By Scott Yi
You might be surprised to find out that powerlessness was one of Jesus’ favorite topics to talk about. Jesus was intricately aware of what it meant for those at the top to impose their rules and their religion on those at the bottom. When you look at the kinds of themes that recur throughout the Gospel stories, it cannot be doubted that Jesus’ heart was always upon those who lacked power. Whether he was blessing the meek and the poor in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11), or offering miracles to the kind of people whom society had abandoned years ago, Jesus saw value where no one else did. Those without power, those without a place in this world, must be raised up, Jesus teaches us, while those who do have authority and privilege must find ways to give up their authority and privilege. When it comes to the choices that powerful people must make in their lives, nothing less than their very souls are at stake. When confronted with the God of Justice, the rich young ruler was commanded to part with his possessions and his privilege (Mark 10:17-27). He failed. But when the God of Justice extended the same invitation to Zacchaeus, the lowly tax collector leapt at the opportunity of giving up his power if it meant he could honor his Lord in any small way (Luke 19:8-10). Those with power must give up their power; in fact, Jesus puts his own words into practice when he explains to his disciples that the reason he has to leave is so that the Holy Spirit can take his place (John 16:7).
How tragic it is, then, that one of Jesus’ most important and radical lessons has been routinely and audaciously ignored throughout centuries of church history. The modern church is, of course, not exempt from this. The fight over who has power and who gets to be heard has plagued virtually every denomination and every American congregation in some form or another, whether it’s internal conflict that leads to a church split, or volunteer workers growing frustrated with the ungraceful practices of their ministry leaders, or the younger generation dealing with the disillusionment of being constantly ignored by the older generation. Left without a voice, people are leaving their churches in droves.
When Jonathan asked me to be a guest editor for Kingdom Resources for Christ, we both agreed that power in the church was a timely topic that was ripe for discussion. The church should be the one place where those who are ignored can find their value and their voice. But, as all of us know, that’s not the case at all. If there’s ever been a time in my life where I saw more divisiveness and hurt feelings in the church than today, I can’t think of it. We don’t talk about power in our congregations, but we need to.
The variety of stories you’ll find in this issue reveals just how widespread the problem has become in the local church. Tamara writes about what it’s like to find out that your church not only doesn’t care about your concern for justice, but is actively working against it. Erin shares what her struggle has been like as a white person fighting against white privilege in her church. Amber discusses how even in elevated positions in the congregation, women must succumb to life-draining stereotypes. Jeremy looks at things from a theological perspective as he considers how a genuinely biblical view of relationships might alleviate our closed-minded attitudes toward those who disagree with us.
Although it might be discouraging to read about so many ways in which the modern church has failed to live up to the promise of a new life and a new family in Christ, I encourage you to pray all the more if anything in this magazine has moved you. All of us write from a place of hope, knowing that although humans may fail us, Jesus never fails.