I’m tempted to begin with the cliché “Webster’s dictionary defines…” because both the word “power” and the word “politics” have incredible baggage. Some of it’s cultural and some of it’s personal and so if we’re going to talk about either we need to be clear what it is we’re actually talking about. Defining what I mean by politics is actually easier and far less fraught with philosophical peril. Simply put, I understand politics to be the process by which groups of people make decisions for their common life together. Human beings function as individuals and communities. We need ways to sort out the balance of our various wants and needs.
Defining power, however, is a bit of a different story. I’m going to define it in a particular way and if you think it’s wildly insufficient tell me in the comments. My working definition of power is the capacity to make things happen the way you want them to. Power usually comes with the capacity to offer punishment or reward.
Every single human being is involved in both power and politics. That means that all of us who live out our lives in the church are too and we can’t pretend to be exempt. The question for us is how followers of Jesus should practice power and politics.
The first thing to say is is a no brainer: we do it with love. We speak, vote, meet, converse, and disagree with compassion, patience, gentleness, and love. A no brainer maybe but no easy task.
What is even more of a challenge, however, is how to exercise power or whether we even should. What I see from Jesus is a refusal to participate in the age old power struggles that create a cycle of winners and losers who alternate between being victim and oppressor.
A wise person once paraphrased Philippians 2:6-8 for me by saying that Jesus was on the ladder of power and willingly stepped off. The idea that somehow we might be called to give away our power or refuse to exercise it is not just challenging, it’s threatening. All the old questions of survival and well-being come rushing to the surface. I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to be vulnerable. I don’t want to be powerless. And yet, I want to follow Jesus.
So I’m trying to figure out how to step off the ladder and follow Jesus. I hope that we can wrestle with how to do that as a community and as a church too.