Power or change?

I am not sure if the brief title is adequate but I wish to explore what our beliefs are concerning societal transformational change. The political scene across many countries and regions is changing quickly and radically. In Europe the polarisation is increasingly visible and unless bridges are built the result will be increased division, hatred and violence. What fuels this is a mixture of fear (real and fabricated), being blindly wedded to a party political ideology, and what is important for this post – a belief as to how change takes place.

I have written before of an appointment we had in a local bank. The person attending us had our account on the screen in front of us and when she saw that we had actually been donating a small amount to a particular political party she responded with obvious disapproval. We then spoke of their approach to the issue of corruption that is evidently endemic throughout the political system in Spain, to which she replied with, ‘I will tell you something that you need to understand. Corruption is here, nothing will ever change…’ A few more words to educate us, then it was obvious our time was over as she said using the nickname for the political leader, ‘Now you can leave with your…’

We did not donate the money because the party is God’s answer in the sense that we have to get them in power and all will change; we did not support them because we line up with their ideology at every point; but we did support them as they would not take money and be bought by power and had been calling for radical change particularly into the aspect of corruption. At this point of time they are the smallest of the four main parties in Spain and we watched with interest when the leader was asked a direct question a couple of nights ago as to whether they would ever be in power. The response was, from our perspective very mature. Whether they ever got into power was somewhat secondary, but that their presence and where they were currently positioned meant that they had been influential in change over a number of policies. The change taking place was not through power but through influence.

There is a very revealing text that I have oft quoted in Luke’s Gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:1-3).

There is no indication in this that the Gospel is somehow non-worldly and non-political. Indeed far from it. In the context of the lock up of power, both politically and religiously there is outlined the process for change – the word of the Lord coming in the wilderness. Change not beginning in Moncloa, Number 10, Brussels, nor the White House. It was something along those lines that impressed us with this party leader’s response to the interview, where he explained about change through influence rather than through power.

The challenge at this time to the right and the left as things polarise is that both are committed to a change process which is effectively, get in power and change things top down. Maybe this is understandable for without a revelation of Jesus what alternative is there. Understandable for those without faith to take that approach, but what about those of us who are believers? Do we want power by aligning ourselves to those who have power, or are we looking for change?

John’s baptism was a preparation for a renewal of the people of God. He goes to the entry point to the land with a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We should not understand this simply as an evangelical baptism but as a baptism for a covenant people who had failed to live up to the commission of heaven. The original people had been delivered from the Imperial power of Egypt, they were walking away from those centralised power structures being shaped by the law of God. But they had over years succumbed to the same powers that they had been delivered from with the decisive shift being their demand for a Monarchy. The result was that they understood their great days through that lens but eventually had ended in submission to the power structures they had emulated, the latest Imperial structure being that of Rome. The baptism was to prepare a people to be renewed so as they could step up into the commission of being a royal priesthood for the whole earth.

I have always been blessed when I have met people who have stood in the gap for someone else or for a situation saying that their commitment was that they would hold the space ‘on their watch’. Corporately this is how I understand what it means for the body of Christ to be the salt of the earth. That salt that inhibits the growth of evil and promotes the growth of righteousness if truly present means certain things will not take place on our watch.

I view as an insult to the body of Christ that levels of corruption can exist; that cultures that blame women for how they dress is enough to justify men’s lustful behaviour. Protests against those things sometimes seem to rise up in spite of the body of Christ, but I think they also rise up as a sign that something is shifting spiritually. This is an aspect that Gayle and I take seriously. If a political party believes that change can only take place through becoming the ones in control so be it, but if we align ourselves to that conviction we will soon lose sight of, and belief in, the transforming power of the cross. We do not look for something to rise up that is perfect, but we also look to seek to be faithful during our watch. I am sure we have missed many aspects, but if Spain is to come to a place of freedom then there has to be evidence that what has been rooted in the land is unrooted and cannot take root to the same extent again.

The answers do not lie in the right nor in the left, and certainly not in either when they believe that change is through imposition. Neither will the solution take place through the agency of a church that is aligned to the same belief about the process of change, who align themselves to the person or party that will bring in some imposed form of morality, regardless of how they speak of and treat others, and meanwhile the marginalised are marginalised even more.

We live at a dangerous time, but a time of great opportunity. I do believe there is another financial crisis waiting to happen, but my main concern is for a shift to take place in the body of Christ. That we do not retreat to another cycle of conferences that strengthen (spelt ‘isolate’) who we are, but that we find a wonderful re-positioning, an alignment from having discovered true north.

Not called to have power over… but through a commitment and alignment to the cross to have such an influence, even if invisible, that visible change takes place. Dangerous times but times of such opportunity. Not a time to quickly align with the rising extremes but to the process of change that begins in the wilderness. I suspect when that day reveals all we will discover that the changes took place not through those who held power (though there is an accountability for them) but through the unknowns who had been faithful. We will discover that it was on their watch that change took place.


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3 thoughts on “Power or change?

  1. This is an interesting post today. I am watching the news out of the USA regarding the Supreme Court nominee. There is a sense of disbelief among many that all the ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ presented will not prevent his nomination going forward. It seems amazing to them. Funny how truth and facts really don’t matter. What matters is power. Who has it? Who can use it? And for what purposes? Most importantly – who is making money off of it?

    We are presented daily with all sorts of models for making change and most involve either gaining political power or challenging it until you make those with it give in – ie. you had enough political power to threaten them. I’m not sure what that all means for those of us more attracted to the margins, to those places without power, as a means of making change. Ultimately, in any society of more than 1 person there is politics involved along with the desire for the power to impose one’s will on another. So how does change actually happen? Where? What happens when any change initiated on the margins moves to the centre? And how do we practice politics when corruption seems almost inevitable?

    Brain research shows that privilege changes the brain. People behave differently because of their privilege. That’s a problem. Even with the best of intentions, any of us can be corrupted by power. I have a great book by a brain researcher about good and evil. His conclusion – so much of our behavior depends upon our context. If we are surrounded by people who promote good then we tend to do that. If we are surrounded by corruption, we will generally follow that lead, if not just to survive in that context.

    Many practical questions raised by this one Martin which we see acted upon daily in our world.

    1. The questions you raise and the one about change moving rom the margins to the centre – BIG ONE.

      Thanks for the brain research comment.

    2. Here is an excellent analysis of privilege and power. The discussion focuses on the role of elite schools that create a context for the immoral and dominating behavior of the powerful. In other words, they have created institutions that train their kids into behavior that is always focused on having power in all situations. The brains of their children develop in a context that reinforces their position in society often by any means possible.

      It is an interesting article and reminds me that so many non-elite parents, including many Christians, have spent years enabling the dismantling of public schools and thereby, somewhat inadvertently, contributing to this situation. Rather than promoting equality and care for others who are different through active participation in local public schools, the deeper lesson is that ‘I am better than others (morally at least)’ and ‘therefore I have certain rights/entitlements that others do not have’. I am not dissing parental participation in a child’s education but we need to take care about the deeper lessons taught and the culture and context in which children are raised. An attempt to promote righteousness and morality may actually be teaching the opposite.

      It all gets so complicated doesn’t it. Parents want to do the best for their kids – good schools or home schooling – and yet, may be unintentionally contributing to the degradation of the greater society in the process.


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