What is it with human beings and human institutions? We often create hierarchies–structures of who is in power over whom. Who is in charge? Who is in authority?
We need structures to organize our society and ourselves. There is definitely a place for hierarchies. However, hierarchies can breed the thinking that, “I’m better, I’m superior.”
As a follower of Jesus, I remember a classic verse in which Jesus says, “Do not be like the rulers of the gentile who lord it over them.” (Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42, Luke 22:25) “Lording it over people” is something Jesus does not want his followers to do. In the verses that precede this, James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, are arguing about “who is the greatest.” Jesus uses their argument as a teaching moment and answers that his followers are “servants” and do not “Lord it over people.”
When we “Lord it over others” there can be a sense of superiority, like within hierarchies. The unfortunate reality of religion can be one of hierarchies. “My faith tradition is better than yours! My way is the only way to God. I have the truth!” As an Emergent Christian, I believe these unfortunate statements need to end. Religion can breed superiority. All people are children of God, loved by God.
One of the realities of faith in America today stems from a disrespect for institutions of religion in favor of spirituality. Spirituality is not hierarchical, but religion is. Emergent Christianity favors spirituality.
A religion that does not welcome ALL people becomes part of the problem. When religion says you have to be male to be in leadership, it becomes part of the problem. When religion does not welcome the LGBTQ community, it becomes part of the problem. These types of religious hierarchies are not helping foster love, tolerance and acceptance in our culture.
Religion is going out the window and spirituality is taking its place. Spirituality is not hierarchical, but is based on teachings such as, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” EVERYONE is able to do this, however some choose not to. Why? They must feel superior! They must have superior beliefs or superior knowledge or something superior that means they cannot love their neighbors as God created them to be. In their minds the neighbor has to change, so they think, to be part of the group.
Loving your neighbor as yourself is not hierarchical.
This world will be so harmonious if only we would live this one simple belief. Expect religious communities to do the same!
The Rev. Phil Spohn is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Hellertown, Pa.