More about the Dynamics of Power

First, a quick apology about the delay in posting. Some of you may know that blogger had some technical problems this week, and the server just happened to be down during the times when I had time to post.

So continuing the conversation about power:

If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit (dominant), and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him (subordinant), and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted? (James 2:2-4)

Sadly, we do see this ethos and class system in the body of Christ. We give power and privilege to those who have worldly power and privilege. Power creates distance, which works against relationship and community. When justice is violated, then we lose the grace of God’s peace with one another.

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out (subordinant) as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. (James 2:5)

I have wondered why many well-intended attempts within the body of Christ to foster diversity and reconciliation are often ineffective. I believe it is partly because we have only been willing to be inclusive to the point that it doesn’t cost us our own privilege or position.

First, acknowledging that one is a member of a dominant group has implications for how we engage with someone in a subordinant group. It is important to recognize that the privilege we enjoy socially is undeserved and gives us no special status in the kingdom. If we don’t truly see the other person as fully equal to us, we will come off as condescending.

Power in relationships in the church is felt by and most destructive to the subordinant ones. Denial by the dominant group of the differences the subordinants are experiencing furthers the discrimination that the subordinants feel.

Because we are a body, this hurts us all. It is easy to see how this hurts relationally and how it hurts those being discriminated. However, we should also recognize that to be in a position of assumed/presumed power is also damaging to the person in that position.

But if you show servile regard (prejudice, favoritism) for people, you commit sin and are rebuked and convicted by the Law as violators and offenders. (James 2:9)

However, my point isn’t that dominants should be made to feel ashamed of their privilege. I’ve been vague about categorizing dominants and subordinants because we all have circumstances where we experience each position.

When we experience privilege, we can look at it as an opportunity to use that power to expand the circle of those who are included, to extend justice where systems and structures still discriminate.

Society teaches us to guard and protect our position of privilege, that it will cost us to share that privilege. We can’t really love those whom we are competing with. Instead, we will allow ourselves to look good at their expense.

But Jesus showed us another way:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

In Jesus Christ there are no qualifying limits. All the walls are down. Tradition must give way to God’s justice.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

To act with justice is to act in such a way that everyone’s place in the community is rightly established and that alienation and injustice are actively and concretely overcome.

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4 thoughts on “More about the Dynamics of Power

  1. You are writing about much deeper and more important stuff than I am…yet you come, and read, in spite of the PC difficulty with the side bar! Thank you…and just know, that I am reading you regularly, yet, I don’t always have something valuable to add. We are still struggling with recently leaving a church, and don’t know where we will go from here. We have children that need support, even where we can cling to eachother, yet, we believe in The Emerging Church. We’re just trying to walk through what we’re given, and know the Lord loves us, no matter what we experience.

    Again, thanks for continuing to come by,
    Captain Mom (al)

  2. A,
    And I wish I wrote like you!

    We found a church where the kids are happy and the people are nice. Although we’re more like visitors there, I think it’s a good place for us to be for now.

    It seems like for now, God is working on our hearts and attitudes, teaching us and changing mentalities. We don’t know yet what the outcome of that will be churchwise, but I do feel like it’s been a necessary process for us.

    So in the meantime, we’re just hanging out at the nice church.

    Blessings to you!

  3. Christians in America avoid having to deal with the passage in James by segregating themselves by class and race. Rich/Poor/white/black/brown people have their own churches, each with its own combination of race and class. That way, everybody in church wears the expensive suit or rags, so no need to discriminate.

    But I guess that is not good enough. Even within each church’s homogenious makeup, some need to assert dominance over others. White/poor people need to exercise dominance over other white/poor people, for example.

  4. David,
    That is really true. It seems that no matter what categories we sort ourselves into, we often fall into the same patterns of pecking order.

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