But, my, they have their dark side. They can reduce people to robots and objects, they can crush and consume lives, they can come adrift from their original purpose, they can become a means to an end.
As we can't live without them, we best learn to be alert to their dangers and committed to making them human, as far as that is within our power.
These observations apply to the churches as to other organisations, and they present some unusual aspects to consider. One is the tendency to 'spiritualize' power (to suggest that its hierarchy is divinely licensed, for example, or possessed of spiritual gifts others don't have). It can embody attitudes that cause harm (examples include traditional attitudes to women and their roles and to gay people and their place in the life of the church, indeed, the world). Churches have tended in some matters to be socially conservative, when you might expect them to be leading change. They have taught (this is implicitly for the most part) that their followers should be pure and free of any chaotic, troubling thoughts or desires. It is not impossible that this kind of institutional repression creates the ground for abusive practices now uncovered in many of the denominations.
As noted, all organisations have a dark, or shadow, side. The question is, how are these managed, how are the risks mitigated, how can organisations be vehicles of value for the common good? Part of the answer is in checks and balances. Another is a true egalitarianism in the spiritual adventure that is following Christ — an end to clericalism's traits (I've written about this elsewhere). Jung wrote of the unintegrated shadow side and its potential for harm: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it…. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected." (Psychology and Religion, 1938, Collected Works 11).
This line of thought does not write off the achievements of the churches, and it certainly does not deny the countless men and women, lay and ordained, who have brought light, love and multitudinous good things to others. It is a call to be alert.