There are parallels between the history of the Roman Catholic Church and that of America, or specifically the U.S. Government.
Christianity began with a set of values presented and explained by Jesus Christ. These values were subsequently molded into a set of beliefs by Paul, who was the primary instrument in establishing the Christian church. As the Church became more organized and stable, it developed a layer of leadership and administration. The letters that Paul wrote to various groups of Christians became, along with the gospels, sources of authority within the church. And, as in any organization, there were leaders – i.e. those with a natural disposition toward shouldering responsibility, making decisions, and following them through.
Over time, these source documents (Paul's letters, in particular) were used as the foundation for a set of rules concerning how to behave, what to believe, etc. And naturally, those that were in positions of authority came to believe that the enforcement of these rules was essential to the existence of the Church.
The values that Christ delivered, then, became a set of rules that one was expected to follow, and not question, in order to be called a Christian and to ensure that one was behaving in the good graces of God.
As the organization grew and acquired momentum and respect, admittance to the organization (i.e. the right to call oneself a Christian) became less an issue of what one actually believed and more an issue of proving through statements and actions that one was accepting the rules and regulations necessary to gain admittance to the church. The rules of the organization itself came to supercede the values upon which the Church had been built.
America was founded upon a set of principles, values. Those values were what separated the rebellious colonists from British loyalists, just as the values conveyed by Christ were what separated Christians from non-Christians. And just as was the case with Paul and Christianity, the founding fathers of America were responsible for molding the values which had brought about revolution into a Constitution. The constitution was and is a set of values and is reflective of the atmosphere in which those values were decided upon and fought for.
Just as the early Christians were called by their values to stand up and defend them in the face of Roman tyranny, so too the colonists of early America took to arms to defend their values against the yoke of British tyranny. In both cases, there were new ideals in the air, new respect for the rights of the individual and a belief in a higher cause, one that was worth fighting for. And in both cases, the values that were being defended were subsequently molded into a set of beliefs that reflected those values. The Christian church was organized around the values espoused by Christ, and America was organized around the values held by the rebellious colonists.
Now, what happened to these two organizations over time? Let us first consider the Church.
When Constantine converted to Christianity, the table was set for the organizing techniques of the Roman Empire to be applied to the Church. By that time, the Church was a stable entity with resources and the ability to influence large numbers of people. It was an organization to which its members were quite loyal, and as such it was a valuable political entity. The Church had become a powerful organization, and therefore the leaders of the Church were instrumental in the wielding of that power – specifically in the decisions that were made.
As the Church became infused with the organizing and exploiting tendencies of Roman government, it became far more efficient at collecting resources and placing power in the hands of its leaders. The fact that its leaders were also entrenched within the government of the Roman Empire made it inevitable that the bureaucracy operating in the government would be replicated in the Church. And so it was.
The Church had grown far beyond simply a collection of people who shared common values. It had grown into a large and complex organization with priorities that revolved around acquiring and wielding power. The actual values upon which the Church had been built were difficult if not impossible to discern beneath the layers of politics and wealth.
America, too, went through the process of building an organization upon a set of values. The values had been tested and implemented through the revolution and were organized into a constitution. This constitution was then used as the foundation for a government that was established for the people, by the people.
The government of early America was, of course, an organization. And as with any organization, there were those within it who were naturally disposed to leadership roles. And, as with any organization, the decision making that was required by those in leadership roles grew in importance and took on the attribute of power.
The organization of America, similar to the organization of the Christian Church, eventually grew from a collection of people sharing common values to an organization that collected and wielded resources. The Church leadership and the U.S. government each developed into a bureaucracy that made decisions which affected the rest of the organization – that is, common Christians and common Americans. And as these bureaucracies grew, they became less focused on their founding values and more focused on preserving the organization itself.
Now, let’s take a step back for a moment and look at what actually took place in both instances. In both cases, an organization was formed of individuals that shared common values. The individuals and the values existed BEFORE the organization. The organization was the RESULT of individuals pooling their energy and their resources in order to express their values. And yet, in both cases, the organization became an entity in and of itself with values of its own.
The first priority of any established organization is to preserve itself. Otherwise, it will cease to exist, and it’s members will lose whatever benefits that organization was providing for them (wealth, power, identity, etc.). So the American leadership and the Church leadership became the decision makers whose first priority was the preservation of the organization, rather than the expression of the values which had brought that organization into existence.
Just as an individual has a set of values, so too an organization has a set of values.
An efficient organization is one which constantly and consistently reflects the values of its members.
What happened in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the U.S. government, was that the organizations themselves grew to be the source of their own values. And these values were then adopted by the rest of the members of the organization – Christians and Americans looked to their organizations for their values. The Church and the American government began to dictate rather than reflect the values of the individuals. The tables were gradually turned, and the people themselves began to reflect the values held and expressed by the organizations, rather than the other way around.
The Roman Catholic Church, as well as America, grew to become far more important than the individuals themselves.
The Roman Catholic Church was eventually challenged and exposed. The people finally saw clearly the corruption, the manipulation, and the deception. The Church was exposed for what it had become: a business, a political machine.
And now, America. Has America run the same course? Or a similar one? Has America grown from a collection of people who share common values to a business, a political machine?
And if so, what will it’s reformation be like?