Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Pondering corruption in the churches

"Corruption in religious instituions is specifically disturbing because these institutions and their representatives are worldwide seen as moral authorities, even in secualr societies. If even pastors and bishops are corrupt, who else can set benchmarks of truth and transparency?"
Christophe Stückelberger of

One of the privileges of being a proof reader is that you get to read books before they are published sometimes. Currently I'm going through an interesting upcoming publication called "Corruption free Churches are possible". It's going to be an excellent resource on issues of transparency, governance and corruption and I'll post a link once it's published.

It has set me thinking though. As a pastor, as an ordained minister, I am keen never to pretend that I am any different from others - neither holier, nor less prone to sin, nor closer to God, nor less vain ... of course we should be shocked when Christians and bishops and pastors lie, or line their pockets ... but I wonder about setting up the religious as supposed paragons of rectitude. Like other Christians I'm just a human being trying imperfectly to follow Jesus. As a pastor I've never felt myself to be a "moral authority" (even tho' I know I can be moralistic on oaccasions) though I have often keenly felt moral responsibility.
Perhaps that's the way forwards - Stückelberger's previous publications have been on responsible leadership - a corruption free church is possible if we all take our moral responsibilities more seriously. One of the things I find particularly heartening in the line that is set out in the book is the multi-disciplinary, systemic and networked approach to tackling corruption that is proposed - linking gender issues (the more women organizations have in leadership the less corruption there tends to be - churches take note!) with structural issues (obsession with hierarchy can encourage corruption).
A friend who recently retired as a church leader with responsibility for congregations and clergy said that one thing he had learned was how bad at managing finance many clergy were. How "responsible" is it of the churches to pay clergy low wages and expect long hours alongside moral rectitude?
Then I think of the time I lived through in the GDR after the fall of the wall and how everyone was obsessed with which pastor or church official had been an (IM) unofficial worker for the Stasi (secret police). A person who knew the GDR churches well remarked at the time that there was actually a much bigger scandal around how money, Western money and state money, had been used by the churches in the GDR yet no one was very committed to writing that story - interstingly noone seems to have done much research in that area.
So I suppose I am left with the thought that although I am not perfect I am still called to exercise leadership both responsibly and accountably.