Ask the Anarchist Reverend is a weekly feature here on the site. If you have a question you’d like to ask, you can send me an email (anarchistreverend at gmail), find me on twitter, or submit your question using formspring.
Today’s question: Can you be an anarchist Roman Catholic/Orthodox, or do anarchist politics relate strictly to non-hierarchical Protestantism?
Couple of caveats before we start: I am not (nor have I ever been) either Roman Catholic or Orthodox. So I answer with only a limited knowledge of how those structures work. I am, however, Old Catholic and so I know a little bit about the polity and structure.
In my mind there are a couple of levels to this question: can one be a Christian anarchist and a lay person in a hierarchical movement? And, can one be ordained in these organizations as a Christian anarchist?
I would say a tentative yes to both of those questions, although I think being ordained is a bit trickier.
The key thing about Christian anarchy, for me, is that one obeys and listens to the law of God and follows the way of Jesus over all others. So long as the instructions a person gets don’t go against the law of God, I don’t see much of an issue with being in a hierarchical structure, so long as that structure isn’t oppressive. I think one could make the case that the Roman Catholic church has become oppressive. There is, in my mind, also an issue with how money is spent. With the amount of money the Roman Catholic church (in the United States at least) is using to pay out money for sexual abuse cases (in order to keep them out of court often) and pouring into anti-gay marriage amendments there is a real problem.
As a lay person in the church I think you have to weigh what will be required of you by joining a church like the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox church. Do they require you to go against your conscience in order to keep the party line? Do they silence you? Do they prohibit you from leading in the way in which you are called? Does the way they operate/use money/preach go against the law of God?
One of the things I was concerned about in joining the North American Old Catholic church was the hierarchy. But the thing with the NAOCC is that there isn’t the massive amount of money, nor are there oppressive power structures. In my vows of obedience, I vowed obedience first to God and then to the Bishop. If I ever feel that I am being told by my Bishop something that contradicts God I will not hesitate to refuse to obey, and if need be, to leave the NAOCC.
With any structure we have to ask, what purpose does this serve? Is this being used to silence voices or to make sure voices get heard? Is this structure to make sure things get accomplished in a timely manner or to push through the leader’s own agenda? I think that structures can be good and useful. One can be a leader without being a tyrant. The struggle is that often when one becomes a leader the power goes to their head. That’s the real problem with hierarchy: human selfishness and lust for power.
I am hopeful that the NAOCC will avoid those traps; that we can keep one another humble and that our structure will lead not to oppression but to division of labor as best suits our talents and callings.