Some people are knee-jerk liberals. Some people are knee-jerk conservatives. Brian McLaren, former “emergent” evangelical who is the latest darling of the religious left, seems to have become a knee-jerk Christian-kicker. Almost anything is now fodder for McLaren to pummel American Christianity. The latest hook to set his knee swinging is bad engineering. Really:
Could I suggest that the West Virginia Massey coal mining disaster and the Louisiana BP oil spill are a reflection, not just of the dysfunctionalities of extractive industries, but also of the dysfunctionalities of popular American Christianity?
Last time I checked, “popular American Christianity” doesn’t run BP or Massey Coal. But McLaren is apparently privy to some inside information.
Both disasters represent failures on multiple levels. Political leaders failed to provide adequate regulatory oversight. News directors and journalists failed to investigate corporate threats to public safety and health. Boards of directors and accountants failed to provide due diligence in risk management. Chief executives failed to create a culture of safety and responsibility in their organizations. Mid-level managers failed to stand up as whistle-blowers when they saw corners being cut and risks being taken. And engineers failed to build sufficient structural strength and fail-safe back-ups for emergencies.
And some of it may have been, you know, accidental. I’m sure there were management and engineering problems involved, but the implication of both McLaren’s remarks and those of the political left generally is that these terrible events were solely the results of the greedy machinations of Bob Evil and Evilcorp, which don’t give a hang about their workers and will do absolutely anything to make a buck. I have no doubt that there are such people in pretty much any corporate setting, but the truth is that that approach tends to cost companies far more in the long run than can be made in the short, so that most companies are dominated by the risk-averse, rather than the damn-the-torpedoes types. Anyway, there is at least some truth in what he says here. The next step is a leap off a cliff, however.
Many of the politicians, news directors, journalists, directors, accountants, executives, managers, and engineers in question attend church on a regular basis. Whether they go to a traditional Catholic mass, a high-intensity charismatic megachurch, a staid evangelical chapel, or a quaint Protestant high-steeple congregation, they apparently did not hear a challenge to integrate their faith with their professional lives. If the spiritual leaders of their faith community sent them out with a missional benediction — such as “Go forth to love and serve the Lord in your home, neighborhood, and workplace” — the message wasn’t conveyed with sufficient fervency to get their attention.
This is apparently an effort to see how many negative assumptions he can pack into one paragraph. 1) He assumes that “many” of the people he indicts in the previous paragraph are church-goers (for that matter, he assumes “many” of them are Christians, which may or may not be the case). Given that hardly anyone in Great Britain goes to church any more, that’s almost certainly not true about the vast majority if not all of the management of BP, as well as the British “politicians, news directors, journalists, directors, accountants…and engineers” who might have been able to do anything about the oil spill from there. With Massey, it’s a fairer assumption, but it’s still an assumption. 2) He assumes that none of those who do worship ever hear a call for personal responsibility in business, direction regarding corporate ethics, or “a challenge to integrate their faith with their professional lives.” This may be true–but the fact is that McLaren has no way to know this unless he’s talked to a lot of people in West Virginia, Louisiana, and Great Britain. I’m betting he hasn’t. 3) How does he know what kind of “fervency” might have been on view in the benediction of those churches? Has he actually attended any of them? 4) How does he know that the message wasn’t conveyed in a way that was sufficient to “get their attention”? Maybe they heard it, considered it, and decided that they were already doing all they could? Or maybe that they simply didn’t take it seriously? Why the need to kick church leaders of whom McLaren almost certainly knows nothing?
So a message to pastors and priests this Sunday: You share in the ethical responsibility of every decision made by your parishioners. If you inspire them to deepen their sense of ethical responsibility; if you give them courage to stand up for what’s right even if it means losing their job; if you sharpen their moral vision to see something beyond the morally bankrupt single bottom line of profit — you are doing God’s work. But if you don’t, no matter how big the attendance and offering numbers are, you are selling out. You are part of the same dirty economy as BP and Massey, thinking of your organization’s well-being and not of your responsibility to the community. You are part of a religious extraction industry, making a living by extracting time, energy, and money for the benefit of your enterprise rather than mobilizing and deploying agents of ethical responsibility and goodwill in the community and for the common good.
All I can say is that it’s a good thing this guy doesn’t have oversight responsibility for any pastors. I would hate to work under a person who thinks, without ever experiencing the work I do, that if one of my parishioners screws up on the job, it must be because I’m inadequate at “inspiring” them, providing them with backbone, or clarifying their moral vision. McLaren was evidently such a fabulous pastor that he feels himself entitled to point the finger at others and declare that if they actually have sinners in their congregations, they are obviously “selling out.”
Thanks for the message, St. Brian.