24 September 2010

Naming the Demons

Over on the blog of my cyber-friend, Allan Bevere, I've been ranting a lot recently about what I call "the institutional church". This evening, I came across the quote below by Richard Rohr.

I'm prepared to own these words, but I didn't write them - I wish I had. I'm happy to dialogue with readers (if there are any of you left) about what these words mean to me. Sometimes it's just good to know that you haven't totally gone off the deep end. (Please, no comments from the Peanut Gallery!)
The three great things that in my opinion we have to let go of are the following. First there is the compulsion to be successful. Second is the compulsion to be right - even, and especially, to be theologically right. That's an ego trip, and because of this need churches have split in half, with both parties the prisoners of their own egos. Finally there is the compulsion to be powerful, to have everything under control. I'm convinced that these are the three demons Jesus faced in the wilderness. And so long as we haven't looked these three demons in the face, we should presume that they're still in charge. The demons have to be called by name, clearly, concretely, practically, spelling out just how imperious and self-righteous we are. This is the first lesson in the spirituality of subtraction.

That lesson also has many social and political implications and leads us to letting go of our political mythologies: for example, that we're the best country in the world, as many Americans believe. Pretty soon we've got to overcome nationalism - there isn't a lot of time left. We also have to give up the compulsion to possess so many thing and to have our own private stock of everything. The fact that not every one of us needs our own auto or washing machine would naturally make a good argument for physical community.
From "Simplicity: the art of living" by Richard Rohr, (Crossroads Press, New York 1992) p.44

I'll just briefly say that I think the church goes wrong when it buys into the ideas of being successful and powerful and when it pushes congregations and clergy to be these things. I think the point about being theologically correct is self-evident.


DaveW said...


Thanks. As yoou know I struggle most visibly with is number 2: being theologically correct. Hence my frequent rants against issues such as male headship.

I struggle as I can easily convince myself I am not arguing to be right but on behalf of justice.

PamBG said...


I think it's a tricky balance with number 2, isn't it? I don't know what Rohr would say but I was assuming that he was talking more denominations dividing because of theological issues (although he is Catholic, he regularly includes "Protestant issues" and it's clear that he's including Protestants in his concept of 'church'). But that's always a tricky thing for "liberals": How do you stand on your own truth whilst giving space for the truths of others?

I guess the question is, is there a way that we can co-exist?

Jonathan Robinson said...

can't see anything to argue about there!

PamBG said...


The church here in the US has been very much pushing for "success". They want more people in the pews, more money coming in and they evaluate ministers on the basis of how many new members they get. This is quite explicit.

In the UK, I don't think that ministers get evaluated as "successes" or "failures" according to new members. Although I do think there is still a temptation on the part of everyone to see growth in membership as "successful" and non-growth of membership as "failure".

Sadly, I think it is often the churches that teach anti-Christianity (the sinner shall be punished, the not-us shall be exiled, the first shall be first) that have a greater tendency to grow than the church full of broken odd-balls who need forgiveness.

stf said...

how do we define success
and how did /does Jesus?

seems to me therein lies the problem!