cannot judge us. Even some of our leaders have confused "I have done nothing wrong" with "I have done nothing" or with "I did what I was supposed to."
Of course Christ's parable of the talents in Matthew 25, does not exactly support this thinking. For the day of reckoning comes for those talented servants and the one who did nothing because he was afraid is not rewarded by the master. "''Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth'" (25:24-30)
Doing nothing is not an option blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ. We need the courage to become responsible for our Church. We have to stop pretending we are only a foot and so therefore not really a part of the Body and thus not responsible for the Body. We have to quit fearfully hiding the stewardship entrusted to us and do something with it like the good and faithful servants did with the talents entrusted to them. Or we risk that what has been entrusted to us (the Gospel? autocephaly? the church in America?) will be taken away from us. "Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it" (Matthew 21:43). This is what I think is really at risk.
In my opinion we have come to practice a very passive form of spirituality which says, "as long as I do what I'm supposed to" (and we are so passive we unquestioningly accept what others tell us what we are supposed to do and don't bother discover what is our functional role in the Church), God won't judge me. It is the spirituality which Dostoyevsky's Grand Inquisitor foists on the Church. Dostoyevsky thought it was the spirituality of the anti-Christ!
We need more people with the courage to take responsibility for their own actions and for the health of the church. I think the withholding of assessments is one way for us to take responsibility for our faith and our role in the life of the Body. I don't think we should keep feeding a tumor, even if we judge it benign. That is not in the best interest of the Body and will not contribute to the well being of the Church. I think we should practice our stewardship responsibly and use our resources wisely - putting them where they do the greatest good. I do not think doing nothing is a morally right choice. We must take action to secure the well being of the Body of which we all and each are members. We are to work out our salvation, not be passive spectators of what plays out before us.
As I wrote some time ago: "The book, A STRANGER TO MYSELF, is the autobiographical description of WWII German soldier named Willie Reese, who, from ages 20-23 fought in the German army on the Russian front in 1941. As the war continues Willie increasingly becomes detached from humanity and simply becomes a soldier as his moment in history requires of him. " He is simply doing what he is "supposed" to do. The "War" becomes the justification for whatever he or others do, no matter how barbaric or inhuman. The book offers for us a glimpse into human nature. When we each merely do what we are “supposed to do”, we lose our humanity and our being in God’s image and likeness. When leadership demands in the church that we “pay and obey” and we comply by doing nothing more than what we are “supposed to do”, we, too become the "Willie Reeses" of the Orthodox Church.
"Doing what we are supposed" is not the same as taking up the cross and following Christ. In the first we quit thinking and choosing and become passive, dejected, demoralized slaves. In the second, we freely, willingly and voluntarily accept victorious martyrdom. That is how I see the situation before us and the alternatives we must choose.