Problems with Unbridled Power and Privilege


Kings, Prophets, and Presidents: A Warning about Power Abuse (Part 4 of 4)

“Christian faith is about truth, and whenever you try to mix power and truth, power usually wins. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Cal Thomas

Woe to those who plan iniquity,
    to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out
    because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them.
They defraud people of their homes,
    they rob them of their inheritance. Micah 5:1-5

Here are some nauseating realities about unbridled power and privilege: Hundreds of Catholic priests have been accused of abusing their power to sexually assault children, CEOs like Harvey Weinstein and Roger Ailes, news personalities like Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Bill O’Reilly, and entertainment stars like Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Louis C.K. have harassed and/or assaulted women, not to mention R. Kelly who is being accused of abusing underage girls for decades and the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who has been charged with prostitution and human trafficking. And who can forget the nineteen women who allege that President Trump harassed or assaulted them? Oh, and he bragged about how he could do anything he wanted to any woman he wanted!

In the first part of this series we looked at two kings who abused their power, David and Ahab. We went on to focus on Donald Trump’s relentless abuse of his presidential power. Then we looked at the Church’s prophetic mandate to speak truth to power. In this final post let’s brave a peek at the temptation, if not compulsion, to abuse whatever privilege and power most of us have. Since power abuse isn’t exclusive to kings and presidents, let’s get a little more up close and personal and see if the Spirit doesn’t do a little meddling into our business.

It’s easy to say, “Yeah, I hate power mongers! We should put them all in prison and throw away the key!” But is it possible that, like David, we don’t smell our own B.O.? Is it possible that we, like both David and Ahab, are blind to our complicity in some form of injustice to the race? Like those kings, are we so accustomed to our privilege that we are tone deaf to our neighbors who have less agency than us?

In our last post we talked about speaking truth to power. Is it possible that we, in some ways, are the power that needs to be spoken to? Could it be that the Spirit has been pointing out our own similar sins in his still small voice and when we turned a deaf ear he graduated to shouting, “Can you hear me now?” Almost everyone has some power or privilege that can be exploited for his or her own advantage and at the disadvantage of others.

The privileged inherit most of the power and the powerful end up with most of the privileges. Power corrupts and privilege is blind.

You may not hold political office, possess celebrity status, or don a sheriff’s badge. You may not be a boss or have a humungous stock portfolio, but most of us have some sort of God-given, God-aided social position or aptitude that affords us opportunities to serve our less fortunate neighbors in some way. And I use “neighbors” in the way Jesus did, to refer to all our human counterparts. When we use our privilege and power to get things we don’t really need (like Davd) at the expense of our neighbor who does need them (like Uriah and Naboth), are we not sinning against them and offending God?

The degree to which we use our power and privilege to neglect, reject, or objectify others instead of honoring and caring for them is the measure of our faithful stewardship before the Lord.

Watch this fantastic 6 minute video!

Someone said, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Think about that for a minute before reading on.

Before we let ourselves off the hook too soon, remember that David (a good man) was at first oblivious to his own sin of power abuse when Nathan confronted him. CS Lewis said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing.”

Our life advantages tend to blind us to one sort of unimagined privilege or another. It might be racial, socio-economic, gender, or another sort of privilege. Gregg Boyd says, “For all our insistence that America is the land of equal opportunity, there is in fact a stratified ‘pecking order’ of privilege that is largely structured by one’s access to power, social class, ethnicity, and even gender.”

Check out Boyd’s article here.

Someone said, “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally.” When you are used to having all the toys at your disposal and get angry about sharing them with the other kids in the classroom, that’s more than selfishness, it’s entitled privilege.

In relation to racial privilege, Boyd said, “The majority of white people don’t ‘get it.’ What’s worse, the majority of white people don’t know that they don’t ‘get it.’ Worst of all, the majority of white people don’t really know that there’s anything to ‘get.’” I would add to that the only thing worse than that is when they refuse to get it and swear up and down that there’s nothing to get!

I wonder how it would change our idea of the people we so blithely label, “illegals” and so indifferently reject as guests in our country if we sampled for one month the penniless and precarious circumstances from which they come. I think most of us wouldn’t be so quick to sneer, “This is ours here. That’s yours there. We’ll keep ours and you go back to yours. And by the way, if you were more industrious, you’d get a job back in your country and make something of yourself!” Please!

“It is much harder to caricature, insult, and denounce people as evil fools when you are three feet away,” says Tim Keller. “But today fewer and fewer of our relationships are face-to-face.”

The Takeaway: 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 power we possess in such a way as to reflect the personality of the One who allowed us to have power in the first place. And we must insist on electing officials with those same priorities!

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