Is Dissent a Bad Word?
I'm again digging into one of my favorite books that I've invested in, the great American essayist Wendell Berry's Citizenship Papers. Here's a quote:
But the proposition that anything so multiple and large as a nation can be good is an insult to common sense. It is also dangerous, because it precludes any attempt at self-criticism or self-correction; it precludes public dialogue. It leads us far indeed from the traditions of religion and democracy that are intended to measure and so to sustain our efforts to be good. "There is none good but one, that is, God," Christ said. Also: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." And Thomas Jefferson justified general education by the obligation of citizens to be critical of their government: "for nothing can keep it right but their own vigilant and distrustful superintendence." An inescapable requirement of true patriotism, love for one's land, is a vigilant distrust of any determinative power, elected or unelected, that may preside over it.Berry is careful, I think, to separate the person from the position. In other words, I would hope my people would trust me as a person. But when I am in a role as pastor, then I expect and hope that this "vigilant distrust of any determinative power" would exist. Of course, it is most difficult to separate the person from the office, but I think the distinction is important. Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton). I may be fine as a person, but in a position of responsibility I am exposed to new temptations, evils and powers. If I'm doing my job well, then there will be vigilant and vibrant discussion, disagreement, and even dissent. The cream is agreement. So, religious overseers: more questions:
- Do you humbly handle criticism as the overseer of your community without necessarily taking it personally?
- Does everyone play in your community? In other words, does everyone have a voice, even if it is a dissenting one?
- Do you reward affirmation and punish criticism?
- Do you admit your own errors and evils, or do you wait for a confrontation before you will criticize and correct yourself?
- Do you choose those you are accountable to, or do you allow the whole community direct access to the means of dissent?