What have Elinor Ostrom and Metropolitan Geevarghese Coorilos in common? Who, you may ask. If you weren’t aware of the award of the Nobel Prize for economics or the meeting of the WCC Faith & Order Commission (mutual understanding of what the churches believe and organise their life) this week, you may be forgiven. These two people, eminent in their own spheres, but not well known outside have each put forward views that challenge commonly accepted wisdom. In describing their views briefly from my reading, I probably do an injustice to them.
Ostrom, a political scientist from Indiana University, USA, has researched how people maintain fish stocks in India, Kenya and Nepal as well as researching other resources such as pastures, woodlands and lakes. Current orthodoxy in such issues suggests that this is best done either by the state or, more commonly these days, by privatised enterprises. Ostrom’s research indicates that when individuals join together and form collectives resources are better maintained and protected. She is interested in how people co-operate rather than compete - and the beneficial results that stem from that.
Metropolitan Geevarghese Coorilos of the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church in India gave a critique of a document that had been prepared by the Faith and Order Commission on the Nature and Mission of the Church. The methodology of such exercises he described as being from above – the experts and the specialists. He pointed to the absence of any involvement from below. This meant that the world of the poor and dispossessed, particularly the Dalits in India, found no resonance in the document.
What these two have in common, to answer my own question, is not just that they have challenged the orthodox positions in their own areas. It is that they do so on the basis of the participation of people, not just those who are powerful or experts. In the one case, people are not so irredeemably selfish that they cannot act collectively for the common good. In the other, it is people (especially including the poor and excluded) who ask the real questions about the nature of the church.
Answers to issues that confront the whole life of the world may not just be found in what the Metropolitan describes as ‘esoteric and intellectual’ discussions but closer to home.