Thank You, Anarchy: Part 2, Horizontal Over Vertical

I don't expect there are too many church leaders who spend time reading about anarchist movements for insights into the church. But one of the reasons I do this has to do with horizontal versus vertical organization.

The Holy Grail of anarchist movements is a radically horizontal organization. Most churches, by contrast, tend to work with a vertical organization, at least partially. At the top is an executive pastor or minister and some sort of leadership, eldership board. Power and control then flows down vertically, from the top to the bottom.

What interests me here is how, for most churches, we can't really imagine ourselves organizing our communities any other way but vertically. Our vision of church is held captive by a corporate imagination. There has to be an Org Chart and a hierarchical power arrangement. Somebody has to be "in charge."
Given this, one of the benefits of reflecting on anarchist movements like Occupy Wall Street, is how hard anarchists push against verticality, how they imagine and experiment with all sorts of ways to organize large groups of people horizontally. To be sure, as Nathan Schneider recounts in Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse, struggling for horizontality is a fragile business and takes hard work. Sometimes, to make "progress," you just want someone to be in charge and make a decision.

But in many ways, as Schneider shares in his book, progress is simply the process of fighting for and creating the horizontal structure. Notoriously, Occupy didn't make concrete policy demands. So it was unclear what Occupy "wanted." But as became clear, what Occupy wanted was the horizontal vision of social and economic relations it was experimenting with, envisioning, and demonstrating. What Occupy wanted was Occupy. The people wanted American life to be more inclusive, democratic, and participatory. The "demand" was for more horizontality.

Now, while we could debate the good and bad of Occupy Wall Street, and I'm sure reader opinions will vary, what I find helpful about meditating about that movement was how I wish the church had a little more thirst, hunger, and desire for radical horizontality. Again, like in my Part 1 observation about how we can't imagine church without electricity, technology, and amplification, we also can't imagine church without vertical organization and hierarchy. We just can't imagine an organizational alternative.

And yet, there are alternatives. And even if we think we have to have some verticality (and the struggles of Occupy lend themselves to such a conclusion), couldn't the church push for more and more for horizontality? Sure, criticize Occupy all you want, but who do you think is trying harder to obey Jesus, the anarchists or the church?:
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave." (Matthew 20.25-27)

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