More bits of paper come through the door containing election material for
loads more General Synod committees. My heart groans. We are not a
mission-shaped Church. We are a committee-shaped Church, run by committee
people for committee people.
Once committees get established, they are self-propagating. People who put
themselves forward for them are generally those who think committees are a good
thing. So committees self-select in favour of those who work in a particular
way. As every new challenge emerges, the committee invariably sees yet another
committee as the answer.
Like ground elder, once the committee system has taken root, it's a devil of
a job to get rid of it. It grows and spreads and chokes the life out of the
other plants in the garden. The nightmare of the committee-shaped Church is
that we end up with all the energy and charisma of a call-centre in Slough - a
vision of the Kingdom being replaced by a discussion of last month's minutes.
Back in the mid-part of the 20th century, philosophers such as Theodore
Adorno were warning about the changes to society that were being brought about
by the extension of bureaucracy. He argued that, in the wake of the
Enlightenment, social policy came to be dominated by a way of thinking
characterised by evaluation, measurement, and testing. In this efficient style
of thinking, subjectivity is steadily eradicated.
As he put it: "Thinking objectifies itself to become an automatic,
self-activating process - an impersonation of the machine that it produces
itself so that ultimately the machine can replace it."
One of the important aspects of Adorno's vision is his claim that such
systems of thought are good at means-and-ends questions, but unable to answer
(or even ask) "why" questions. Indeed, he argues, it was precisely this
emphasis on efficiency - yet the failure to question why - that created
blindness in thousands of Germans who worked towards the establishment of the
Nazi death camps.
The committee-shaped Church is also good at blocking out questions of the
wrong shape, and focusing instead on efficiency and management. It is so
ironic. One of Adorno's observations is that this style of thought is
peculiarly secular, a consequence of the universe's becoming cold, technical,
and disenchanted. No wonder there is clergy burn-out. We thought we were
reaching for the Kingdom. Years later, we realise we are working for just
another multinational conglomerate.
The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, and lecturer in
philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford.