Positions of power

Following on a little from the previous set of posts I have a few tentative comments to make about holding a position of power as a believer. The Anabaptist background, when pushed to an extreme, repudiated all positions of secular power, and certainly the critique that comes from those quarters about the corruption that is inherent within many positions of power carries weight. The opposite viewpoint is the classic expression of Christendom. We need believers who can rule justly, and this is often expanded to mean along ‘biblical lines’. I, of course being a moderate, would wish to avoid all extremes!

History tends to show that the ‘good’ people once in power become corrupt. Gayle and I have followed closely the journey of a protest party that is the second largest political party in Spain by membership. We have asked if such a party can ever healthily become the governing party, or is the purpose of their being in existence to be a protest, an opposition? Being in power is not as easy as one thinks, there are powers that rule beyond the rulers (‘the great city that rules over the kings of the earth’). Of course in the light of the previous posts this would be a whole aspect that I believe we as believers are called to shift. There are powers that rule, and once we receive a mandate the outworking is almost always top-down and rather than decentralise power it seems to pull resources back to the centre.

However, governance is not wrong. A head teacher, the management in a hospital, and many more examples are needed. So I do not believe the extreme end of the Anabaptist type approach is feasible, while at the same time seeing the Christendom approach to be the very source for many of the global issues today. Here then are some tentative thoughts:

  • By nature most positions are fallen. We do not need to idealise them, nor demonise them. Any engagement has to be with the purpose of redemption. That redemption could lead to the very position disappearing, or being radically transformed, but either way the flow will be of resources and benefits to the marginalised.
  • To engage redemptively means there will be compromises. This is particularly true of any form of legislation. There is not a perfect legislation. Read OT laws!! They are not perfect but culturally moved Israel as a people in a better direction.
  • Probably women are better equipped to occupy any seat of power. We see this in Spain with the two mayoresses, one in Madrid and one in Barcelona. The shift away from the centre and top-down is remarkable. We also see in Spain a former expression of power held by women that was anything but de-centralisation. So it is not women per se, but a feminisation of power, a way of handling it that is probably needed.
  • There are wonderful examples of people sitting in a place of power but the direction set, by design or default, is of emptying the seat of its power. The current pope or archbishop of Canterbury seem to be there in that way. I have a good pastor friend who is so set on empowering those in the congregation he openly said to me that ‘of course this will not serve the growth of the church’. Well perhaps not by traditional ways of counting.
  • Alongside compromise there is probably also a rhythm that has to be adopted of taking initiative and then release. Of tentatively pulling on the power and generously releasing it.
  • If God releases to us and we have not grabbed it, a position that has power invested in it,
    we should not shy away from it, but receive it cautiously and work within it so that the maximum benefits can flow to the margins.
  • If such a position is not opened up, we also can learn how to help shape those seats to carry more potential for redemption through how we live and pray.

In contrast to Caesar’s (Domitian) throne with him seated at the centre and 24 advisors around him, John records in Revelation 4 that he saw:

At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And the one worthy to open the future was none other than the Lamb slain. A pattern in Revelation is of hearing something (I heard… ‘The Lion’) is clarified by what is seen (I saw… ‘A Lamb’). The challenge to our involvement is that of following Jesus. The western world is in crisis. Probably in part brought on by prayer. The opportunities are enormous. I do not see the pathway as down either of the two extremes I started with, but the messy and sacrificial path that the Lamb pioneered.

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One thought on “Positions of power

  1. I recently had my views on this challenged a bit. I had a chance to view an author on a new book on how the brain works and our behavior (Behave, the Biology of Humans at our best and worst by R. Sapolsky). And he made a very interesting point. Much of our behavior depends upon the context. Good people will behave badly in particular contexts. So it seems to me if we are concerned about power corrupting people then part of the issue is the context. In a society that values integrity and has governance structures that guard against corruption and punish it when it is found, a leader or one with power may well be able to minimize the compromise and corruption. However a good person trying to effect change in a corrupt regime will have a very tough time personally and may find themselves ultimately corrupted and falling in line with the majority. Hence, some of our focus on integrity among those in power has to be beyond the individual and on the system that supports them or corrupts them.

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