Sunday, April 13, 2008

The peril of power

Can I tell you tell you a secret? The very idea of Christians in positions of power scare me. I believe that the separation of church and state was one of the best ideas human beings have had in a long time. I don't want a Christian president, a Christian parliament or a Christian mayor. In fact, if I had children I probably wouldn't be too crazy about the idea of a Christian school board either. Of course this is not the sort of thing a Christian should say, so I have kept my opinion to myself, especially around my fellow Christians. According to my church (and every Christian leader on TV, radio or print media) I should be striving and praying for the opposite. But I can't, I just can't. See, in my few short decades on this planet I have learned something disturbing about Christians - they suffer from a substance abuse problem. This substance isn't drugs or alcohol however, it's power. It just seems that power goes straight to a Christians' head the moment he/she gets it and it tends to go badly downhill from there. We get drunk on power really easy and we tend to be really mean drunks. This power abuse problem makes Christians rather unfit to lead in my opinion.

I received a fresh reminder of this over the weekend. See, one of my favourite pastimes of late has been to take part in discussions on a certain Facebook group. Up until now it's been a place where believers and unbelievers got together to but heads, argue and debate everything from the truth of the Gospels to the evidence for evolution. All was well until recently when a couple of new admins were appointed. One of these (a young zealous recent convert) actually banned someone for "thinking about swearing" (One of the group rules is no swearing - until recently that meant swear and your post gets deleted but you get to repost the same thing with out swearing.) Think I'm kidding? Here is a screenshot:
Christians love to bring up the terrible massacres committed by Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and the Khmer Rouge to point out what horrible people atheists are. Usually, atheists will then mention the Crusades, witch trails and the Inquisition to show that Christians are not immune to behaving evil, to which the standard Christian reply is: "Ah, but that was the Catholics, not us." What a joke! You know the biggest difference between the medieval catholic church and the church of today? Power. They had it and we don't. If the church today had absolute power and could torture, imprison, banish and kill I don't doubt for a moment they would.

Am I too pessimistic? I can't tell you how much I wish to be proven wrong. Certainly there are many exceptions but that is all they are. I'm not talking about individuals here, I'm talking about the group. And to date the group called "Christian" have managed to abuse every shred of power it received. Look back in history - the church no sooner stopped being the persecuted before they started becoming the persecutors. It didn't take Martin Luther too long after starting the Reformation and breaking away from the corruption of the Catholic Church to start persecuting others - especially the Jews. When the Puritans and the Huguenots fled Catholic persecution to the New World and Africa, did they treat the native population with Christian compassion and kindness? Hardly. Salem witch trails? Apartheid? KKK? Courtesy of Protestant Christians, every one. And so it goes, on and on and on. Even when the church had only the smallest amount of power, it was still abused. Why just a handful of decades ago right here in South Africa the well established reformed churches churches did all they could to see to it that those in pentecostal churches didn't get ahead. People were fired, disowned or simply never promoted for no other reason than belonging to the "wrong" church. I think that is what scares me the most about Christians in power - the fact that "different" seems to equal "wrong" and "wrong" seems to equal "target".

Today is Sunday, millions of Christians worldwide went to church today. I wonder, how many pulpits taught love and compassion and how many taught fear, hate and distrust for those who are not like "us"? It seems that when the only power the church has left is words, it will often use that to kill rather than heal.

I cannot count how many times I have heard it preached that Christians need to be in charge. That we need to occupy the upper echelon of every sector of society in order to make a difference. Yet looking back at history, the time when we did the most good was the time we had no power and no say in the running of things. Back in the first century AD, Christians were persecuted, hunted down and murdered. They were cast out of synagogues, banished from communities, often couldn't trade in marketplaces or have a position on the city council (unless you were willing to sacrifice to the patron god of the town hall or market). And you know what the amazing thing was? They changed the world. Everything was against them, they held no political power at all and yet they made the world a better place. They had compassion on the outcasts and the lowest of the low. They preached equality between slave and free, man and woman. They broke through culture barriers, they showed the world that there was a better way to live - a way of love, peace and compassion. Astoundingly, they did this without starting boycotts or petitions, without making any laws or attempting to destroy their opposition.

These days it seems like exactly the opposite is true. Back then they had no power but they changed their world for the better - we have power, but it seems we are not making this world better at all. How did we get from there to here? Is there a way for us to go back?

See I don't want this to be true. I don't hate my fellow Christians, I just hate it when we turn into monsters the moment we start wielding power. It breaks my heart and I don't think its supposed to be like this. Why can't we be consistently good? Why are we at our best when at the bottom but at our worst when at the top?

When Jesus spoke about who was the greatest in the Kingdom of God, who did he use as an example? A soldier? A governor? No, a child - someone with absolutely no power or might. Maybe that's why the Bible doesn't call the Church a "general" or a "governor" or an "emperor" but instead called the Church a "bride". Without going off topic about gender roles, consider this. When the term "Bride of Christ" was first written down, the role of a bride was not that of leader but that of supporter, of influencer.

I don't know, maybe the problem is that God never intended for us to be in charge here at all. What if God intended that we change the world, not in a forceful masculine way, but rather in a more gentle, feminine way - maybe more like a loving mother than a disciplinarian father? Maybe the Church was supposed to act as the servant, not the master...

So Jesus got them together to settle things down. He said, "You've observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It's not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.
That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served - and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage." (Mat 20:25-28 The Message)


TPluckyT said...

Dude, that was well written . . . ouch!

I have to say I mostly agree with you and that wouldn't be such a popular opinion with many Christians I know either . . . I try to be careful not to be extreme such as "Christians should never be in power," but I must say you make a compelling argument.

If you haven't read them already, I recommend The Myth of a Christian Nation (How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church) by Gregory A. Boyd -and- They Like Jesus But Not the Church by Dan Kimball . . .

BTW I put a link to your blog on my Plucky's World blog . . . I hope you don't mind . . .

Eugene said...

Point taken - maybe "never" is a bit strong. Better phrasing would be Christians should not have power until they are able to handle it responsibly. See I don't have a problem so much with having a leader who is also a Christian, rather it is the whole concept of "Christian leader" that I find scary. In short, I think Christian leaders need to all have What Would Jesus Do tattooed somewhere because THAT was the model for Christian leadership. The way some Christians act you'd swear our model was Hitler!

And no, I don't mind at all! Thanks!

Tania said...

As usual, well said. And naturally I agree with the more feminine approach - as a woman I know how great a feminine approach can be, but again, applied in the right way. By that I mean wielding our power of influence and gentleness not to manipulate, but to heal, grow and nourish.

Hopper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eugene said...

Hopper, not sure we are on the same page here.

//"you're sort of arguing the other guy's point about intolerance when you say: "ESPECIALLY THE JEWS"... I mean... who says that anymore..."//
I'm not sure I follow you here. I was pointing out the fact that despite knowing persecution himself Martin Luther himself persecuted other groups himself once he was in power. He especially focused on the Jews and gave several very anti-semitic sermons and wrote against them extensively.

Regarding the rights of the minority vs the rights of the majority - well, that is a long and interesting debate but it's really besides the point. The topic at hand here is about those in power using it to persecute those without who also happen to believe differently from them. It's not about one set of rights outweighing another, it's about the wrongness of using your power to persecute/suppress dissenters.

//"you're not speaking straight about christians hypothetically being in charge because they ARE in whatever backwards country you live in"//
I wasn't speaking hypothetically. Christians used to be in change here so I'm speaking from experience. Backwards country in question is South Africa. I actually mention that in the post, did you bother to read the whole thing?

//"what i'm trying (unsuccessfully) to say is that religion is only easy answers for weak minded people... "//
You may very well be right. Maybe there is an inherent problem with religion. After all, most of what I wrote here is true for most religions in a position of power, not just Christianity. However I respectfully disagree with your statement that it is only easy answers for weak minded people. That is your opinion and you may be completely right. My experience of it is very different however.

Hopper said...

forget about it

TPluckyT said...

Welcome to that crazy, laugh-a-minute world of bloggin . . .