Fear, Anger, and Power. Part 2


Since this is Part 2, you may want to consider reading Part 1 first. It was built around the issue of Angry, Angry Christians… and that some of it stems from Fear and Mistrust. I think that is very true, but I think there is more. I believe that some stems from what I described as “an (illicit) love affair with power.”

Jesus said that one cannot serve two masters because one will eventually favor or obey one over the other. He emphasized the two potential masters: God and Money. But money is simply a form of power… a means to extend one’s will beyond oneself to manipulate the environment around.

Power, like its subcategory money, has an addictive quality to it. The church during the 4th century felt it. As a persecuted church grew in Imperial favor in the Roman Empire, people began to flood in to become members. Bishops began to wear the clothes and other regalia of the civic leaders (and many do still to this day), as well as accepting the authority given by the emperor.

From Charlemagne and the “Holy Roman Empire” to the Crusades to the Inquisition and Colonialism, Christians have enjoyed the utilization of military and legal power to extend their control of others.

<This is not to say that other groups do better. Islam is presently being marketed as a religion, or ideology, of peace and mercy. Buddhism is often thought of as a religion of peace in the West (where they have not discovered the often harsh reality of rule by Buddhists). If one looks at founders: Jesus and the Apostles were pretty peaceful, Gautama Buddha, as well as Nanak appeared to be pretty peaceful as well. The four great imams… not so much. However, a religion is known more by its historical activities than by its founders… and most religions struggle in this area… at least those religions that gained enough strength to be able to exercise power over others.>

Religions are made of people, so they have an addiction to power because people are generally addicted to, or at least enticed by, power.

In the United States, Christianity has embraced power. While European “Christian” countries extended power with colonization, for the most part the United States has done it with hegemony, enforced by the military. For American Christians that has shown itself with the belief that that which is deemed “Anti-Christian,” such as Islamic militancy, is best handled with violence. This is a strange viewpoint. Christianity grew in the Roman Empire through moral, loving, and longsuffering behavior, not through desecration and violence.

I must note here that I am not anti-military or anti-gun. I was in the US Navy, and in no way confuse being a “peacemaker” with being a “pacifist.” Likewise, I believe guns are the great equalizer where rule of law is non-existent… ensuring that the bigger and stronger do not always hold sway. However, the fascination with guns and military projection of power has gotten out of hand.

In some ways it is benign. I have had people tell me, once they knew that I was in the military, “Thank you for your service to our country.” Always seemed so weird to me. Ignoring the whole “country thing,” I have done a lot better things for the world, working here in the Philippines than I ever did as an officer in the Navy. Frankly, my service in the military was sincere, but certainly not motivated by some great patriotic fervor.

But some gets more malignant. I had a pastor preaching in church years ago… who started a sermon something like this:

“There are some things, we as Christians, must be willing to die for. Some things that matter so much, we must be ready to die for them. We must be willing to die for the truth of the divinity of Christ. We must be willing to die for the truth of salvation by faith. We must be willing to die for the truth of the literal death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And I believe we must be willing to die for the right to bear arms.”

How strange is that? Is that Biblically/theological sound Christian prophetic guidance to give from a pulpit? I have my doubts.

At Liberty University, a Christian school not that far from my home church in the US, the present head had encouraged students to get guns, get trained to use guns, and get permits for the right to wear concealed guns. The logic was to “welcome” militant Muslims who might show themselves on campus. While it is just good practice to have some form of security on any campus, encouraging 18-22 year old college students to walk around armed seems like a poor solution. As a 16 year old, I got a 12 guage shotgun for my birthday. But I got it for deer hunting… not to carry around with me at school. And talking as if the students are somehow encouraged (?) to think of “them” (as opposed to “us”) as those who should be dealt with violently is irreconcilable, I believe, with following the example of Jesus.

  1.  I would suggest that the church would be do better to lessen war metaphors in Christianity. It is not that they may not be apt… but some people confuse the image with the reality.
  2. I would suggest pastors minimize emphasis on power. in sermons. I know that goes against some. I have heard many that emphasize the word “power” (or “POWWWW-ERRrrrrrrr”) as if it is a wonderful thing. I remember hearing Oral Roberts talking about bringing out the “Holy Ghost Shotgun.” But while God is certainly described as the source of our power, we are also told to live lives of Love, Joy, Peace, Gentleness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Meekness, and Self Control. Frankly, these have more emphasis in the New Testament, I feel. It would be wonderful if preachers would give these terms as much emphasis as they do Power. Words have power too, and people tend to be driven emotionally as much or more than cognitively by words. One’s choice of words matter.
  3. I would suggest, similarly, a lessening of the language of fear and hate. I remember the anger people felt after the 9-11 incident. And that anger was heightened with the video of Palestinians cheering the deaths of so many people. Many Palestinians did not share that feeling… or later rethought things… but the damage was done. As bad as all that might be, some of the rhetoric I have heard from pulpits and FB from Christians hasn’t been better.
  4. I would suggest following the wisdom of Jesus… not the wisdom of the times. If others wish to follow their own leaders— be they good, bad, or evil… that is their call but we should know who our Lord is and follow His command and example.

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps   I Peter 2:20-21

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?