Is It Okay to Build Communities of Power?
In Acts 1 we read about Jesus' departure from the earth post resurrection. In his final conversation he makes a promise that though he leave the Spirit will come and with the coming of the Spirit the followers of Jesus are to be witnesses for Jesus of the coming kingdom. The text reads:
6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “ Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now? ”
7 Jesus replied, “ It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. ”
Note the word "power" in verse 8. With the coming of the Spirit the community will receive power (dunamis).
I think that many of us are uncomfortable with this word "power." Perhaps it's because with power comes responsibility, and we'd rather not take responsibility. Maybe we're uncomfortable because people with power have been known to abuse their power. As Lord Acton said -- "Power corrupts" -- and who wants to be corrupted? We know that Jesus calls us to be servants, to be humble, to let go of power (or so that seems to be the interpretation of Philippians 2). But what does all of this mean for us as we engage the world in the 21st century?
These are questions I'm working with as I participate in a national training for faith groups who are involved in community organizing. The sponsoring organization is PICO National Network. I am participating in this training because I'm a founding member of the Metropolitan Coalition of Congregations (Metro-Detroit). I'm here to learn what my power is and how I can use this power to engage in works of transformation in the community. One of the points raised is that power emerges from anger, or from grief regarding injustice in the world. We struggled with this idea, because we don't like to be seen as angry, but is simply being concerned about an issue enough?
So, does it make me angry or do I feel grief because young people are being caught up in violence? Do I care that people are being foreclosed on by banks that misled people into taking on loans the banks knew would likely default? Do I grieve that children in urban areas are being forced to learn in over-crowded class rooms? If so,what am I willing to do? I can give to charity, but charity often does little more than offer a band-aid. It doesn't change the systems. Does this bother me? or you?
If I'm going to do something about this, what do I need? Well, don't I need some power?
But what is power? And how much power do I need? Basic definitions first -- the word power simply means "to be able." So, what do I need to be able to accomplish that which I have envisioned?
Community organizing seeks to build communities of power -- whether that be congregations (congregations need to be empowered so they can engage the world) or federations of congregations -- that will engage in work that changes the dynamics of our communities.
So, here's my question: Is it okay to build communities of power? And if we do build such communities how should this power be expressed?
As you think about these questions consider this principle: Communities of faith have the potential to bring into play a moral compass that engage both political and economic entities. The question is -- are we willing to go outside the walls to offer this moral compass?