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25 February 2013

Danger: power at work

Danger: power at work

Over the last few weeks I have found myself in a number of conversations reflecting on the historic events of recent years and what they communicate about how we are building a society for the future. 

A few years into the new millennium we continue to face a global banking and sovereign debt crisis unprecedented in proportions, which impacts all. But as usual, the major effects are felt by the poor. Our democratic structures are having to face a corroded confidence due to the abuse of MPs’ expenses and perhaps more damaging but less reported, the cash for questions scandal. 

Our news media and particularly News International has been exposed for their invasion of our privacy through phone hacking. The BBC appears to have condoned or turned a blind eye to a paedophile ring of extraordinary proportions, as sadly, for decades, did sections of the Church. Our police, it seems, not only failed in their responsibilities of care at Hillsborough but then orchestrated a cover-up which tarnished the name of innocent victims. One is left with the questions: what next? Who next? 

Possibly there is a danger that every generation believes that in some unique way we live in historic times. A true assessment is probably 20 to 30 years away. However, as I reflect on our recent history there seems to be a common factor – power. Or I should say – the abuse of power. It has always been the case that power is a dangerous thing, not only to those exposed to its use but also to the ones who exercise it. Whether in the banks, Westminster, the media, police, the Church, the common factor seems to have been power. Power detached from values of self-sacrifice and service result in a quest for personal gain, financial status, sexual satisfaction, reputational gain or protection. 

“Power is a dangerous thing, not only to those exposed to its use but also to the ones who exercise it.”

The corrupting impact of power is even more complex, as a recent conversation I had with a former city of London professional revealed. He reflected on the number of senior Christian bankers, fund managers, financial advisors who had been part of the ‘system’. Good people, generous people, Bible-believing people. Yet somehow they failed to see the fundamental flaws that would eventually bring the banking world to within hours of collapse. It would seem they were too close to see it clearly. Perhaps they were caught up in an institutional corruption with the power to do almost whatever they wanted.

Jesus’s disciples were not immune to this quest for power. Just days before the crucifixion, two of Jesus’s close friends came to him. They had been with him for three years; you would have thought they’d know better. The request was simple – they wanted to sit on his right and left hand in his future glory. 

This was not just ‘bagging the best seats’ for a future parade; they wanted the status, recognition and power of such a position. Jesus’s response was clear and strong. It didn’t work like that in his new way of doing things. He clearly contrasted the way the power brokers of his age ruled and exercised authority, with four simple words: “not so with you”. He then continued to outline another way, a way that he had spent a lifetime modelling:
“whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant, whoever wants to be first must be a slave”. This was Jesus’s antidote to the corrupting impact of power. 

The night before his crucifixion, Jesus, the most powerful person who has ever set foot on earth, is found in the servant role, washing his disciples’ feet. How sad when reflecting on the history of the Church, and perhaps our personal history, that we have reached for the power of status, financial
gain, and personal satisfaction at the expense of those that surround us. 

So what is our response? Inevitably the government will reach for law, more public enquiries, new quangos, lots of good intentions. But how do we address the human heart, the corruption we so often find within ourselves? Can we offer ‘another way’ which addresses our quest for power and turns the 21st century models of achievement and status upside-down? 

Let me leave you with a couple of questions. Could it be that the events of recent years are actually God answering our prayers for the United Kingdom? Could it be that God has been bringing into the light some of the dark places in our society which results in us seeing them for what
they really are? If that is the case then let’s pray for more – that those things which are hidden might be revealed and let’s ask God that out of these crises, a new kind of leadership will emerge, marked by integrity and a desire for sacrificial service.

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