John Plummer has an interesting post today entitled "Running Free". In it, he elaborates on a theme that he has expounded before, especially in his book The Living Mysteries -- the idea that the church and jurisdictions and organized communities are unnecessary, as the priesthood and the sacraments are the important thing.
Indeed, many churches have caused a lot of harm -- one need merely think of the persecution of the Jews by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other denominations (Martin Luther was shockingly bigoted in his anti-Semitism); the endorsement of racist slavery by the Southern branches of the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist denominations in the United States; the denigration of women inherent in denying them the opportunity for full participation in the church's life; or the current vicious attack on lgbt families by many denominations, with an anemic response by most "liberal" mainstream denominations (the United Church of Christ being the shining exception). There are many other examples that could
be offered. And John is absolutely correct in pointing out the ridiculousness of many independent jurisdictions.
Yet, there are also many examples of how unbridled individualism can lead to great problems as well -- especially in our movement. While there are many holy people doing good work in our movement, there are also a lot of people who want quick ordination with no demands to feed their egos -- and while John points to jurisdictions that feed this, I think abolishing this for a "free" priesthood would only exacerbate the problem, since it would remove all accountability.
Individualists can point to unhealthy and abusive communities and say, "See? Everyone is better off on their own, with complete freedom!", with justification. Communitarians can point to unhealthy, abusive, and eccentric individuals and say, "See? Everyone is better off in community, with accountability!", again with justification. In fact, God has created us with a hunger for community, so that we cannot be fulfilled human beings without being in deep, intimate, covenanted relationships, as well as creating us as individuals with deep longings of the Spirit demanding that we express them, even if we go against the grain and march to the beat of a different drummer (if I may be forgiven for mixing metaphors).
Healthy priesthood can only exist within covenanted communities that honor and encourage healthy individual development -- and it is this search for balance that we must pursue, rather than recreating unhealthy communities or establishing unaccountable "free" priesthoods.