When we start talking about speaking truth to power…there is only one side of that equation we typically like to be on. We want to be the truth teller, not the truth listener. We want to be the hero…the one who has the insight and the courage to “stick it to the man.” Whether it be the nasty letter you wrote to your home owner’s association or the post you put up on Facebook decrying recent decisions by our branches of government there is a push for people to be the truth speakers.
Rarely do we find encouragement to be truth listeners. It goes both ways. It must go both ways because the reality is you and I are not incorruptible. We are not infallible. We can get caught up in the same power struggles and abuses that the world is so good at using. That is our temptation just as much as it is the world’s. That being said, we must be willing to be truth listeners when we find ourselves on the wrong side of abuse of power and privilege. We are not above being wrong.
This is also true of the church. The church has not always been on the right side of every issue since the beginning of time. Do you know why Paul wrote all the letters he wrote? He wrote them to Christians who were doing it all wrong. He was speaking truth into abusive situations…divisive situations…situations that God’s people were on the wrong side of either with each other or toward the world.
The church needs to be a better truth listener just as much as individual Christians need to tune our ears to know truth when we hear it, particularly when the truth challenges us personally.
That means the “powers” are not just “out there.” They are also “in here.” Church power games and politics are the reality because people are involved and people are imperfect. People will always find an angle. They will seek to find the leverage they need to get things their way and uphold what they deem most important.
Naming the powers
I want to spend a few moments listing a few of the “powers” that are very much present in churches today. I am not saying they are present in all churches, all the time. I do think that these are present frequently and prevalently enough to mention them. Feel free to add more in the comments.
1 – The power of tradition.
There are just some questions that aren’t to be asked and traditions that aren’t to be challenged. They aren’t to be challenged because these traditions have been confused with scripture itself. I am convinced there are people who are more interested in upholding tradition with white-knuckled determination than they are interested in pleasing God with open hands of receiving what God is trying to give.
2 – The power of position.
Any time someone has a position, influence or decision making ability there will eventually be problems. We find position problems in everyone from nursery workers to elders to preachers. No one is immune. The solution is submission. The solution is to take on the very nature of a servant…just like Jesus Christ (Phil 2). Christianity doesn’t come with a crown…crowns are laid at the feet of Jesus. Leadership is service. The exalted are the humble. Living is dying. We recognize biblical leadership but those biblical leaders must understand what that entails in order to not get entangled in worldly ways of leading and shepherding.
3 – Words.
Our words are powerful and they can be used to abuse people. Gossip is powerful. It is far more powerful than we give it credit. It results in tearing people down rather than building up. It undoes the work of the Spirit and produces the fruits of the flesh. Gossip satisfies our own longing to belong and to have power and control at the expense of others. We think we give when we use words but often words are used to take more than they are used to give…they can take dignity. They can take sanity. Words can rip someone open and steal the peace from their heart. Words also have great power for good…let us check our words and make sure they are useful for building up, not tearing down. Let us also make every effort to make sure our words are spoken truthfully.
4 – Serving others
This is an odd one but hear me out. In our own selfishness…we can even twist serving others into a backwards route to prop ourselves up. This is when serving others becomes leverage for our own agenda rather than helping someone because we love them. I did this for you…now you owe me. Service in the world works that way in many cases…but not service in the kingdom.
5 – The worship hour “at the building”
These too can become powers that need disarmed when they are overemphasized in the life of the Christian. There are people more convinced someone will go to hell over what happens in that hour of worship (who passes a plate or says a prayer or gets things out of order or forgets to say “In Jesus name, amen”) than they are over the sin in their life 7 days a week.
6 – Prooftexting
I am listing this as a power because it borders close enough on this to be just that. This is the attempt to decipher from scripture whatever it is we want the Bible to say. That makes me the authority rather than scripture as I work and mold and manipulate verses to fit my agenda. Prooftexting is a power in and of itself that can result in some deadly things.
7 – Gender
Gender in and of itself very quickly gets into power plays and power dynamics. Change a traditional practice in regard to what women can do in worship and pay attention to what people say. You will hear, “Why can’t they just be happy taking care of the babies and teaching the children?” or “They are taking away opportunity for the young men to learn to serve.” Those statements in and of themselves show gender to be a power that can be used to keep people in check.
Disarming the powers
There are many more that could be listed but these will due for now. We have to look at these things with our eyes wide open and ask ourselves this – when am I the one in the seat of power and in what ways have I abused what little power I have at the expense of others? When we start asking that question we become truth listeners…it is only from the posture of the truth listener do true truth tellers emerge.
A second thing that must be done to disarm the powers is to speak truth. Speak truth even when it is hard. Speak truth even when it comes at your expense. Speak truth and speak it directly to those who need to hear in as Christ-like a manner as possible.
Third, ask questions. If you are honestly interested in truth then you ask questions from those who have the answers. That leads us to…
Fourth, don’t speculate. It just isn’t helpful to assume and speculate and then speak as if your conclusions are absolute. If you don’t have all the information just ask.
Fifth, commit yourself to not repeating things to others that are not true, are questionable or even that are true but just shouldn’t be said.
The powers fear the truth because it removes their throne, their crown and their ability to control through manipulation. We must be transparent. We must be honest. We cannot hope that the only way forward for the church is to uphold ways of doing things that disregard the truth or keep us from having to face the truth. Remember, the truth shall set you free…even if you are the one in the wrong.