Power Analysis

March 26, 2013

I recently had a big fight with a family member.  It broke my heart that this loved one was so intent on shoving her policy and political positions down others’ throats. The attitude that was coming across just didn’t seem to convey the Biblical commands to love your neighbor and your enemy.

I literally asked whether it was more important for her to win or for people to be drawn to Jesus?  She preferred “Winning!”

This reminded of a quote from Shane Claiborne that I read recently on the Red Letter Christians website: “The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination.”

That left me thinking that during this Holy Week it might be good to do some (albeit unusual) power analysis.  Let’s ask the question: When should we take on the gospel of death, sacrifice, and humility? And when should we take on the gospel of resurrection power?

It was during my sabbatical from politics that I found the above, helpful questions and new language to articulate some of the stirrings of my soul.  The resource that illuminated my thinking was Eric H.F. Law’s book, The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb: A Spirituality for Leadership in a Multicultural Community. 

Reading and reflecting on that book came about as a result of joining a “Life Group” at my church, partly in pursuit of some of my sabbatical goals. (Remember my piece about R&R?) A diverse group of new friends embarked on a study about how we as church folks might approach our ministries and relationships differently in cross-cultural settings than we tend to in monocultural settings.  As we examined Law’s concepts from our various perspectives informed by each’s unique racial/cultural, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. lens, we were challenged to think a lot about power.

The author suggests that those from the dominant culture need to be aware of our position on the power continuum, especially as we relate to people from minority populations. (I’ll put myself in the power group for a moment, as a light-skinned, 1/2 Anglo, 1/2 Latina.)  Similarly, men of any racial/ethnic group should be cognizant of the power they have over women in most societies.  And Western Christians need to understand their power. Especially in America.

The point is that we need to take on an attitude of humility—consistent with the cross—when we’re the ones in power.  And we need to know when our spot on the power continuum has shifted based on who else is in the room.  But, as Law points out, sometimes those who are actually in power self-identify as oppressed and spend a lot of energy putting on power—as conveyed in the resurrection.  That skews things.

Law’s analysis helped some things finally come into full view for me.  Upon moving to Chicago from Puerto Rico in 2007, my husband had commented about how there seemed to be churches on every block in our neighborhood. Christians seemed to be in charge of everything.  And Religious Right rhetoric was getting a lot of play.

While I agreed with his perspective on conservative Christian political discourse,  I had a hard time relating to his view of Christians as the dominators. I was raised in an Evangelical environment in which we construed ourselves as the underdog.

My husband also would go on and on about the domination and oppression that the Catholic Church had effectuated across the world and over the centuries.  That I was able to see. But I didn’t relate to it personally as my sense of identity did not include much of a connection with Catholicism.  (Weird for a Latina, yes, I know.)  But he kept insisting that we are the same Church and are all accountable for Christian cruelty toward others over the centuries.

Yikes.  I think he’s right.  I’m finally getting it.

Christianity doesn’t have a very good reputation, largely because of the way we use power.  And whether we internalize it or not, we have a lot of it. Despite the separation of church and state, the U.S. utilizes quite a bit of language and customs that reflect a Christianity-informed heritage.

And in recent decades, Christians have been particularly loud and proud in pushing very hard for policies that reflect a certain sense of morality.  When the Religious Right doesn’t win, family dinners, the airwaves, and many-a-Facebook feed are replete with language that reflects fear that Christians (or white people, or straight people) are losing control of America.

Is fighting for power really what the Church should be about?

I would argue NOT, at least not when we’re starting from a real or perceived position of dominance.  That was not the posture of the Messiah who rode into town on a baby donkey, as Pastor reminded us this Palm Sunday.  Or, if we’re going to fight for power, may we do it on behalf of the powerless, the poor, and the oppressed.  Law’s book says that those are the people who need to experience the gospel of resurrection power.

Speaking of advocating on behalf of the poor, I am captivated by the new pope.  It seems that many—non-Catholics, like me, and Catholics alike—are attracted by his relative simplicity of lifestyle and his humility.  And his prayer that the Church would be a poor Church.  Sure, he leads a huge, historic institution that has often taken up the gospel of power while calling its subjects to a gospel of the cross.  It’s an imperfect scenario, to say the least. But maybe, just maybe, this Pope Francis guy knows a little something about this Jesus who draws people not by force but by fascination.

As for me, I must admit that I’m still working on this stuff—knowing when and how to genuinely identify with the cross and when to identify with the power of the resurrection.

Will you join me as the Lenten season ends and Easter beckons? May we learn how to appropriately take up a whole gospel, putting on in the right moments the gospel of the cross and sharing with those who need it the gospel of resurrection power.


2 Responses to “Power Analysis”

  1. Preston Says:

    A great application of Law’s principles.
    UVC — in not owning property, in being willing to re-locate, and in other ways giving up power — is, perhaps, a model of what we might look for.

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