Aaaargh. We have, willy-nilly, stumbled onto one of my heretofore unidentified hot buttons! “The Church is what you make it.”* If you are a woman who is not entirely content with the status quo, you will have heard this many, many times. I hear it most often from my brothers and my mother “Kristine, I don’t know why you have to be so negative all the time; can’t you just be grateful for the Church and work within your sphere of influence?” My mother’s particularly ghastly version of the argument includes references to Holocaust victims who survived the concentration camps by being cheerful and trying to help others as much as they could.
Of course, the statement is true on its face, and as far as it goes. It is true that individuals have a choice as to how they will respond to circumstances, whether those circumstances are divinely willed, naturally occurring, or institutionally mandated. Natural disasters, acts of God, and institutional injustice have all served as fertile ground for individual nobility and heroism. However, applying this truism in an institutional context can be a particularly subtle and dangerous way to shoot the messenger. By placing all of the responsibility for growth and happiness within an institution on the individual, it is possible to conclude that the institution need never adjust its course or rectify its failures. Saying “the Church is what you make it” has as its subtext “shut up, quit complaining–the Church works just fine for me because I am virtuous and proactive; if it’s not working for you, it must be because there is something wrong with you.” Of course there are people who are chronically and groundlessly malcontent (I may be one of them!), but if we assume that anyone whom the shoe pinches fits into that category, we will undoubtedly miss opportunities for institutional growth and needed change. Worse yet, we may add to the pain of our brothers and sisters who are already suffering in large and small ways because of the imperfections of the earthly, divinely guided but oh-so-human Church.
*Although Jordan used this phrase in the comments on the last post, he was not deploying it in all of the ways that I have reacted to here. His use of the phrase was quite limited, and while I disagree that the Church does not bear responsibility for meeting people’s needs (or trying to meet some of them), I’m not attacking Jordan’s statements specifically. I would do that in the comments, if I felt the need.