By Alan Bean
Two facts struck me last night as I watched The Abolitionists on PBS. First, the amazing characters who shaped the movement were all people of faith. Second, the abolitionists were not warmly received by the institutional churches of their day.
Thus has it always been. Movements and institutions have a troubled relationships. It’s the way of the world.
In early December I listened to Brian McLaren describe the awkward but potentially fruitful relationship between institutions and movements. Institutions, in Brian’s understanding, conserve the gains made by past social movements. Movements make proposals or demands to current institutions to make progress toward new gains. Organizations and movements need one another but inevitably frustrate and anger each other.
Movements harden into institutions so they can survive. New movements are created when institutions become too inflexible to respond to present challenges.
Without movements, institutions stagnate. Without institutions, movements evaporate.
McLaren notes that some movements successfully inject their values into the institutions they challenge. Other movements create their own institutions or pass away–it must be one or the other. (more…)