“Abuse of Power”. Seems almost like a redundant expression, doesn’t it? In Christian Circles, another abuse pops up in the news nearly daily. Such abuse may demonstrate itself in different ways:
- Sexual and Physical abuse. Of course, the Catholic Church has taken a hit on this one. Once reports started hitting the media, that denomination has slooooowwwly begun taking responsibility and action. Sadly, the Protestant church, for the most part, has not… and still goes into “hush hush” mode. One of these years, the press will shift its gaze from the Catholics to the Protestants, and we will wish we had taken the time and effort to address this matter ourselves. We need to self-police… accepting mutual accountability.
- Simony (“Spiritual” Abuse). Simony is the sale of spiritual blessings or grace for money or “earthly” favors. As Protestants, we look back with (justifiable) horror at the abuses of “indulgences” of former centuries in the Catholic church. Some today may also be concerned with the practice of Mass cards, that essentially do the same thing. Again, as much as Protestants like to point fingers, simony is alive and well in Protestant churches as well. It can show itself in a fairly literal sense… with special “blessings” given by religious leaders for cash donations. It can be seen in particularist Protestant groups that claim everyone outside of their own specific church and rulership are damned. It can be seen in favoritism given to big tithers in most churches. It can be seen in clergy allowing the superstition that their own prayers are just a little bit more heard by God than the laity to perpetuate.
- Selfish Frivolity. Power (in all groups, frankly) is commonly used to meet the “needs”, desires, petty whims of those with that power. Recalling Ezekiel 34, power and leadership is used to feed the leaders, not the led… or the leaderless.
- Power as a Virtue. Many Protestant church leaders and evangelists, and preachers speak to their listeners about the importance of “power” and how they are to have “power.” Some even build a theology around this that God’s blessing is tied to the acquisition or attainment of “power” or the earthly trappings of power. The problem here is that it (1) encourages people to have such trappings of power to make themselves look or at least feel more “holy”, (2) it builds up leaders who seem to have such power and, in so doing, lessens the listeners who appear to lack such, and (3) it makes people want to have “power” (however it is defined) when most of us (all of us?) really can’t handle power very well. To teach that people who lack the character to handle power, are to seek power, is akin to encourage 8 years olds to seek to have assault rifles.
So what is the problem? I believe that we set up systems without accountability and without mutuality. In other words, we lack healthy COMMUNITY.
Part 2 will look at some theological reasons (at least) why church has problems with power without accountability.
Part 3 will look at some very basic strategies to correct this. Part 3 will be highly speculative and will definitely need the helpful insights of others.