Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Power

You’re too powerful – part 2

church-state-streetsThis is the second of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

As affluent Western Christians, we are people in power. We haven’t had a choice really; most of us just happened to be born in one of the richest countries in the world. This has affected our view of the world. Our view of the world is determined by where we stand. Simply because of where we live, we have power, whether we realise it or not. Our purchasing decisions can literally mean life or death for millions of people in the majority poor world.

Martin Luther King made the point that no matter where we live in the world, we are all linked. Our lifestyles all impact on each other. The clothes I buy either keep people in slavery somewhere in Asia, or they contribute in a small way to the betterment of their lives, depending on my purchasing choices.

I believe it is possible to be a Christian in power. Power gives you access to justice; it allows you to advocate. That’s why the first Christians, including Paul and others of his time, didn’t tackle the evil of slavery. It is a common criticism of Christian faith that Jesus and St Paul didn’t say anything about slavery. It’s because they didn’t have any power. That is one of the perks of having power.

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You’re too powerful – part 1

jesus_ecce_homo

This is the first of a two-part post based on a recent Facebook discussion on the Christian and power:

“When religion is too closely linked with power, the problem is not just that religion underwrites oppression, but that the gospel itself is lost. If Christ is just a baby or a dead body, I can keep on living and not allow Christ’s lordship to shed light on all dimensions of my life.” – Ruth Padilla DeBorst

For most of its existence, Christian faith has been aligned with power. Ever since Christianity became the State religion under Constantine in the 4th century, there has been a watering down of the radical social ethics that the Gospel of Jesus demands of us.

Anne Wilkinson-Hayes, of the Baptist Union of Victoria, talks about the impact of Christendom on the faith. They include a change in the way the Bible had to be read (more about that below); marginalising of the human Jesus with a focus on his heavenly character; and a sanctioning of warfare by the church. In short, the persecuted became the persecutors.

Recently I’ve been involved in a brief Facebook discussion based on the above quote from Ruth Padilla DeBorst. The question came up about whether or not we can be a Christian in power. A reference was made to Philippians 4:22 in which St Paul sends a greeting from those Christians in the emperor’s household.

One of the problems of being too closely aligned to power is that we lose our prophetic edge. We become numb to the demands of Jesus as we gradually go along with the allegiances of the State.

It takes huge courage to be close to power and still be prophetic. I think of Daniel who worked with the government of the day. He rose through the ranks but when he spoke out and said something that emperor didn’t like, he was thrown to the lion’s den. It was the same with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; when they refused to worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar set up, they were thrown into the fiery furnace.

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