Church, Inc.


**WARNING** More God talk to follow, and I might opine some things about the Church you may not want to hear. It’s a bit dry, too: you will probably experience all the fun you enjoy while selecting a color from a wall of white paint swatches. Feel free to skip the post, but don’t flame the author.

I just read this, from a recent Gallup study:

“just 30% of employees have a best friend at work. Those who do are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, have higher wellbeing, and are less likely to get injured on the job. In sharp contrast, those without a best friend in the workplace have just a 1 in 12 chance of being engaged.”

Of course, my mind went immediate to my last, longest workplace. I’ve experienced enough pain, and seen enough people be caused pain, in the name of the Biblical institutions of higher learning, that it could have me choking on my own vomit. I’ve heard any number of ex faculty and staff say they’d never return to that place. Not in a million years. And what makes this condition even more peculiar to me is that I can’t conceive of a community with more best friends: my closest, dearest friends, my family each one, with whom I saw the birth and growth of children, and cried at their spouses’ deaths. And when I left, I had a far lower chance than 1 in 12 of being engaged.

What was missing from the equation?

I have been mulling over this topic for a few years, and this is my first attempt to write anything about it. I’ve heard the same horror stories from people jaded by the Church. I’ve felt identical moments of hurt. In my experience, Christian corporations have a binary switch: they are ministries when it benefits them, and when that’s no longer a useful paradigm, they magically become a business. I jump back and forth, often conflating the College with the Church.  They believed themselves to be an extension of the Church, and it was easy for us to do so as well. By the way–I’m not meaning to complain, here. I’m simply wondering why? Don’t Gallup’s numbers add up for Christians?

I have a couple theories on the matter. One is a jurisprudential consideration, and has to do with the nature of corporations.  Justice John Marshall said (in Opinion to Dartmouth College v. Woodward, way back in 1819, just in case you care about that sort of thing):

A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it

Justice Marshall is telling us, in essence, that a corporation only has as much power as we give it. If this is so, we need to ask ourselves about our great Church’s “charter of creation.” Do we give all power and glory to God? or to the Church (and the power it has over us)? or to the Bible?  Are we, as an institution, sick if the focus of our religion is the Church, rather than its people?  I don’t know the answers. I just wonder if we, in our innocence, give too much power to the Church. It is, after all, an “artificial being” — enormously important in our abstractions of thought about our relationship with God and others, but artificial nonetheless.

My second thought has to do with one of expectations. We expect more of family, so when they fail to produce a desired outcome, the pain is that much greater. Perhaps the thought is oversimplified, but there’s substance to it. When everyone at work is your family, everyone at work is held to a higher level of scrutiny. When something happens, the topple from the peak of expectation is that much more painful and the pain is magnified. We are, after all, hard-wired to trust family.

For years, Judi and I worked for the same institution. We would get up in the morning, and discuss work over coffee. We’d maybe eat breakfast in the workplace cafeteria as we walked to our offices. At lunch, we’d discuss our days–the people we contacted overlapped, of course. That evening, if we were too tired, we’d eat dinner in the cafeteria again, the walk home, maybe watch the news, and then talk about work as we fell asleep. It was inescapable. We woke, and there work was. We ate work (quite literally, when I worked for a brief while for the Cafeteria). We slept in housing provided by–you guessed it–work. Work paid our salaries, which we used to pay rent to work, so we could stay in our house. We were so utterly self contained within our environment, that reflection was impossible. Like most couples, so as not to bore one another, we shared the extremely good and extremely bad episodes each day over dinner–not “I checked out a book today,” but “Some stupid trustee tried to shut down the library when he was offended by a magazine we receive.” These are not the reasons our relationship with this Christian organization dissolved; even in our interactions with our best friends, we talked about things related to our jobs. Bethany Bubble indeed.

A problem with all corporations is they magnify the greatest good as well as the worst faults of the people within that organization.  An amazing year in the library reflects well across the institution; so does a great year in Financial Aid. A year of struggling to keep the power on in the College brings down the morale of everyone. It’s not unique to the Church and its adjutant organizations, but it does make me wonder, if all this is true, what the world makes us so different in the first place?

A few years ago, I asked my friend Dr. Bobo what makes our Church so different from a beast like WalMart or IBM. In terms of structure, they’re strikingly similar: they operate under hierarches, they have a division and distribution of labor within their structure, they have roles and responsibilities. A church generally functions much as a corporation in the service industry. Why are we different? We’re not, he said. He believes that Christ has bought us, in a sort of a corporate redemption, as the Body of Christ. This alone sets us apart. Despite our corporate faults, God has paid a price, through his son. I guess that if this is true (and I’m not sure I believe it), in the end, it all comes down to faith and forgiveness (like most things in the Christian faith).  Sometimes I wonder if I have enough of either to get past the pain of being injured by a Christian corporation.

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3 thoughts on “Church, Inc.”

  1. Thanks for posting this… good food for thought. “Sometimes I wonder if I have enough of either [faith and forgiveness] to get past the pain of being injured by a Christian corporation.” For me, at this point, I don’t think I can. My faith in Bethany is dead; my faith in the Church has been all but destroyed; my faith in God has cooled down to a dying ember, and that is only because I want to believe (am picturing Fox Mulder’s “I want to believe” poster from the X-Files, but with a cross instead of a UFO). Forgiveness? Fuh-get-about-it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive; there are too many levels of hurt there. I’m not even sure if I can forgive myself for knowing what the place was capable of, but going back to work there 3 different times, thereby opening myself up to that hurt.
    For anyone who has not been hurt by the Church-Corporation, it is unfathomable the degree to which it can suck at your soul. Truly, the hurt and betrayal that resides in my heart from our experiences at Bethany is far greater than the hurt of knowing that I was sexually molested when I was three by an adult whom I loved and trusted. It’s that intense; it’s that personal.

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  2. I know the pain of the institution as I call it. Been there, felt that…whether BBC or religious institutions in general. You hit the nail on the head Brian and Truett was right to a large part. However scripture shows the true, intended structure of the church. In Eph. 2:20-22 Paul describes a foundation not a corporate pyramid. Since the church has strayed from this basic tenet of truth and done away with the key components God “gifted” to the Church aka Body of Christ – Apostles and Prophets, sadly it’s been crippled from it’s true purpose. Because of that the dysfunction of the Body has kept people from growing in the wisdom and knowledge of God. Forgetting who we are in Christ prevents us from walking in brotherly love, hence the woundedness. My wife and I stepped away from the religious system years ago for this reason. God has reestablished who we are and our purpose as the Church in this world. Until the religious institutions recognize God’s gifts again (why would God give us gifts and take them away?) it will never come back onto the true foundation and become the Bride without spot or blemish. There is so much more truth to say on this subject and I can only say what a friend told me (someone who attended BBC in the 60’s, but has been free for decades) be open to the revelation of God on this truth and He will open it up to you to answer your questions. Bless you Brian….

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  3. I think you hit the nail on the head. The church, like any business, is a catalyst. It intensifies every interaction. Having worked at the same institution as you, I also saw the best and worst of the people around me.

    I have friends at my current job, but they are work friends. We occasionally do something outside of work. But usually our relationships revolve around lunch or drinks after work.

    By way of contrast, when I worked at BBC, ALL of my friends were somehow related to the school. There was no off switch. It was also a small town, so there was no place I could go where I would not bump into another employee. Because of the intensity of the scrutiny that one experiences in church circles, I always had to ACT pious. The only time I could “let down my hair” was when I was with my inner circle of friends. That kinship served to intensify the relationships. I have not, nor will I ever, had as good of friends as I had at BBC.

    When I finally walked away from it, I wanted nothing to do with the church for years. Then, quite by accident, I found another faith community. It was healthy and beneficial. But I let myself forget that it was still a corporation. They made business decisions. And in the end, they hurt me just as much if not more than BBC.

    I still attend church weekly for family reasons. But I keep everyone at arms length. I never want to be hurt like that again. Sadly, I was unable to escape with my faith. I see no distinction between people of faith and those without.

    Sorry to clog up you blog comments. This one really hit home. Thanks for sharing.

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