When was the last time you heard a sermon preached, or open conversation in a church about Power?
When I was on Oasis Frontine teams in 1996, we talked in one of the training sessions about the main temptations, and some of the main issues that are prevalent in churches that cause issues, they were, in accordance with a Book title, Money, Sex and Power.
Fast forward to a sex and money obsessed culture, either gaining it, having it, or winning lotteries to realise dreams because of it. In the church too, conversations about Sex (not just because of Gay Marriage, but the increase in youth ministry mean that its a conversation that occurs regularly in groups) and Money (tithing, poverty, resources, ) are both ongoing conversations. But the other one..?
Why the reluctance to talk about Power? to think about the power that resides in church organisations, from meetings, committees, to charismatic leaders, oppressive practices, power in language, control of resources, expertise, or popularity. to name but a few. And power issues can be so destructive as well.
We know it exists, but why it seems the reluctance to talk about it?
Whilst there might there be resources to help people deal with sex (romance academy) or Money (CAP) – for example – but not to think about Power, or more pertinently the oppression that power could cause, in community, and also self critically in the church itself as an organisation? Is no one talking about it?
What kind of resources would be good to help explore issues of power with young people – might cans of worms be opened? well yes, but that might not be a bad thing. It might be helpful for them to have a critical eye on life and powers that oppress, or powers that help, or powers that manipulate. Might it be that then activities for young people will have to take seriously how they might be tempted to manipulate, in whatever form.
Im not going to deliver a key note speech here about theories of Power, sources of it, and authority/control. People like Sykes, Lukes and Habermas can do all that, but its slightly intriguing that the conversation about power rarely occurs, and when it does its after the event – oh ‘our previous vicar was a bit power hungry’.
A theological understanding of Power might be that Gods power is enabling, encouraging and directive in accordance with his will, which is deemed good and perfect. So, thus Power from ultimate belief is deemed good. But that doesnt mean to say that power in the organisation of the church is necessarily good though. And those damaged by the church will have a different view. What about when churches have hierarchies, manage people, roles, responsibilities – who is helping churches and people to reflect on power in these dynamics?
How might the church act differently if it didnt consider itself to be powerful any more? How would its language (about being an army, of poverty, or serving) adapt accordingly – when these hold with them an element of being able to make determinations of definitions from a position of power. Would it make judgements of people in the same way?
Does retaining a belief in the all-powerful God, cause power to be uncontested within itself and for it to consider itself as holders of power in communities still?
What about power of normalisation ( Foucault) – this occurs when the ideas (or theology) determine the ‘middle/normal’ ground (especially but not exclusively theologically)- and then opinions divergent to this are disregarded, parodied or belittled rather than engaged with and had conversations about. Is this a type of retained power to be critiqued? or is there too much at stake in the ‘normal’?
What if the church began to unmask the powers that oppress people in local communities, yet it might have to reconcile its own plank first, but might this be a more helpful use of its time and enacting liberative freedom in peoples lives, other than what seems continually obsessing about Sex, or worrying about Money.
As Foucault said : Power is everywhere. Lets open up the discussion about it and not let it fester, and i know, i dont have the power to say this or enact it, or enforce it, but maybe cause it to be thought about.