Monday, March 13, 2006

The Dynamics of Power


I've been thinking about the dynamics of power in relationships within the kingdom of God. At this point, I'm still processing my ideas about how this affects leadership, authority, and our roles in relation to one another.

Let me start with some background about social status.

People do not hold equal status in societies.

Some are privileged. Others are disadvantaged.

The typical things that determine privilege are race, gender, and economic status.

Ways in which privilege and disadvantage manifest include level of inclusion and access to influence.

Subordinant is the term for those in lower power positions.
Dominant is the term for those in higher power positions.

Privilege is the access to benefits that results from being identified as a member of a dominant group.

Privilege is not earned in any tangible way.
It is just there for dominants.

Bias or discrimination is the denial of access to benefits that results from being identified as a member of a subordinant group.

Bias or discrimination is not deserved.
It is just there for subordinants.

Even the best of intentions to create an inclusive environment are hindered when the dynamics of power relationships are ignored.

At this point, I am just looking at the reality of privilege, acknowledging that in certain situations, it is within my ability to either include and empower or to exclude and disempower.

Like I said, I'm still just chewing on these ideas.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this topic.

9 comments:

Bob said...

As a

white (European descent)
middle class
35-45 year old
heterosexual
married (2 kids)
college educated
professional (Technology)
Christian (Protestant)
non-smoking
non-disabled
average weight
average height
male

I am the quintessential majority.

As you said Privilege is not earned in any tangible way.
It is just there for dominants.
. I think that's true. Unfortuately, the "dominants" usually have a blind spot here.

Mike Croghan said...

When I was in college, I realized that "WASP" didn't cover all the bases in describing the priveleged class in North American society, so I invented a new acronym to describe folks like me and Bob:

WUMPSPASM

White, Unchallenged (Mentally and Physically), Straight, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon Male

This was before I found out I have a chronic mental illness (bipolar disorder). So I'm not actually a WUMPSPASM after all. :-)

aBhantiarna Solas said...

Hi Grace, I like you're thinking about this. I've been doing a lot thinking about this too.

One of the places I've gotten stuck on is that I think that Jesus came to turn these things upside down. But the church (since the time of Constantine ... so for a very long time) has been supporting most of your definitions. Which makes for some very uncomfortable dichotomies. I haven't fleshed this out very much ... and like you, I'm still thinking about it alot. You can read some of my stuff over on my blog ... it's not very far down and has stuff in the title about International Women's Day (if you care to).

In any case, I like how you're sort of carefully picking this apart a little at a time. It's very interesting.

Pax, Sonja

Pam Hogeweide said...

My dear friend Grace, are we like on a weird, wavelength in some parallel universe? I've been thinking about this and most recently wrote about this...specifically about the idea of shared power amongst the genders. There is a huge mindset in the body of Christ that men are to have more power than women in leadership and in the home because, well, because they have an extra chromosome.

The more I think about the women-submission-women-can't-lead-men thing the more convinced I'm becoming that it is rooted in power rather than theology. Thus, this is very compelling to me that you are blogging about power and the kingdom of God.

I am very interested in undertanding how power is shared and dispensed in the kingdom. Jesus was the epitome of humility, of power laid down. Paul said of Christ that He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
Jesus often told people NOT to talk about their miracle - could it be that He was trying to avoid building a powerful ministry and reputation, the Superstar Syndrome, but was intent on living and ministering in obscurity and humility?

I want to relook at the way of Jesus and how He yielded His power. But what of His privelage? How did Jesus put His privelaged life as a tradesman-turned rabbi to use for the kingdom of God? What of His power as a male in a patriarchal society? How did He treat those who had no power, like women and children and the poor?

I wonder if the oppressed and needy are so dear to His heart because of their lack of power, the sheer helplessness to those who dominate their lives with power.

Did anyone watch The Soprano's last night? That episode reeked of the nastiness of power gone wrong and how lives, and hope, can be destroyed.

Rock on Grace. You've nailed it again as usual!

(does your family have any plans to come west anytime soon? would love, love, love to meet you!!! donna and lily and i are getting together on a regular basis and you're name often comes up....)

David Cho said...

Great post.

A good topic to ponder upon. There are parables associated with this concept such as the one about talents. We are admonished that to whom much is given, much will be required.

But the trademark of those to whom much is given is abuse of privilege, and I believe they will be judged harshly because of such. Well, I wonder if I will be judged because of this. I hate the exercise of counting my blessings because of it.

The typical things that determine privilege are race, gender, and economic status.

Long live the high school social hierarchy especially in the church!

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Interesting that you should post on this today, as I just posted on issues of identity that deal with some of these very issues as they relate to culture & race. As usual, your blog is well worth the visit. Thanks!

Peace,
Jamie

grace said...

Bob,
I think often when the blind spot is pointed out, it is for the purpose of making the person with privilege feel guilty. I hope to approach this from a different angle.

Mike,
Your point is important. I think that physical and mental handicaps are another factor that almost automatically put a person in the subordinant category.

Sonja,
Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed your post about patriarchy and hierarchy. The gridblog posts were what got me thinking about all of this.

Pam,
I wondered what happened to the other half of my brain. I hope you're taking good care of it.

It's not likely I'll make it to Portland anytime soon, although I'd love to meet you and Lily.

I will be in Cheyenne, WY on April 8 to see Graham Cooke. I'm sure I'll be posting about it.

David,
I never thought about the parable of the talents in relation to this, but it certainly applies. Your comment has me thinking about many of the other parables and how they demonstrate the dynamics of power in the kingdom.

Jamie,
Thanks! It's always interesting how themes seem to appear within the emerging blogs. Maybe because we're reading similar things, maybe because we're following the same voice.

In our area, the native american culture is very underprivileged. Many of the well-intentioned attempts by churches at reconciliation have been mostly ineffective.

Pam Hogeweide said...

lucky you, going to see Graham. Hey, if there is any product for sale on Prophets in the Wilderness would you pick me up some? I'll send you a check and cover s/h. Go get filled up!

grace said...

I'll watch for it Pam. Is it a book or something else?