Wednesday 12 September 2007

Ego and the Empire of Puddles

If anyone was under the illusion that life is invariably better under the umbrella of "independent COGs" rather than "orgs", the name Port Austin should serve as a massive wake-up call. After trawling through some of the comments about the previous entry, I made a solemn promise never to open up that can of worms to public comment again.

It's all reminiscent of Dr. Seuss' tale of Yertle the Turtle. It may be a small pond, but there's always an ego ready to fill it. One Yertle per pond: all other pretenders will need to find their own puddles to exercise sovereignty over. The pre-Yertle generation called the phenomena "Lord Muck of Muck Manor" (and several less salubrious variations which are inappropriate to share here.)

The passions of the parish pump are almost always more intense than those of national bodies. Just because a church calls itself independent is no guarantee of sweetness and light. Hurt feelings, hurled accusations: so much more intense when there's a personal history behind it.

Yet there are good independent congregations. I'm willing to bet that, in every case, those churches operate apart from a single resident guru. Successful churches recognize the need to listen, to consult, to involve, to find consensus and to compromise around a shared center of belief and commitment.

Compromise isn't a bad word, it's a life skill. You want to watch the big game, I want to catch the news. The solution doesn't need to involve partitioning the house or racing to be the first to grab the all-powerful remote. That's Yertle stuff.

If it's an independent church, ask how do they really run things. Is one person seen as the undisputed chief honcho (regardless of whether there's a paper board)? Does one person write all the literature, preside over all the important decisions, claim a higher level of enlightenment than the sheeple? Are members - the people who attend services and provide financial support - able to reach important decisions by meeting and discussing the issues without a Yertle pulling rank?

If it's a national body, the same principles apply. Who puts the leader(s) in charge? (And no, it sure isn't God!) What are the checks and balances? Is it effectively a one man band? If there's an elected structure, who gets to do the electing? The Church of God (Seventh Day) is a good example of how things can work. Is everybody happy? No, but everybody gets a chance to be heard and be taken seriously. Those who find that objectionable are probably budding Yertles, and like Herbert Armstrong, are better off fouling another puddle.

I'm sure there are some good people involved in the various Port Austin factions. But can you imagine trying to live a compassionate, Christian life while you're dealing with that kind of baggage? Even PCG might be preferable: there may be just as much toxin in their pond, but it's big enough to at least dilute it down a bit.

Yertles both great and small abound in COG history, and they all seem to collect tithes. But the real hero of that story is the "plain little turtle whose name was just Mack," the long-suffering little guy at the bottom of the heap who finally wises up and walks away.

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