As impossible as it might seem, some religious faiths have no hierarchy whatsoever. Many mystic faiths, and a few truly mental ones, have a very loose structure.
Case in point, the Loving Church of the Wandering Jedi, a member of which I discovered rummaging through a Dumpster one night while on patrol.
Near as I could determine, the guy in the Dumpster was the only member of the LCWJ, but he seemed harmless enough. Following a token blessing on my police car with a half-eaten hamburger, I let him go.
The LCWJ was a beauty of simplicity. Go where you want. Do what you want. Believe what you want. I might have been converted but for the fact that we would no doubt differ over what constituted “refreshments” or a “pot luck dinner.”
Some churches are more hierarchal in nature than others. The Catholic church comes immediately to mind, but so does The Church of Jesus Christ of Extra Latter-day Saints.
Note: I put the word “Extra” in there myself, meaning that after nearly 200 years I agree that it’s time Mormons were more precise about who and what we are.
The difference between these two heavily hierarchal faiths is that one (the Catholic church) almost never has to take into account a leader’s sudden switch from church to job. The parish priest is always the parish priest.
Religious hierarchy was a big part of my early life. Being Mormon, I had countless people (men) to which I owed some degree of homage — prophet, apostle, Seventy, stake president, bishop, Scoutmaster, etc.
Further complications were inserted into this spiritual chain of command by the fact that I was an Army brat. Bouncing from one military post to another, it wasn’t unusual for someone who was outranked militarily to outrank the other person spiritually.
For example, at one particularly horrible duty post, my Sunday school teacher in the LDS branch was a colonel while the branch president — his church boss — was a master sergeant.
I’m not sure how branch leadership meetings went, or at what point “Brother Brass” became “Colonel Brass, sir” again. I just recall that things seemed to run more or less smoothly so as long as the unspoken rules were followed.
The Old Man was a warrant officer, which meant that he was outranked by my Sunday school teacher but not by the branch president. I could sometimes get away with smart-mouthing President Corcoran, but never Brother Brass.
This isn’t just a military thing. Suppose you’re the bishop of an LDS ward that includes in the congregation the CEO of the company you depend upon to feed your family and pay tithing. Would this change bishop interviews?
Elsewhere in the world there are tribal and caste issues. What about royal blood? Is it a problem for a bishop bricklayer to counsel a prince on the evils of self-abuse, or a truck driving stake president telling a queen that she isn’t worthy to enter the temple?
The human need for a religious line of authority largely depends on the human. Being so contrary, I don’t see the need to insert a whole bunch of other people between me and whatever else comes next.
And you being you, it should probably be of supreme importance that one of those people isn’t me.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.