Reflections On The Scandal
The Church in the Information Age
Archpriest Ted Bobosh, Dayton OH
In The Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 15, “there arose no little dissension and debate” over some very pressing issues within the new Christian movement. The debate was taken all the way to Jerusalem by the usual form of communication of that day – the church had Paul, Barnabus and others walk to Jerusalem with the questions and controversies which needed to be dealt with. Personal messengers were considered the best way of communicating.
The apostles then assembled in the "First" Council of the Church and sent their decision out by letter, hand conveyed by a chosen delegation. Eighteen hundred years later Orthodox missionaries in Alaska had to use similar methods in communicating their requests and needs to the Church leadership in Moscow. Stories are told how such 19th Century communications, the same method which the First Century apostles used, sometimes required an entire year from the time a message was sent until the answer came back to the missionaries.
In the 21st Century, our OCA faces another set of problems over which there has also arisen “no little dissension and debate” – namely the financial scandal currently plaguing the OCA. We, however, rarely use personal couriers to give voice to our concerns, as today people use the Internet and other electronic means to convey there messages, reports, photos, debates and dissensions. In the Information Age, what has changed is the speed with which information can be conveyed to wider audiences than was ever before imagined possible.
When communications were much slower, they often were viewed in a more personal manner with far fewer people able to share in the communications which were taking place. Today, in the electronic information age, communications can be not only instant, but massive amounts of information can be moved to huge audiences. No longer do, or can, a few people control the vast quantities of information which are broadcast by many different electronic means. Orthodoxy in the 21st Century, in terms of communications at least, is vastly more different than Orthodoxy of 100 years ago than is 19th Century Orthodoxy from 1st Century Orthodoxy. The Church, too, has to live in the Information Age.
We live in a time when not only is it hard for a few people to control the information that others receive, but modern people increasingly expect to have access to all kinds of information. And information is no longer available to them only through “official” sources. The Information Age enables many people to share what they know even when it contradicts the “official” version of events or reveals things “officials” were hoping to suppress.
Today, in any organization, more people can be better informed than in times past. They not only know how to access resources to keep them informed, they expect to be informed in order to make decisions about their lives and to take action in regard to those things which are important to them. People today also form strong opinions about those who inform them, and about those who fail to inform them. The Orthodox Church in America is not exempt from the American way of using the media to form opinions of everything.
And all of this has direct implications for our current crisis. The notion of “the free press” is an integral part of the American way of life, even for us as Orthodox Christians. The days in which a few hierarchs could control information in the Church has passed. The membership of the Church today has an ability to turn to many sources for information. And there are many priests and lay members of the Church who are well educated in the life of the Church and have kept abreast of current events. It simply is not the case that only the Bishops know what is going on and therefore alone can make informed decisions about the Church. Christians 1900 years ago, and 100 years ago, actually shared a similar view of communications! Twenty First Century Orthodoxy is indeed facing a vastly changed communication landscape.
A number of months ago, Metropolitan Herman released a letter offering some explanation for his dismissal of Fr. Kondratick as Chancellor of the OCA. In that letter, he mentioned he somehow felt “attacked” by something Fr. Kondratick’s attorney wrote. He opined that an attack on him as Metropolitan was an attack on the entire Church. And thus he ordered the investigation into the life and finances of the OCA’s central administration.
We, the members of the Church, still know neither the nature of the attack– nor even what we should be prepared to fight or defend ourselves against if indeed we have been attacked as Church. An investigation is said to be in progress, yet we have no clear knowledge of what is being investigated or whom. Even at the recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops, no report was given to our diocesan bishops as to the nature, extent or purpose of the investigation.
We, the membership of the OCA, can, however, only come to the defense and aid of the Church if we are informed of the nature of the attack and know what in fact we are dealing with. There may be many reasons, personal and legal, why the Metropolitan may want to control or limit the information that is revealed to the membership of the Church. However, in the Information Age, the best way to get members to rise and defend the Church and take an active interest in the life and well being of the Church, is to have a well informed membership. We in the Church – all the hierarchs, clergy and laity – need to know the nature of the problem we face in order to prepare ourselves as Church for the "more clouds and storms" about which the Metropolitan has forewarned us.
We need our Metropolitan and our diocesan bishops to use the tools of the Information Age to inform all of us about what is happening regarding the scandal, the allegations, the investigations and the audits. We obviously also have to learn to use the electronic media wisely, not just widely, because it is fraught with its own set of problems. But the fact that communications in any age could fail does not mean that we should not be communicating! Open communications, though risking some conflict, can also breathe life into a deflated or moribund organization.
Frequent communications would be good at this time. We need to know what we are waiting for, and to have some sense of how long will we have to wait to see results or be given information. Though some promises have been made that "Best Practices" will be instituted in OCA finances with some hints of greater openness, we have so far seen little results. One obvious difference was that after the recent Synod of Bishops meeting, a set of minutes was published. It was a step in the right direction – even if it can be quipped: “It used to be that the Synod of Bishops did not report their minutes to us, now they use the minutes to tell us nothing.”
In this the Information Age:
1) We in the Church do need to know: “Are the allegations true or false?";
2) Reports from the auditors should be made public to all members of the Church;
3) The Proskauer-Rose investigation is being paid for BY THE CHURCH, and the entire Church should be given the report of its findings, for Proskauer is not being paid to engage in a personal, little, fact-finding tour for the benefit of only one man.The Church was attacked, so let the Church know what is going on;
4) What exactly is being investigated? Which allegations? Who is being investigated? At this point we don't even know these basics.
5) The purpose of the $1.7 million loan, its terms and how it is being disbursed should be made public to the entire membership of the OCA. And an exact accounting with frequent reports should be sent out to all parishes.
What is facing the Church is not purely or merely a problem for the Metropolitan, or for the Syosset staff, or for the Synod of bishops, it is a problem of the entire Church. It requires the entire Church to deal with it and respond to it. But this can only happen if the Church as a whole has some understanding of the exact nature and extent of the problem. We can only deal with the current set of problems and put into place correctives if we know what the problems are that we are dealing with.
We the diocese, we the parishes, we the parishioners need to be thinking about “Where do we go from here?” We need to be encouraged to discuss the issues and take positive actions for the building up of the church. Let us encourage discussion and meetings which allow an exchange of ideas with the intention of building up the Church and the commitment of the membership to Christ and to one another.
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 “pray, 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.
God did not create us merely to obey. He gave us the creative free will to chose love. Unlike the Koran wherein Adam is tested to see whether he can obediently remember the names of the animals which Allah has created, God in Genesis asks Adam to give the animals their names. God gave to us the ability to think and be creative. God created us to exercise dominion over this world and even to be judges of the angels and the world (1 Cor 6:2-3). Obedience is not the only virtue in the Church, but accountability is always going to be demanded of us.
We don’t have a "right" to know how bishops or chanceries spend money given to the church. No, we don’t have a "right", but we each and all have a responsibility, a personal responsibility, to know.