A careful examination of much of the headline news in American culture today reveals dysfunction around issues of power. The desire to gain or maintain power over another person results in abhorrent behavior such as bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination–all ongoing narratives in our daily lives:
- I’m in the cool crowd at school, and you aren’t. So I can treat you any way I want.
- I have money and you don’t. Therefore, you are less deserving of the “good life” than I am.
- My gender automatically grants me the power in our relationship.
- The color of my skin affords me privileges that you don’t–and should not–have.
- The neighborhood that I live in gives me advantages that you don’t even know about. So stay out!
A person’s natural (or carnal) desire to hoard power for themselves results in the abuse and degradation of humans made in God’s image. Christ, however, willingly gave up his power when he came to live among us. Rather than using his equality with God for his own advantage, he embraced humanity and became a servant (Philippians 2:6-7). In Jesus’ upside-down way of living, a person can only become great if he or she is a servant. So, he modeled it perfectly for us. Humbling himself, he talked to women with questionable reputations and even appointed one to be a missionary to her village (John 4). He healed lepers and enabled them to join village life again (Luke 17-11-19). He invited a tax collector to be one of his disciples (Matthew 9:9). He declared a poor fisherman to be a “rock” and gave him the keys to his kingdom (Matthew 16:17-19). He valued children so much that he said it would be better for a person to “have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” rather than hurt a little one (Matthew 18:6). Jesus shows us that serving people empowers them to live God-honoring lives.
That’s why empowerment is one of the 8 principles of Christian Community Development according to Making Neighborhoods Whole (2013). Authors Wayne Gordon and John Perkins define empowerment as “ultimately about releasing the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals and in their neighborhoods and communities” (152). Empowering someone gives them the authority and means by which they can make their own decisions, guided by the Spirit, and be accountable for the consequences of those decisions.
Sometimes, however, we forget that any power we have comes from our relationship with Jesus. We begin to believe the lie that we can manufacture our own power, or that we “deserve” it. We think of the quest for power as a zero-sum game that we don’t want to lose. Then, people are marginalized, ignored and derided in order to preserve our own power. This is the opposite of the example Christ set for us. The omnipotent Christ willingly gave up his power to redeem humanity. How much more so, then, should Christians be willing to give up power to those who have none? Such acts are against our human inclinations, but wholly honoring to God.