Presence on page 10 argues, 'Even as conditions in the world change dramatically, most businesses, governments, schools, and other larger organisations, driven by fear, continue to take the same kinds of institutional actions that they always have.'
The credit crunch is a recent example of this, where in Britain the stated intention of the government, supported by the BBC, is a return to normal. Which particular normal do they mean? The last few years where people have been encouraged to take on increasing amounts of debt they cannot afford, massive inflation in house prices and all of this supporting artificially high prices in the stock markets? On the contrary the credit crunch is an extremely painful return to normal after a few years aberrant behaviour. No reference is made to climate change or other damage to the environment or human relationships by the behaviour that has delivered us into this problem.
Why do institutions behave in this way? I believe it is a crisis in leadership. We lack good role models for leadership and as leaders perceive a loss of their own authority they panic and cease to offer the very leadership they are there to deliver. The problem is an implicit understanding of leadership as an award for good behaviour rather than as a responsibility taken on the behalf of others. Many leaders say they believe the latter but observation of their behaviour suggests the former is their real belief.
This has two unfortunate side effects. First, it means decisions are made by uninformed, leaders who panic because they do not understand why their actions do not lead to their expected result. Second, many people are left out of the decision making loop who, although on their own would be no more competent than their leaders, together through a pooling of insights might be able to inform leadership.
In general, churches seem to mirror what is happening in society rather than set examples of good leadership. Too many leaders are fearful of loss of authority and do not make full use of the experience available to them through their congregations. Within my own tradition, we can look back to a time when lay people had a significant stake in leadership. Through well ordered societies, classes and bands Methodists not only supported each others' spiritual development but learned how to organise. Consequently, their learning spread into many working class movements especially during the nineteenth century. The best leaders based their decisions on their critical listening to what was happening in the local societies. Perhaps, this continues to the present day although the waters are muddier than they could be.
There is a blessing available to any leader in any tradition who is prepared to listen to what lay people are saying.
The ecumenical movement should be a movement of lay people. Indeed my conclusion after listening to the problems encountered by many local ecumenical initiatives is that their success depends upon lay leadership. So many ambitious ecumenical initiatives hit difficulties, when key ordained leaders leave, because they have not successfully engaged the support of lay people. Consequently, when the next ordained leader arrives, perhaps with less interest or experience in ecumenism, the previous work is devalued or abandoned.
So, whilst lay people are not trusted on the ground, their contribution to ecumenical policy is also devalued. Progress to full visible unity is measured by the degree of agreement between senior theologians and church leaders. As a consequence it is difficult to develop the methodologies whereby people at all levels in the churches might contribute to the growth of ecumenical relationships.