Richard Rohr is a Franciscan Scholar who created the Center for Action and Contemplation in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
His writings focus on the universal themes found in all spiritual traditions. Often his concerns are directed at the transformation of religious activity as a source of hope and societal betterment through love, to becoming part of established authority and values.
Richard: It’s possible to trace the movement of Christianity from its earliest days until now. In Israel, Jesus and the early “church” offered people an experience; it moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. When it moved to Rome and Constantinople, it became organized religion. Then it spread to Europe, and it became a culture. Finally, it moved to North America and became a business. This isn’t much of an exaggeration, if it’s an exaggeration at all. The original desire or need for a “Jesus” experience was lost, and not even possible for most people. Experience, philosophy, organized religion, culture, business—in each of those permutations and iterations, Christianity was seen as above criticism. It simply was the religion, the philosophy, the culture.
Parallels for the Cooperative Movement
Credit unions are just over a century old versus the two millennia of Christianity’s evolution. But it is hard not to see a similar transformation occurring in this very short experience. From a movement, to a self-supporting system, to an industry, and finally just becoming another option in the financial services business sector.
The “member’s best interest” has become a rhetorical phrase to justify leadership actions, organizational priorities and political lobbying positions that have nothing to do with member’s well-being.
While individual credit unions may pursue their own plans for a while, the two strategic choices would appear to be:
- Continue the transition to becoming an indistinguishable part of the broader banking industry, or
- A reformation where the member’s involvement and benefit are once again the primary reason for a credit union’s being.
Is there a third choice?