In Part 1 I made the audacious claim that the privileged inherit most of the power and the powerful end up with most of the privileges. If power corrupts then privilege is blind. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s something I call a “moral governor” that the privileged and powerful must acquire in order to benefit society.
I mentioned that there were two centurions in the New Testament that were equipped with the same moral governor that kept their power and privilege in check. You might have guessed that the second centurion was Cornelius, the one who Peter evangelized in Acts 10.
We’re told that Cornelius, who, like the other centurion, was “generous with those in need” and “respected by all the Jews.” When Peter entered his house, the mighty commander of soldiers “fell at his feet in reverence.” Far from your typical power hungry leader, this was a humane and humble-hearted man.
It blows my mind that these two men had a spirit of humility, generosity, and compassion BEFORE they even met Jesus! How embarrassing is it that many so-called Christians who were born into privilege and who have tasted socio-economic and political power can’t seem to keep it from going to their heads!
Unfortunately, Christians or not, people of power and privilege who are in possession of a humility, generosity, and compassion governor are a rare breed. People of this ilk––be they business magnates, politicians, law enforcers, pastors, or celebrities––who have the self-control to use instead of abuse their power, are in short supply.
International Justice Mission defines injustice as “what happens when someone uses their power to take from someone else the good things God intended them to have: their life, their liberty, their dignity, or the fruit of their love or their labor.” Justice, on the other hand, is the righteous use of power and privilege.
In a previous post called “What Shall We Do?” I wrote the following:
“Our idea of holiness has a hole it. In many of our Christian circles we rail against certain private morality issues and conveniently overlook the abundance of our social trespasses. We address the worker but not the employer. We ask people to repent of their lusts and addictions, but not their selfish misuse of privilege. When do we preach against our racism, misogyny, and greed?”
“Of all people, we ‘Christian’ people should be the first in line to surrender all unjust possibilities of privilege for the sake of the unprivileged. We must steward whatever form of leverage we possess in such a way as to reflect the personality of the One who allowed us to have leverage in the first place.”
Cornelius and his counterpart in the Gospels had Roman citizenship, upper social class, political clout, and military might at their disposal. None of which did they abuse to keep the upper hand. They weren’t seduced by privilege or corrupted by power. They wielded them justly.
I proposed these questions in Part 1:
- Which of our governors (and all so-called “public servants”) have this governor?
- Which of those that we select to represent us have the restraint over their power and privilege in order to bless, rather than bleed society?
- How many of those we rally behind have a modicum of humility and compassion?
Let me be clear, I’m not implying that we’re obligated to elect into office only Christians, especially since many non-christians have superior moral standards than ours. I’m saying that character counts! A generous, humble, compassionate character is the best governor for anyone blessed with power and/or privilege.
Even the pre-christian can behave and legislate humanely. Their conscience, even without the same level of assistance the Spirit gives us, functions as a governor to restrain their propensity for great social evil, and inspires them to use their influence for good. [Not to imply that they have no need for salvation or that they can manage their own lives and rule in society at their full moral potential without the Spirit.]
My point is two-fold:
One––don’t be hypnotized by people who have power and privilege yet lack the necessary governor of character to steward it for maximum benefit to society.
Two––before putting people in positions of power and privilege, take into account whether or not they’re in possession of that governor. Don’t be seduced by bravado and success stories without the moral qualities necessary for public service. Instead of pulling us up to a higher plane, eventually people lacking character will push us down into a deeper hole.
In your fantasy football draft you might not care much about a player’s moral governor. In fact, your first pick might be a bloodthirsty steroid-crazed linebacker to help your team win and make you a few bucks! But when we’re handing power and privilege to local, state, and national policy makers we have to use an altogether different set of criteria.
Centurions weren’t democratically selected by fellow citizens. They rose to the top by violence, connections, and bribery. We, however, live in a time and place where we have a say––albeit a limited “say”––about those we choose to represent us in positions of influence.
My advice is that we use some discernment about whether or not they have the character requisite for public service.