HAPPY VALLEY, PA – World renown televangelist Jimmy Swaggart used to schtup prostitutes. He hid it from his faithful flock until he was finally exposed. Not exactly behavior becoming a man of the cloth, particularly a culturally conservative Holy-Roller like him.
Catholic priests have been fondling kids for Lord knows how long, and the church covered it up in one country after another. Again, not the kind thing the collared crowd stands for.
Now it turns out that Penn St. assistant coach Jerry Sandusky used his charity as a platform for sexually molesting boys. And once more, there was a cover up that apparently went to the highest levels of the school: a complete betrayal of the values a university stands for.
On some level, it’s not about the individual crimes. A broken person like Swaggart or Sandusky can appear anywhere, unfortunately. Rather, a more pressing question is why is there a pattern of institutions such as churches and schools readily betraying all of their deeply held values by engaging in a cover up when tragedies of this nature do occur?
It goes without saying that a church is specifically designed to protect and help people, while a university is dedicated to openess and honesty. These kinds of cover ups are absolutely antithetical to those values.
Of course there are many explanations for this pattern of institutional betrayal. But I think a particularly important and oft overlooked one is that it’s actually nothing new for many churches and schools to betray their values in a more general sense. That is, many religious institutions and schools are not being true to themselves in very basic ways.
If a church is really run like a church and a school is run like a school, then this kind of betrayal is far more shocking and unexpected. But all of these institutions betray their values when they are run like something else. In particular, they are often run like businesses and governments.
This is so obvious in the case of televangelists like Swaggert, that it’s a cliche to cast many of them as mere charlatans, con men using religion as grift. And in some cases, rightly so. But even a more established religious institution like the Catholic church engage in commerce and governance.
For starters ,the Vatican is literally a government, a tiny little nation unto itself. And on a commercial level, the church is also one of the richest institutions in the entire world, holding vast wealth and overseeing a global network of largely self-sustaining enterprises.
If the Catholic church, and many other organized religious institutions for that matter, are coy about operating like businesses and governments, universities have been much more brazen about it. In fact, many university administrators practically brag about how they strive to run their schools like a business, emphasizing efficiency and revenue, paying little more than lip service to educational values, and routinely referring to students as “customers.”
But here’s the the thing. Governments and businesses have fundamentally different missions and priorities than churches and schools. And when you adopt those priorities and pursuits, new values are bound to follow.
Credibility is a government’s lifeblood, so they do whatever they can to maintain it, and politicians routinely go to great lengths covering up not only their personal misdeeds.
Businesses are of course highly competitive and concerned with earning profits. Consequently, they will typically do what they can to eliminate threats. Thus, it becomes normal to consider something like a sexual assault lawsuit against the head of your organization, such as were filed against Herman Cain when he ran the National Restaurant Association, to be a legal nuisance. In that light, it can seem perfectly rational to simply pay off the victims within reason to secure the business operations. Penalizing or correcting your top gun is beside the point and maybe even counterproductive.
When a church or a school operates like a government or a business, it inevitably begins to internalize and even exalt the values of government or business. And once you’ve internalized the values, actions will soon follow.
Indeed, when news of Paterno’s tacit role in this reprehensible affair and his subsequent dismissal rocked the Penn State campus, most of the customer/students didn’t express their disgust at the molestation and cover up. Instead, they protested the firing of Paterno by rioting in the streets. After all, may of them see themselves primarily as customers instead of students, they pay good money for an entertainment product in the form of college football, and Paterno is the seminal figure in that product.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise when people at an institution completely betray their values when the institution itself has already been doing so by aping inappropriate models.
Of course a business needs to be run like a business and a government needs to be run like a government. But at the same token, a church needs to be run like a church and a school needs to be run like a school. Anything else will foster an environment that leads to this kind of hypocrisy.