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Essay

Power and Privilege

By September 19, 2013 No Comments
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Tom is otherwise engaged today and therefore, introduces his friend and colleague the Rev. Blaine Crawford who has written today’s post. Blaine is a pastor serving the Lakeview Community Church (RCA) in Rochester, New York and has recently celebrated his first year there in ordained ministry. He is a graduate of the esteemed Northwestern College, in beautiful Orange City, Iowa (as well as Denver Seminary.)
“All true being strives to create room for more being and to expend its power in the creation of flourishing environments for variety and life, and to thrust back the chaos that limits true being.” – Andy Crouch

I find a growing suspicion of power and authority among people. Those in power are viewed with skepticism. They are viewed as having ulterior motives, of being disingenuous, and even misleading at times. This suspicion of leadership and the power and the authority that leadership holds is manifest on the macro-levels of society and in the micro-levels of our neighborhoods, churches, and communities. Yet, power exists.The question then, is not  What power are we trying to divest ourselves of? but rather, How will we hold and use our power that has been granted to us by God?

The last couple days, I have attended a series of lectures by Andy Crouch in which he discussed some of the ideas presented in his new book Playing God. One of the lectures was on the topic of power. In it, Crouch defines power as the ability to make something of the world, either by physically transforming part of creation and culture or by making meaning of what has been experienced. Power is a gift from God, but power is also prone to idolatry and injustice.  True power bears the image of God in the world. True power, power and authority in the life of the Triune God, does not hoard. Rather, it creates more being, more flourishing, more diversity, and more abundant life. Power rightly used empowers and nurtures rather than diminishes and squashes. Power rightly leveraged brings forth the latent possibilities in human beings and in the created order. Power is multiplicative as the opening quotation from Crouch suggests.

Privilege often accompanies power. Privilege, like power, is often met with skepticism. Privilege is one way power devolves into idolatry and injustice. According to Crouch, privilege is an unconscious form of power. Being unconscious, it often works at a level just beneath the surface. Thus, without attention and intention, leaders called to use their power for flourishing will instead fall back into patterns of privilege that end up diminishing the being of others while elevating their own being. Power is no longer multiplicative. When privilege is at work, everybody loses because, as Crouch suggests, the image of God is twisted in both the perpetrator and in the victim. Privilege, when it comes to its relationship to power, must be brought to the surface of leaders. Leaders, with this new attention to the privilege that they have received, must intentionally work against it, working on behalf of those whose power, authority and image-bearing have been diminished.

The question I leave the lectures pondering is this:  How am I intentionally using my power and my privilege on behalf of others so that they may flourish as image-bearers of the Triune God?

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