Safeguarding the Institution from Revolution

By Bill Mefford

Dear Little Revolutionary,

We want you to know before we share anything else how much we love your zeal and passion. You will probably not believe this, but it reminds us of ourselves, oh so long ago. Yes, we used to have such zeal and passion too. We had dreams long ago that even now we can almost recall with a certain amount of nostalgia, though we realize now that the Institutional church needs dreams or visions. The Institution just needs our dedication.

Like all good things, those dreams have long faded away and given way to responsibilities. We no longer have the time or luxury to dream when we hold the reigns of responsibility for running the Institution that so many are dependent on for our well-being and even our sense of identity. While we recall past dreams with fondness, we quickly and easily cast those dreams aside as we realize the obligations of our beloved Institution has on our time and resources. But even more, the Institution defines our lives and gives us our identity. Dreams and visions are a small price to pay to serve the Institution.

We are writing you now because we see great promise in you and in your passion, though misplaced it currently is. You seem to have a connection with people in local communities and contexts, particularly among those people directly impacted by injustice that those of us serving the Institution fail to have. We certainly understand the relative importance of such passion. We may have even once felt something similar to that passion, though along with our dreams, we have seen the need to contain that passion and direct it for the good of the Institution; for from our Institution we derive purpose and identity.

But your passion concerns us. It seems to distract you from the needs and demands of our beloved Institution.

We have tried repeatedly to gently instruct you in your work among people directly impacted by injustice in ways that would be mutually beneficial to them and of course, our Institution. For instance, wouldn’t it be so much more beneficial to stop protesting and organizing against "injustice" and instead, pour your energy into inviting your friends on the margins into our existing churches? You have denied supporting the structures which make up our Institution and instead have sought to innovate new ministries and new networks dedicated, in your words, “to create a community among those who experience daily the crushing reminder of a society intent on marginalization and repression for the purpose of ending marginalization and oppression.” Surely you must know, since we have spent enormous sums of money hiring consultant after consultant to instruct you and others, that it is far more cost effective to plant new works in what we like to call “resource rich” areas, rather than the neighborhood you reside in. Yes, as you constantly and agonizingly remind us, Jesus incarnated himself among the poor. We hate to have to tell you though that Jesus was working with a far greater budget than we have access to (cattle on a thousand hills sound familiar?).

We have regularly tried to explain to you through seminars, workshops, episcopal letters, and even a time-consuming phone call from one of our assistants, that the enormous expenses of running our Institution that entail such responsibilities mean that we must streamline the time and resources used for such dreams as yours. Your dreams just do not fit in with our agenda in other words. Our own vision is handed down to us by the Book of Discipline which guide us in all of our work. It's not exciting, but that is exactly why we think it is wise to follow it.

In addition, you have awkwardly pointed out the numerous funding streams that exist in various programs in local and conference-level programs and budgets as well as national agency reserve funds, none of which have been used. It embarrasses us to talk about money with people at your level, but we have exhaustively explained to you that those monies are being saved so that our children and our children’s children can still benefit from the Institution that we all love so dearly; the Institution that has so defined our lives. 

Your insistence on following a New Testament model of church where resources are shared and change is made real, and your repeated failure to take into account the lack of cost-effectiveness of your attempts at innovating has forced us to do something we have no enjoyment in doing, but something we have sadly grown accustomed to. You see, we have seen the likes of you before.

Throughout history, even since our movement became an Institution, there have always been a remnant of people like yourself who hearken back to the days of the New Testament church or to when we were a movement, and who unfortunately and loudly proclaim that Jesus’ rhetoric of a coming Kingdom and the year of a new Jubilee, have some political, economic, and social relevance today. We have heard from people like you before, who so easily denounce our love for our Institution which gives us life and meaning, who judgmentally demand that we care for the most vulnerable, not only in society but even in our own Institution – the Institution we will protect with every fiber of our strength. We have seen far too often people like you who threaten to use the funded reserves we have safely tucked away from the sight of most of the members of our beloved Institution (which is for their own good mind you – they might want to use those funds like you are threatening to do!) and you want to use these funds for those undeserving people who have put nothing into the well-being of our Institution.

You want to sacrifice and serve.

We want to protect and sustain.

And we have had enough. Your words and your actions threaten the future and even the current state of our fragile, yet beloved Institution. You threaten the thing which secures our welfare and well-being. You threaten our identity and our meaning in life.

Thus, you have left us no choice. We have instructed our Human Resources executive team to “start a file” on you where we will record every time you issue a demand for justice for we will record that as an example of your unwillingness to collaborate with existing structures within our Institution. Every time you remind us what the Scriptures say as if we should take that as authoritative, we will record that as a refusal to follow the vision of what we have established and set forth and which comes to us from our equally beloved Book of Discipline. Every time you call for honesty and transparency we will record that as an example of unrestrained anger. We will build a case against you and we will discredit you. 

And we will win. The Institution always wins. And that is why our hearts and minds belong to the Institution. We know the Institution’s members will feel sorry you are “gone” but we know they are more dedicated to the Institution to you or to what you proclaim. Their sense of faithfulness to God can be conflated into the success of the Institution and so your presence will not long be remembered and your dreams will surely die as we continue to do the same programs we have always done while we "introduce" "new" programs. We know how to make it seem like we are dreaming too. But our mission is one thing and one thing only: to sustain and protect Institution. Institution’s members derive their meaning and identity from Institution as much as we do. 

And that is the power of Institution.

Farewell Little Revolutionary. History is littered with the likes of you. You may indeed have the Kingdom you constantly refer to, but we have the Institution and the power of the world belongs to us.

Sincerely,

Servants and Keepers of the Institution

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