Authority figures

Resolving ecclesial issues

There’s an old bumper sticker with the words “Question authority.” To which the proper response, of course, is: “Says who?” As that reply suggests, suspicion of authority, however well advised, does not solve or clarify the problem of authority. Whenever we want someone to heed what we’re saying, we end up invoking or assuming some kind of authority. Even the antiauthoritarians occasionally like to speak with authority.

These days, an exercise in word association would probably elicit abusive, oppressive and misused before hitting upon any benign terms to go with authority. We instinctively tend to regard authority as something that constrains people, not as something that empowers them. But clearly authority does both—and it empowers precisely because it also constrains.


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