In his wonderful volume, The power of God and the gods of power, Daniel Migliore writes in an accessible way about difficult concepts, like power and powerlessness. We learn about power, Migliore says, in relationship with others; from the time we are infants, the response we get to our interactions with other people teach us about our own power. We learn about powerlessness in our relationship to the world, with social, economic and political institutions – and we learn that power is often used (at times, in abusive or cruel ways) impersonally, remotely, but it can still affect us deeply – as anyone in our area who has gone to work and been told to clean out their desk or locker knows.
Migliore makes two basic points early on. “Being human has much to do with the experience of power and powerlessness, of the use and abuse of power”; and, “when power is used to enlarge the self at the expense of others, when it is exercised oppressively rather than cooperatively, it brings ruin and misery to all dimensions of life….the arrogant assertion and misuse of power is a symptom of what the Bible calls sin.”
In this series, I have been exploring the use and abuse of power by Christians and Christian groups in western Michigan, around one issue – homosexuality. As I noted at the start of this series (http://dampfang.com/x-57594-Grand-Rapids-Protestant-Examiner~y2010m8d5-The-Use-of-Power-in-Community-and-Christian-Discourse–A-Series), Christian attitudes and actions in terms of this one issue are not unified – there is a lot of division in the house. Whatever squabbles we have among us, however, the unchurched are pretty clear that ALL Christians are conservative, Republican, and anti-gay. The popular TV show Glee will introduce a “Christian” character next season, and sure enough, the writers know who Christians are – they are the people who don’t like gays (http://www.gleefan.com/glee-to-add-a-christian-character/). Last season, a character who got pregnant was banished from her home by her “Christian” parents. As Jim Henderson and Matt Casper note in their invaluable book, Jim and Casper Go to Church, Casper, an atheist Jim has hired to visit churches with him and share his experiences, states his view early on that “Christians are conservative and they don’t like gay people.”
So now, the dust has settled in western Michigan. The candidate for Congress who works for the Family Research Council was not selected in the primary. No one is protesting these days at Hope College, at least not until the students return to class.
I wonder, however, who is okay with the status quo. How do you feel about the image of “us” throwing “our” power around to get “our” way, because of our sense of “what it says in the Bible”? How is it to be understood as largely irrelevant? As not caring? As judgmental of what “we” identify as sin? Finally (can’t help it – on a book roll here), Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church sounds an alarm – our teenagers see God as benevolent but unengaged and the message of Christianity is that we should be nice. Is that all there is, my friends? Teens have learned that that’s it because we have taught them so. Migliore asks a question to us all – “What power will you allow to claim your whole being – mind, will, and affection?” We MUST find ways to claim the power of God and to use it to proclaim the lavish, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38) forgiveness and love of Jesus for a world in pain – or, at least, we have to stop using our power in ways God calls sin.