The balance of power
Breaking free of the megachurch world and embracing the #exvangelical label, it’s interesting to hear all the different ways of deconstructing. Some leave the church and walk away from their entire belief system, some drastically reform it, and some reconstruct in a way that’s not so different from what it was originally. I fall into the last category, and for now, it works well for me. I found a new church after a few months leaving my old one and got so lucky in finding a community that was truly what I needed it to be in this season.
My favorite thing about my new church is the pervading sense of humility that it carries. The pastors don’t make extensive efforts to tout their education or speaking abilities, and they are frequently talking about how to empower the congregation to be ministers in their own lives and circles of influence. It’s a far cry from the church I came from where it seemed like all of the power was consolidated at the very fine point of a male-dominated pyramid and the rest of us were responsible only for listening to the men tell us what God was speaking.
The difference between these two churches is night and day, and even though good and bad come out of both places, they feel so different based on how the leaders and people inside view their responsibility when it comes to the power society has handed them.
Of course, power in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s defined as the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. Power is what makes things happen, both good and bad. The problem is that power can be motivated by so many things, and I’m starting to see that it’s easy to let our motives shift and change over time, becoming more selfish and less generous. As a white, heterosexual woman, I have an inherent power that can most certainly be used for complacency and evil if I choose not to see it and harness it for good. As a divorced woman, I suffer the consequences of white conservative men wielding their power against me because I didn’t conform to their preferred narrative. We are never only on the bottom or only on top, we have to constantly look around and evaluate the power we have and how we’re using it to benefit or harm others.
The imbalance of power in the church leads to so many problems. I would go as far as to say the root of all problems within the modern church stem from imbalance of power and the refusal to break down the systems that are perpetuating that imbalance.
How can we even begin to dismantle purity culture, complementarianism, racism, ableism, misogyny, etc. without talking about the imbalance of power? How can we course correct if we don’t address how good people can have good intentions but fuck them up because of their unaddressed or unidentified desire for power. We must talk about how that desire creeps in, how it’s silent, how I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface in recognizing the power I’ve been keeping to myself as a white woman.
It starts with me. It starts with education and a concerted effort to open our eyes to the reality of people who have been marginalized for no good reason. It starts with blogs with lots of perspectives like this one and following the right people on Twitter and making friends with people who don’t look and sound and live like you.
One of the toughest things for me this year has been to separate an organization from the individuals within it. This gets tricky because obviously individuals that make up the larger group are complicit in what happens at an organizational level, but sometimes the machine makes a mess of the good individual efforts that go into making it run. While I’m still in the “anger” phase of the death of the relationship with my previous church, I’m trying to focus that anger into putting energy toward making my current church community as healthy, loving, and welcoming as I possibly can. I have to recognize that good people get lost in a dangerous system and that it’s my job to make whatever system I’m in better and healthier using the power that God has given me.