Power Without Accountability, Part 2

The People Don’t Know Their True Power (and Responsibility to Hold Others, and Themselves, Accountable)

We see all of the problems with power in an ecclesiastical (church) setting so a good question would not only be “Why do we have problems with power in the church?” but also “Why do we actively perpetuate power that leads to problems in the church?”  Acknowledging lack of extensive expertise in this? I think there are some groups of reasons.

1.  Sociological. We are designed as (flawed) social beings. We are made finite with the need of social interaction and support from a broader community. This, in itself, would not be that much of a problem.  Bees and Ants work socially fairly well. Each have one system and hierarchy and each plug into that role naturally. Among social mammals… things don’t happen quite so easily, because different roles are not so clearly differentiated physically. So there is competition and power struggle. But even here, there is an instinctive process for determining hierarchy… not perfect, but relatively efficient.

With humans, we have the in-built need for community and social order but without the in-built mechanism for doing so harmoniously. As such, cultures develop to deal with these.. We are also flawed because our drive to organize is not strictly for the common good, but for collecting honor and things.

This would not be a problem, except that we tend to bring those same solutions in the outside world for establishing the church.

  • A metaphor for the church is the BODY. But we often use the social metaphor of BUSINESS.
  • A metaphor for the church is the FAMILY. But we often use the social metaphor of the MILITARY. (Although having been in the military, I can say that the church has no real understanding of that system, and will often come up with horrible mess justified on “military efficiency.”)

2.  Philosophical. Our relationships come out of our training in many ways. Much of our training regarding relationships comes out of philosophy. Philosophy is a good thing, but one has to identify what is true for the church and what is untrue and unhelpful for the church. Many of the teachings on social order that we accept without a lot of due consideration have more to do with the thoughts of Aristotle, Macchiavelli, and Confucius… not Christ. (Not that social disorder is desirable… a nihilistic or anarchistic structure. But community in the church needs to be built on a stronger foundation that power hierarchy).

3.  Psychological. We all seem to have a sense of our own unworthiness and weakness . At least most of us do. These, within the church structure, tend to mean that we seek the security of a place that is well defined by limitations on role and responsibility. Freedom is scary and vagueness of such roles and responsibility in mutual relationships is hard for many to get used to. Those who work with and in an organization of unpaid volunteers know the challenges of this. How do we work together as a team of equals, collaborating, in a common vision without money and employment as motivators? Many can’t embrace such a setting. Many ultimately seek to be led because it is more comfortable, while others seek power because of a felt “need” for that power.

4.  Historical. History can lead to issues regarding power. The Old Testament had a power hierarchy in its religious system (although I would argue that it was a relatively flat hierarchy  in its inception). But that history certainly played a part with the incorporation of a Christian “priesthood” in the church in the 4th century. The fight with the Gnostics and Marcionists and other groups led to a tendency to link authority/power and spiritual leadership through “apostolic succession”. Of course, the role of Constantine also had its part as aspects of the Christian religion were modified to fit into the pagan power structure tied to the Roman government. Additionally, Christianity “grew up” in the Roman power structure with the power structure of Charlemagne and the marriage of church and state. With a series of other governments, were continuous fights in that “marriage.”. It is actually, rather surprising that the church, in general, has been able to let go of civil control (often voluntarily) over the last few centuries.

5.  Biblical/Theological.  In recent years, some Protestant groups have tried to push towards a pre-Reformation understanding of the Christianity through undoing such things as “priesthood of the believer” or (among Baptists at least) soul sufficiency. They also tend to see submission as unilateral (citizen to government, wife to husband, servant to master, member to pastor) rather than mutual. Unfortunately, unilateral power/submission structures lead to abuse. There needs to be accountability, and such accountability is tied to mutuality.  Mutuality of service, humility, and submission is a very consistent theme throughout the New Testament. Perhaps the problem lies in the tendency to “theologize through proof-texts.” When one sees a verse that says to “submit” it is easy to see a unilateral relationships instead of seeing the broad-based theme of mutuality that is smoothly modeled and taught  throughout the gospels and epistles. Some preachers emphasize the importance of power.  But is that so important? Or does that reflect the value system of that particular preacher?


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