Monday, September 19, 2016

Power & Prejudice in the Church today

When I was abused as a child by someone more powerful than me, I tried to use my voice to speak out against it, but I was shut up. When I went to a teacher who had the power to stop it, he did nothing.

As God's image bearers we have power and voice. Like Adam we're given power to serve and protect (work and keep the garden). Like Adam we're also given a voice to use this power (naming animals and his wife). The affects of the fall however messes up our power and voices.

In my case, my childhood voice was ineffective because it wasn't listened to. In my teacher's case, he had the power to protect me, but he didn't use his power to protect me, and he didn't allow my voice to be powerful.

In churches today we sadly see the same pattern. People use their voices to speak out against misuses of power. These misuses of power come in a various forms of abuse; gossip and slander, legalism and heavy shepherding, excessive anger and violence, inappropriate relationships, and child abuse. The complainant's voices often get ignored by the people with the power to stop the misuse of power. The people with the power often don't use their power to stop the abuse, even when its someone else causing the abuse.

There's 4 ways I'd like to highlight this plays out in the western church:

1) Racial Injustice: If someone from an ethnic minority tries to speak out against a racial injustice, the majority culture who have the power to do something about it, often ignore their voice. They often fail to use their power to redeem the situation.

2) Class Prejudice: If someone from the lower classes (in the UK) tries to speak out against class prejudice and inequality, some of the upper classes tend to ignore their voice. The people who have power to change the inequality often don't and instead use their power to defend themselves.

3) Child Abuse: If a child or parent tries to speak out against abuse, some church leaders try to quieten those voices. The very people who could use their power to stop the abuse, try to cover it up instead.

4) General Offences: If a believer goes to another believer and says, 'I believe you sinned against me' (Matt 18). The other believer will sometimes fail to hear their voice, and fail to use their power to wrong the right. Instead, they might use their power and voice to defend themselves. They subsequently hold a power over the wounded person, as they refuse to repent and provide reconciliation and closure.

All of these situations are highly unbiblical, yet sadly very common. 

Why is this? 
One reason for the first two situations could be that majority cultures can easily misuse the image of God by using their power to defend their positions rather than serving and protecting.

What about the third situation? Sadly child abuse is so prevalent all over the world that I don't think it can be limited to one culture. What we have seen is that all over the world, it is tragically common for some people to use their power in an exceedingly wicked way over powerless children. This is sin issue that is common to the whole human race.

What about the fourth situation? Sadly both majority and minority culture church leaders misuse their power, refusing to listen to other's voices. This is not a class problem, its a problem common to all of mankind, as we all have indwelling sin and deceitful hearts.

What's the solution?
  1. We need a bigger view of the power of indwelling sin, and the deceitfulness of our hearts. This will help us to be more realistic about the possibilities that we ourselves are misusing power. We will also be more open to hearing that one of our colleagues might also be misusing power.
  2. We need a bigger view of the cross so that we truly believe that Jesus has paid for the sin of misusing our power. If we truly believe this, we will experience the freedom to own up to our misuse of power. 
  3. We also need to apply the doctrine of justification by faith alone to our hearts. As we truly accept Christ's justification, we won't feel the need to justify and defend ourselves. 
  4. We need to regularly and constantly apply the gospel to every area of our lives, including:
    1. How are we reflecting God's power and voice?
      1. Are we serving and protecting others?
      2. Are we using our voices in a proud way that ignores the cry of the hurt and oppressed?
    2. How are we helping others to use their power and voice.
      1. Are we helping those who have been hurt to use their god given power in the right way?
      2. Are we listening to people and helping them to find and use their voices?
What will the result be?
We could end up reflecting God better, and having churches that are safer for children, and minorities, but also churches where children and minorities flourish. Multi-cultural churches where everyone gets to use their voice and power in an appropriate way for God's glory.