Tuesday, December 24, 2002

I found what Maggie Ross had to say on obedience interesting. I'm not sure what church she's from, but it's certainly either Orthodox or Catholic:

Much has been made of obedience in the past, obedience to earthly superiors. There is a profound rationale behind this idea, yet today, there are few in positions of leadership who are free, kenotic, and apolitical enough to warrent such obedience . . . Not to count, in institutional terms, is to be set free. It may mean that one is not listened to; it may mean that one is generally ignored, or it may seem so. This is not to denigrate all institutions by implication: it is simply to say that a person who does not have to answer to others' power is free to proclaim that the emperor has no clothes on. This is not an abrogation of power, but an assumption of responsibility.. . An institution can be a vehicle for God's power only insofar as its leadership and members function in a kenotic attitude. God's love is not impeded by anything, but power in the name of God is possible only by kenosis. . .

We in the West have had thrust on us an idea of obedience which not only is not the obedience of the early church and the desert, but also has been the excuse for spiritual and political tyranny. The obedience of the early church and the desert is one of mutual discernment, made with prayer, fasting, and hesitancy. Particularly in the desert, the mothers and fathers were loath to give directives. They would rather teach by example, and so aware were they of the human condition and their own sins, that instead of judging they would rather have an opportunity to forgive.


This is, of course, a very different attitude than what Baha'i institutions have. (Of course, Ross is implying here that this is not the attitude of most Christian institutions, either.) First of all, it would be denied that the UHJ is an "earthly superior", since it is supposed to be the recipient of unfailing divine guidance, and is supposed to be obeyed because of that. Secondly, the Baha'i institutions are not kenotic -- they do not pour out; the friends are supposed to pour themselves out to the administration, endlessly sacrificing time, money, energy, but nothing will be given to the ones who do so. Not even a decent "Thank you" -- just demands for more. But a soul has to have a full cup in order to pour out endlessly; human beings have a limit. And finally, there is no forgiveness, and certainly not any awareness that the administration itself is composed of fallible, sinful human beings like the rest of us. Ask any Baha'i that has lost administrative rights, and been dropped and forgotten by his community. There is no compassionate understanding that we are all in the same struggle together, when we struggle with our own failings.

So, those of us who are among the unenrolled are out here saying that the emperor has no clothes. I don't know whether we are listened to or not, except for those whose Baha'i experience prepares them to listen.

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