Friday, January 27, 2012

Respect is a two way street

I typically do not try to pick on fellow Catholic bloggers.  Much less one whom I consider a friend or at least an ally.  But something has been bothering me since I read my friend Brandon Kraft's post about how respect is needed for leadership.  Mind you I consider Brandon an orthodox Catholic, and quite a knowledgeable one at that.

But I cannot help think that there is something missing from his post.  And I wouldn't mention it except that I feel that it is a vital part that is missing from the concept of authority.

To begin with consider my attitude toward authority, specifically religious authority that I have held in the past (and sadly still do at times).  I regard the bishops' authority as something that is used to bring dissident Catholics in line with the Church teaching.  Authority in this instance is for "other people, those dissidents."  Not me.  I'm fine in what I believe.

Now at times to me there are bishops that fail in this duty.  See any number of Catholic politicians who openly defy Church teaching with what appears to me to be little if any attempt on the part of their bishop to correct them (read: excommunication).  Clearly the bishops have failed to discharge their duty for these dissidents.  So why are they harping on my favorite political theory?

The previous two paragraphs are a sarcastic look at my previous view.  Just in case anyone get confused.  But an event later on began to change my view on my own relationship to authority.

A few years back I attended an end-of-year party for the Catholic young Adults hosted by the bishop.  We went to his lovely house and had a great party.  One of the things I noticed on one of the bookshelves was a framed picture with a saying on it.  I cannot remember the words precisely but it was something to the effect of: "Authority is what people call it when they listen to your opinion politely and then go off and do whatever they want."

At the time I found the saying amusing.  But awhile later it hit me.  Maybe I have the whole authority problem the American Church has backwards.  What if the lay Catholic is as much of a problem as the clergy?

I performed a thought experiment.  If I were a bishop who discharged my authority, but imagined that like many bishops, it seemed to have little to no effect.  How would I feel?  Is it even real authority if no one listens?  Would I doubt my ability to guide my flock?  Wouldn't it be tempting to simply say "it doesn't matter?"

That last question is particularly powerful to me.  If I as a layman seem to only regard authority as something only others have to obey, am I not also damaging the authority of the bishop?  Or the state?  If I say "Not my President?" how can I possibly claim to uphold the notion of the presidency?  If I do not conduct myself properly as a layman or citizen, why should I still expect the bishop or statesman to execute his office?  I have failed in my duty.  In that respect he is simply reciprocating the idea.

The authority is real, regardless of the attitude of either those in authority or their charges.  But in order for authority to "work" as God intended both sides of the coin must honor their side of the relationship.  The one in authority must respect their charges.  The one who is under authority must recognize that authority.

This to me is at the heart of the crisis of authority as it exists today in America.  The citizens, in how they protest, demonstrate that they have no respect for the office when they attack the person behind it.  Likewise, the ones in authority do not respect their charges, and so do what they want regardless of their duties.

As laity and as citizens we must rediscover this notion of respect for authority.  Without it the trust and respect necessary for authority to work will only continue to erode.  When we look at how the citizens are viewed by the state and the state is viewed by the citizens, is it any wonder why we are where we are now?        

1 comment:

Kraft said...

Colin- you're absolutely right.

No matter my opinions on the leadership of my bishop, senator, president, etc, they're still the duly-elected/appointed leader and that authority needs to be honored.

While I singled out a senator's treatment of the president and my perceived treatment toward me, gone are the days where everyone spoke of respect of all elected officials.

I'm not delusional enough to think I could begin to answer how the decline started, but you're right that it has occurred on both sides.

Perhaps it would be more correct to say that respect is needed for *effective* leadership. A leader/follower relationship with mutual respect will be more effective than one where, either side for whatever reason, lacks respect for their leader or their followers.

Thanks, as always, for reading and for continuing the conversation. Always feel free to add links any reaction posts in my comment section!