Any time we find ourselves siding with the institution over conscience we are effectively standing in the crowd that gathered in Jerusalem that terrible Friday yelling ‘Crucify him!’
Clearly, that statement needs a little unpacking. What do I mean by ‘siding with institution over conscience’? Institution in this context can mean anything from an actual institution like church or university or company to a small collection of people gathered around a common interest. It doesn’t have to be religiously affiliated but it might be.
The ‘siding’ part of that statement indicates that there is an issue of some kind under debate.
The conscience aspect suggests that the issue under debate is not morally neutral. In such cases it is unlikely that there is a clear ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ rather a ‘better’ and a ‘worse’ which require ‘weighing’.
The dynamics so often associated with institutions tend to foster the more egocentric values – an increase in wealth, power or prestige is a powerful motivator. Institutions also favour compliance – it is hard to build a corporate identity (or group identity) without clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and what is not.
For the most part following those guidelines is not problematic until we get to a point where truly good people are being sacrificed in some way to retain the identity.
In many ways, I think that is what happened on that Good Friday. A good, kind, compassionate man who favoured love over compliance (not in a people pleasing everything is okay kind of a way, but in a courageous, truly loving way) became too much of a threat. And was, quite literally, killed for it.
How often have we been in situations where we have kept quiet whilst a truly good person is thrown to the wolves?
How often have we stayed silent as we witnessed an injustice?
It is so easy to be a smug ‘insider’. We are only too happy to be part of the in-crowd.
Or perhaps we are not so smug, we allow ourselves to feel the prick of conscience, but are too fearful to speak out for fear that we too will be ostracized. It is easy to soothe ourselves with the thought that at least we are aware of what we are choosing. But it is worth remembering that our actions are no different to our smug neighbors.
There are always compelling reasons to stay silent. But what Pilate saw that day was crowd of people shouting ‘Crucify him!’ – those who remained silent were hardly protesting the outcome!
As I contemplate these Holy Days I pray for the grace of forgiveness for the times I have not attended to my conscience and have taken my place in that crowd.