“Renewal of trust in institutions will not happen unless the institutions recover their integrity, and that will not happen unless the people who work within them become pious—devoted, faithful, committed not to their own personal flourishing but to the flourishing of that which they serve. And if, as we have seen, utilitarianism banishes piety, the restoration of piety will depend on the banishing of utilitarianism.” -Alan Jacobs
A recent podcast episode detailing the poorly handled accusations of sexual misconduct in a well known Christian institution got me thinking. In the interview, the newly appointed CEO claims their institution is one that champions the equality of men and women. He says they are egalitarian and things like sexual misconduct are not acceptable for this vital Christian institution.
The CEO and interviewer went back and forth and then the question of power came up. The interviewer asked something like:
Is it possible the culture of the institution was built on unhealthy power structures and keeping the name of the organization in good standing was all that mattered?
The CEO wasn’t able to answer the question with any authority, as he wasn’t around when the allegations came about. Fair.
But I found the exchange around power enlightening. You can have an institution built on the equality of men and women and yet sexual misconduct can still happen. You can have a community built on the premise that everyone is equal and everyone gets a voice and yet people are diminished and voices aren’t heard.
You can preach a gospel of equality between the sexes and yet in practice women in the same institution are given no voice when allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior are discovered and they come forward.
What is going on here? I’m not sure the issue is whether an institution is egalitarian or complementarian or authoritarian or communist. I wonder if the key aspect is whether the institution has an unhealthy view of power? Any institution that demands their name be saved at all costs despite allegations of abuse is not a name worth saving.
Or, is there a combination of unhealthy power and a lack of piety? What does piety have to do with anything? Alan Jacobs, in the quote above, says this about pious people in institutions:
“(They are)… devoted, faithful, committed not to their own personal flourishing but to the flourishing of that which they serve.”
The people make up institutions. If the people in these institutions don’t have the “integrity” and desire the flourishing of the humans in which they are called to serve, it will not surprise us when a culture of sexual deviants becomes acceptable. When piety isn’t celebrated and pursued and championed in our lives and institutions, don’t be shocked when power-hungry men and women shut down the voices of those being harmed.
Piety and pious is an old word, yes. But it’s a good word, a powerful word, and a word and posture worth pursuing. Imagine companies, churches, political leaders, educational institutions, and in every sphere of society, communities pursuing the good and flourishing of the other. What if in the things we make and the people we have relationships with, we didn’t make it all about us?
What if the flourishing of others and the people we serve was the goal? We would gain back some credibility in our institutions. I’m certain many of the toxic cultures where women and minorities are treated poorly would diminish.
I’m certain we’d get hints of hope if piety was the pursuit of our lives.
Let’s consider the flourishing of others and not only our only personal flourishing.