In his insightful and provocative book, David And Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell writes compellingly about the "principle of legitimacy".
When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters-- first and foremost--how they behave. This is called the "principle of legitimacy," and legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice--that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can't treat one group differently from another. (Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath, Little Brown and Company, 2013, p 207-8)
In his notes, Gladwell documents the sources of the principle:
The principle of legitimacy has been articulated by a number of scholars but three deserve special mention: Tom Tyler, author of Why People Obey the Law, (Princeton University Press, 2006); David Kennedy, author of Deterence and Crime Prevention (Routledge, 2008); and Lawrence Sherman, coeditor of Evidence-Based Crime Prevention (Routledge 2006). (ibid. p. 291)
Stories about classrooms in which the teacher is committed to rules, without actually seeing or listening to the students, and projects to reduce criminal behaviour in the eastern part of Brooklyn's Brownsville, demonstrate the polar ends of a continuum. In the classroom story, the rules mattered much more than the kids; the teacher's maintenance of "control" clearly trumped her interest in and dedication to providing a stimulating learning environment. However, in the Brownville story, a large female police woman named Joanne Jaffe, head of the city's Housing Bureau, decided that getting to know the persons on a list of 106 repeat juvenile offenders, their families and their unique and desperately poverty, including monitoring their every movement including their contacts, the subway trains they ride, the shops they visit would, (and did!) go a very long way to dramatically reducing recidivism. She even asked for and was given some $2000 in cash to purchase turkeys, (and later Christmas toys), and deliver them to the homes of these repeat offenders for Thanksgiving, as part of the process of re-building trust among the people in those homes, whose only encounter with law enforcement had previously been negative, and vengeful.
Another demonstration of the failure to apply the principle of legitimacy comes out of the role played by the British military in attempting to quell the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, in the late 1970's, when they arbitrarily shot Catholics, removed them from their homes and irreverently and unabashedly took over those same homes in a shameful demonstration or arrogance, unfairness and
the abuse of power.
Over the years, I have had many occasions to experience the abuse of power, at home, in the schoolyard, and in the many churches with which I came into contact. In other spaces here I have written about the home situation.
Here I wish to document some of the arbitrary power I have witnessed and experienced, that excludes the voices of those who are expected to "obey" ecclesial authorities. Serving in situations in which my assignment came without necessary and obvious support from the church hierarchy, I found that rules and expectations were "divined" by those who could, without regard even to a knowledge of the principles of legitimacy, never mind their application. In one instance, I was driven three hours to an "accountability session" in my faculty advisor's office, because an interim clergy wanted to wield excessive and abusive power over a mere newbie for having taken refuge in a small office in the territory in which the interim was then serving, because I had not asked for permission to rent that office. My reason for having secured the office was to protect my own sanity, given my knowledge and experience with the unsettled nature of the conditions in my assignment, of which the interim knew nothing and cared even less. At the "accountability session," although I had received written confirmation from the bishop of his intention to ordain me, that commitment was cancelled by that same bishop, arbitrarily and without my having any opportunity to present my side of the story, at which moment I slammed my fist into the table in front of me, and shouted, "You sonofabitch! I do not even know if I want to have anything to do with this organization ever again! I will need at least a month to reconsider my position." Letting my voice be heard was the last thing on the mind of those present: the bishop, the interim, the faculty advisor. There were no notes or transcripts of the meeting, and I recall quite literally shouting venom at the driver (the interim) on the return trip a full three hours.
The diocese and bishop did not consider it important enough to provide a single piece of information about the conditions in the first assignment to facilitate the assumption of that assignment, and effectively "threw me into the deep end of the pool" without any support, guidance or reprieve.
Prior to this kangaroo-court of the accountability session, and prior to this first assignment, I had formally requested a posting as a deacon under the supervision of an experienced clergy, in the parish to which I had been assigned as a summer intern. I had learned from an elderly clergy familiar with various funding sources in the diocese that funds were available for such appointments. My request was summarily denied, again without an opportunity to present my case.
Funerals of "important figures" were summarily taken out of my hands, by the presiding archdeacon, who then invited the former clergy to return to participate, without so much as a by-the-way of informing me of the decision. Of course, I was expected to do the leg work of providing the bulletins for the service, while being officially and unprofessionally excluded from participating.
Threats from conservative, evangelical parishoners, with big cheque books and prominence in the community, demanding my removal for preaching liberal "heretical" homilies (their choice of words) were given a deaf ear, when presented to the diocesan hierarchy in search of some support.
The residence in which I was told to live was eventually broken into by parishoners, while I was away, and once again, there was not a single word of support about how to deal with the situation, or how they would provide some guidance and counsel. (A similar event occurred with the clergy who followed my departure, upon which event she withdrew her services, something I clearly would do if I were to face a similar situation again.)
Another kangaroo court occurred in a subsequent appointment where I served as an honorary assistant. I had asked for a small stipend sufficient to cover travel from my residence approximately 50 miles from the church, knowing that the parish had a trust fund of at least half a million dollars, and also that the previous "honorary," a plastic surgeon who made big bucks, had returned the honorarium because he did not "need" it. In the process of attempting to decide about the small stipend, the presiding clergy, for whom I had substituted while she attending the United Nations Conference on Women in Bejing, was told in a unsolicited phone call from a parishioner (about which I knew nothing) that I was a leader and she was not...at which point she summoned a secret kangaroo court of some fourteen members, including herself, (to which I was not invited, nor about which even informed officially), a vote to retain my services was held, and reports of the vote from persons present ran 9- affirmative, 3 abstentions, and 1 or 2 negative. Nevertheless, I was never assigned work in that parish again, and after several months, upon inquiry of the then bishop as to the reasons, his only reply was, "Chemistry!" and the subject was dropped. Another report of my indiscretion involved a homily, in her absence, in the August of 1995, just following the election of Mike Harris' conservative government in Ontario. In the press, the week of one specific homily, reports indicated that Harris intended to cut funding from Wheeltrans, the transportation system in Toronto on which the disabled depended for access to their lives, their employment and their education and health care. In my homily, I spoke these words, "Someone has to stop this man from making these cuts, because these people need those services!" On her return, the presiding clergy was informed, "We can't have him saying negative things about the new premier whom we have just elected!" I would have to suspect that this encounter played a role in her secret kangaroo court decision, both to conduct it and to keep the results secret.
In a different situation, in the United States, I was again placed in an untenable situation, for which the church officials had been unable to find a person willing to serve after two years of unsuccessful advertising. I did not know about the advertising campaign, and was never told, prior to my engagement with the diocese. Once again, there was legitimate and abundant debate about whether the mission was "recoverable" given its deplorable history of having been on life-support. The interim who had served, intermittently, advised me directly, "You will need a completely new cast of characters, if you are to succeed here!" Seeing the rather monumental challenge, I did not see the iron-fisted resistance to change, especially change initiated by an "alien" from Canada, in a region of the country mired in the past, in rampant racism and a frontier mentality. Once again, I was given not a single word of orientation, nor, upon my desperate request for removal nearly three years into the appointment, was there any move of support. When I attempted to extricate myself from the situation, through applications both inside and outside the state, I was met with first, a parish seeking only a female candidate, and second a corporate charismatic parish "heavy-weight" who, speaking as a friend of the bishop, informed me that he was proud of having driven the last priest out "because he was not spiritual enough, and you're not either".
Seeking counsel and support during the nearly forty months of that appointment, through invitations extended to clergy from across the diocese, in exchange for the similar opportunity to share pulpits without a single taker, through submissions of my development as part of a training program for rural clergy, only to have my report judged as "sucking up to the canon" by the supervising Dean, and through what amounted to a formal "betrayal and set-up" by that canon who asked me to visit with him and the bishop and tell my story, "because I have tried to get him to hear me for nine years without success," turned askew. The bishop, in the middle of the meeting which he thought and believed I had called, (the canon did not have the guts to inform him that it was HIS request!) upon listening to my request for community, in these words, "I picture myself sitting in a small boat, attempting to tend the rudder while a few people, each with different "oars"- a golf club, a baseball bat, a branch of a tree, a piece of metal flayed out of sync at the water resulting in the little boat (the mission for which I was responsible) simply turning around and around without achieving a single common goal, and when I look at the diocese from the four hours away, I see the same thing happening here"....responded, "All these poetic words, and what it is that you want from me?"
He unfortunately was unable, or unwilling to hear what it was I was attempting to communicate...that the building of a community required leadership, some model to follow and some commitment to such a process.
When that bishop delivered his "convention charge" to the diocese outlining growth targets of 15% more dollars and 10% more people in the pews, I knew then that my respect for and commitment to that organization had fallen off the rails, and I also knew that I had and would never have any voice in the meetings that mattered in that organization. The pursuit of numbers of both memberships and dollars were the driving principle of that part of the organization, and that was not what I had signed up for, nor would it be today.
In one of our last meetings, when I invited that bishop both to read Matthew Fox and to consider the proposition that men needed to get in touch with their feelings, he screamed at me, "That must not happen; it is far too dangerous!"
His voice could be heard at least a block from the diocesan office, and continues to ring in my ears to this day!!
Sadly! and unfortunately, witnessing the total absence on the legitimacy principles!
Perhaps it is not hard to see how I might have become a disobedient participant in such an organization. When the leadership on both sides of the 49th parallel behaves in a non-supportive and extemporaneous and unpredictable manner, what else can one expect?