CHRISTIAN FAITH AND
Presented at a
lunch with the Social Work Department at Roberts Wesleyan College,
September 26, 2003
A sharp critique of power is
frequent in Christian writings. Several years ago I responded to an
article in Transformation magazine, the title of which stated
its thesis: "Abandoning Power." Common is the sentiment in
this statement: "Those farthest from the seeds of power are
closest to the heart of things." Many of these critics are not
in disagreement with the theology of power that I propose. They use
the term, power, reductionisticly to describe only one form
of power. By power these writers often mean what I will be
calling exploitive power. Herman Dooyeweerd describes their position
in this way:
Many equate power with brute
force. Today many Christians, misled by this identification,
consider it unchristian to strive for the consolidation of power in
organizations that aim at applying Christian principles to society.
They believe that power may play no part among Christians . . . . A
Christian may speak of love and justice with an unburdened
conscience, but as soon as power comes into his purview he has
probably lent an ear to the devil.
Like many disputes in political philosophy, some of the differences
regarding power can be overcome through clearer understanding of how
the terminology is being used.
Although it is not the only valid
approach, power provides a helpful basic framework for a Christian
political philosophy. From this perspective the political process is
the shaping, distribution, and exercise of power.
The critics of power may possess
moral insight into the destructive possibilities and realities of
power but are imprecise in articulating the full dimensions of
power. Identifying power with violence can lead to merely private
solutions to social problems since the conception of non-lethal
forms of power is undeveloped.
Power is much more, however, and a
moral repugnance about power and the resulting retreat from power in
reality becomes a retreat from politics. There never is a power
vacuum. Simply to reject power allows the pride of power and the
concentration of power to go on unchecked. We need to understand
power--its necessary and proper role, its dangers, and its checks.
This understanding requires the perspective of the Christian
Scriptures and Christian theology.
POWER IN SOCIETY
Although power is denounced
frequently in religious circles, James Luther Adams, has stated,
"Religion cannot be adequately described without employing the
conception of power; likewise, power cannot be properly described
without employing religious concepts. Power is the basic category of
being and the basic category of social action." Power from this
vantage point is impossible to abandon. Power is not only essential
for social action. It also is essential for the life in faith and
society which precedes politics.
To summarize some of the sociology
of power, as social action, power emerges out of the many factors in
life which can give one person an advantage over another. Power is relational.
Power is determined by where a person is in relation to other
persons in society and by what one can do with respect to others. So
a biblical text to which we will return later states, "If
members of your community become poor in that their power slips with
you, you shall make them strong. . .that they may live with
you" (Lev. 25.35-36).
The definition of power by Max
Weber, one of the founders of modern sociology, is that power is
the chance to realize one's own will in a communal action even
against the resistance of others. Bierstedt presents the same
conception in other terms: power, when manifested, reduces the
options for the recipient of power to do other than what the actor
Power is structural. One
possesses power primarily by the institutional position that one
occupies in society--where one is socially, what notch one fills,
not by who one is as an individual. The biblical prophetic critique
included powerful types of people: large landholders,
government officials, leading priests.
THE THREE POWERS
Preservative and exploitive power.
The definition of power used by many otherwise helpful theological
commentators on power is broader than that used by the sociologists
whose conceptions we have been discussing. The significance of these
theological studies for social philosophy will be enhanced if they
can be reconciled to the sociological perspective. Similarly, the
biblical language of power does not necessarily relate immediately
to the same process to which power refers in sociological
discussion. The usefulness for social ethics of many writings about
power in the Bible is limited by the failure to relate its language
of power to a sociological theory of power or to unfold the
understanding of social power in the biblical materials. The
biblical cultures did have conceptions of social power; all cultures
For James Luther Adams and Paul
Tillich power is the ability of a particular existence to act in
accordance with its being. It is the capacity to live out its life
in accordance with its true nature by creation. Accordingly, power
is a gift from God, the Creator and Sustainer. Human power exists as
the way we respond effectively to our possibilities of being. This
being is not abstract, but the being which God presents as a
particular gift designed for each life.
An important contribution of this
approach is that it establishes the goodness of power. Because it is
an expression of divine being, power is good, not basically tainted.
"Power belongs to God," states the Psalmist (Ps. 62.11, NRSV).
Conceptions which start with power as a hindrance to the capacity to
act have difficulty justifying power beyond the principle of the
Theological treatments of power
which describe power as the ability to act vary, however, from the
idea of power as overcoming resistance, so prominent in sociological
tradition of Max Weber, to realize one’s will even against the
resistance of others. They are not as effective as they could be
in justifying power which is exercised in situations of conflict,
such as political power. Such definitions do not bring the element
of conflict to the surface so that it can be subjected to ethical
analysis, which is why I use the Weber definition. Highlighting the
conflict within the power relationship is important for the
Christian discussion of power because this approach exposes the
controversial ethical questions of coercion, loss of freedom, and
physical force. This issue is significant because how one defines
power influences how one will deal with it.
Not all sociologists agree, to be
sure, with the emphasis upon overcoming resistance in the definition
of Weber. In fact, as we will see, a strength of the approach of
Adams is its description of the mutuality in power which some
sociological critics see missing in the Weberian approach. Some also
note the social justifications which disguise conflict from the
dependent member. For example, in situations of manipulation, one
might resist if the intent were not concealed. Low income youths
might not enlist for military service in such numbers if they saw
that the career training advertised often does not become a reality.
You probably can suggest other examples.
In defense of the Weberian
approach, however, conflict still is present in the power
relationship even though it is submerged. Further, power and social
causation are not interchangeable although many theological
treatments seem to assume that they are in their treatment. Roderick
Martin notes that warning someone to get out of the way of a car
produces an effect, but it is not power over that person, such as
occurred when someone was drafted to patrol the Vietnamese jungle.
My proposal is that Adams' and
Tillich's conception can be understood in terms of the sociological
definition of power. The ability to act in accordance with one's
created being easily leads to the idea of others who would thwart
the Creator's intention. In the actual human situation, the
intention of the Creator is perverted by sinful actions against
others, against us. The gift of power is fallen with the race, and
in all communities power is used overtly and covertly to the
disadvantage of the weaker neighbor. In the life of any individual
or society, preserving its essential unity requires resisting
tendencies which oppose it. Tillich describes "the continuous
struggle of power of being with power of being" that has
various results ranging between the extremes of assimilating the
other power and absorption by it.
With this perception, the
definition of power as the potential to carry out one's will over
the resistance of others applies to Adams' and Tillich's conception.
The power of being is the potential to defend one's divinely created
being from the contrary intentions of others. Our will is to
maintain the integrity of our own being. Their will in this
situation has the effect of thwarting it. The pressure of a gang
upon a youth to join a form of street life is resisted by the
youth's values, courage, and support within home and church. The
power of being is a legitimate preservative power with the potential
of carrying out one's will to be in a communal situation despite the
resistance of others. Our first form of power is preservative
power. Our personal resources and our ability to act in
accordance with our beliefs are power as we reduce interference with
our course, which is to be the creature that we perceive God has
created us to be.
Attributes which by themselves
would appear to be but resources thus can be seen to be effective
forms of power. Knowledge, competence, character, endurance, hope,
faith, and our ability to organize and to work in cooperation with
others aid one in following one's personal purpose in life despite
severe forces of power that oppose it. Such elements of power are
good as gifts of God essential for human life in society.
The consequence of power in this
conception prevents action, rather than produces action. Describing
power as producing the intended results on others, Dennis Wrong
notes that inaction may be the effect of power. Issues are not
raised in the community in anticipation of the reaction of powerful
persons whose goals and interests would be affected by them. State
legislatures may turn down more progressive forms of taxation for
fear that businesses will leave the state. This dimension of power
can be missed when one has only an operational view of power,
treating it simply as behavior. Power then is understood primarily
politically, as influencing decision making in a conscious attempt
to manipulate. The expression of power in producing inaction is an
institutional way by which an elite is served while having a low
degree of visibility. But the power of being also may prevent the
exploitation of oneself or one's group that would otherwise occur.
Preservative power includes
material necessities, which also are given by God. Significant
struggles of men and women in the Bible relate to economic survival.
Well-being includes being able to "eat the fruit of the labor
of [one's] hands" (Ps. 128.2). God gives us power over wealth
and property for enjoyment (Eccles. 5.19). In contrast is the
situation where this preservative power of self-sufficiency is
lacking and our wealth and property are in the power of a stranger’s
‘grievous evil’ (Eccles. 6.2).
The special attention which
Scripture gives to the plight of the widow, the orphan, the poor,
and the resident alien reflects the awareness in Scripture of the
potential for evil in powerlessness. In the center of Job's
declaration of the injustices to these groups’ exacting pledges,
withholding water and food, widows sent away empty-handed, orphans
crushed is the statement: "The powerful possess the land"
(Job 22.8, NRSV). Poverty is more than a matter of material
goods; it is also a matter of power.
Again I saw all the oppressions
that are practiced under the sun. And behold, the tears of the
oppressed--with no one to comfort them! On the side of their
oppressors there was power--with no one to comfort them.
(Eccles. 4.1 NRSV)
So the poor person is defined as
one "whose power is insufficient" [Lev. 14.21]). The text
literally states, "his hand does not reach." The word I
translate as power here is hand (yad). A key to my biblical
work on power is the recognition that hand used
metaphorically usually means power. Oppression is to be
"subdued under" someone else's "power" (yad)
according to Psalm 106.42 (cf. Exod. 3.7-8 where slavery, a paradigm
of oppression, is being in the power of another). A rule of thumb is
that when one sees "hand" in an English translation of a
biblical passage ask if "power" would fit the context. The
same is true for "arm" when used metaphorically.
From the biblical perspective the
fallen sinful condition which challenges our preservative power is
crisscrossed with exploitation by the advantages which one person
has over another. Another form of power is at play: exploitive
power. The power of being becomes the servant of someone else’s
self-assertion versus our ability to assert ourselves as God wants
us to be. Tillich speaks of this aspect of power as preventing those
who are dominated from acting spontaneously; instead they are
treated as an object. Part of their personhood and ability to enter
into community is lost.
Power increases sin, universally
present in the human race, by allowing lust to work its will.
Alas for those who devise
wickedness and evil deeds upon their beds! When the morning dawns,
they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet. . . They
oppress. . . (Mic. 2.1-2, NRSV)
Aristotle stated that all people
do what they wish if they have the power. Thus the structure of
unequal power leads to exploitation. A host of injustices exists
(Ezek. 22.7, 9, 12) when the princes of Israel act "every one
according to his power" (Ezek. 22.6).
The power of being, our
preservative power, stands against such exploitive power. James Cone
has stated, "The only limit to our oppression is our power
against it." As a fifteen year old African American youth in
Boston told Robert Coles, "They'll just keep on walking all
over us. They always have. They still do. Why should they stop,
unless we make them stop, make them stop?"
The absence of preservative power
is a source of corruption. A twenty-year old woman, a survivor of
the 1982 Shatila Camp massacre in Lebanon, said, "Whoever they
were, we know our revolution was the only security for us. When our
fighters left our camp, anyone could kill us. And they
succeeded." Turning around the famous dictum of Lord Acton that
"power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts
absolutely," Adams states that powerlessness tends to corrupt.
The diminishment of power of being which the powerless often
have--apathy, proneness to immediate gratification, use of drugs,
carrying out violence against themselves and their own group--cannot
be explained only in terms of the inward conditions of sin.
Reference must also be made to the external factors of power of
which they and their communities are victims.
Neglect of the pervasiveness of
exploitive power perceived so forcefully in Scripture contributes to
an advocacy of merely individualistic solutions or reliance upon
natural harmonies. An important political implication of this
approach through power is that conflict and exploitation must be
taken seriously in devising public policy.
Trickle-down theories and supply
side economic approaches seek to help the poor by putting more
material resources in the hands of wealthy investors, such as
through changes in the distribution of taxes. The assumption is that
the extra resources for the wealthy will be invested in industries
that will provide more jobs for the poor. Wealth indeed is not a
fixed quantity. The concern for the expansion of production is
appropriate and usually should be a broadly supported public policy,
but economic expansion does not necessarily mean an improvement in
the situation of the poor. The weaker elements may even decline. The
expansion of wealth may not be significant enough to offset
injustice in the conflict in society over its distribution, or its
increase may even add to the injustice. The approach of relying on
strengthening the economic hand of the wealthy to help the needy
appears to be opposite to the biblical realism about power. It
misses the genuine conflict between the powerful and the weak, and
the destructive relationship of lust and power.
Exploitation of others, however,
is not the only way in which power is perverted by sin. The
perversion of preservative power has not only an active form but
also a passive form in which one assents to forces and circumstances
which divert God's creative purposes for one's life. Preservative
power is then perverted into its opposite, the ability to resist
God's intentions for oneself, to retain an evil course of
life which misuses God's original gifts and further rejects God's
special provisions of intervention. Feminist theology and Black
power and pride have helped us see that.
Much of the New Testament
terminology of power has the character of restoring preservative
power through God's grace. "To them gave he power to become
children of God" (John 1.12) describes a resource which
resists the sin, death, and demonic forces which would thwart the
divine intent for those who trust in Christ as their own savior.
"The gates of hell shall not have power over" them
Although we have discussed
preservative power as an attribute of groups as well as individuals,
to this point the concept remains too individualistic and
particularistic. Life does not consist of isolated individuals, or
groups, maintaining the integrity of their created being over
against hostile forces and hostile people. The conception of
preservative power has need of expansion through a separate
tradition about power.
A philosophical concept which goes
back to Plato describes power as having both active and passive
forms. They provide a mutuality of exercising influence and
With passive "powers"
one has the "power to hear." Part of one's power of being
is the capacity to receive, be influenced by, and to participate in
the creative powers of life. One needs a capacity to appreciate a
great work of music, to be influenced by a great political leader,
to hear concerns of others in the social community. So Paul boasted
of his weakness because through it he participated in the power of
Christ (2 Cor. 12.9-10). By participating in the power received from
the Creator and Redeemer, we also are capable of not participating
in a different power that would abuse us.
Active and passive
"powers" are resources for mutuality in power, in which
one participates with others in social life in order to achieve
consensus and then to implement that consensus. Power indeed should
be carried out in a framework which has more than merely unilateral
responsive actions which seek to dominate, control, and manipulate
those using exploitive power, rather than seeking reconciliation in
a higher form of community. Preservative power is incomplete if its
possessors do not obtain effective participative power. The ultimate
goal is "power with" instead of "power over."
Management by command is replaced by management by negotiation. As
creatures created to live in community, and who represent God with
God's image, "to share power and to share in power is to be
We must use our receptive
resources to be healthy community beings. Being healthy in society
involves not only affecting others positively. It also involves the
ability to be affected by the strengths of others. Knowing the
prevailing concerns of the community is an essential resource for
Communal power is conscious and
active participation in the decision-making processes of the
society. This aspect of power can be defined as the capacity to
participate in shaping of social decisions. This is true of all
power, but attention must be given to who gets to do it. A concern
for democracy was central to the thinking of Saul Alinsky, the
founder of community organizing movement. The growth of democracy
depends on extensions of power. The ability to participate in making
social decisions is expanded.
Community organizing, for example,
involves this expansion of the decision making of communities. Its
goal is bring that about particularly for low-income communities
which have been excluded. It seeks to draw out resources for
communal power, some of which are receptive resources. They include
the ability to research, to dialogue, to negotiate, to confront, and
to come to agreements.
We could consider this communal
power as a third form of power; for our present purposes we are
treating it as a form of preservative power. Its counterpart could
be a fourth form, exclusive power, in which, unlike
exploitive power, there is not a direct intervention in the lives of
others, yet their preservative power is diminished through exclusion
from essential processes of power in the community. Here we will
likewise retain it as subcategory of exploitive power.
An essential aspect of the
preservative power of the weak is their ability to work together in
resistance to exploitive power. Various weak individuals form a
coalition to work as one for a social purpose to overcome their
dependency. With numbers and organization they offset an imbalance
in economic resources held by the more powerful party. Historically,
workers, too weak as individuals to negotiate effectively with
powerful companies, have built unions to procure better wages or
working conditions. The community organizing movement again is an
outstanding example of a strategy which empowers by helping low
income people realize their united capacity to negotiate their
Power is needed as a barrier to sin. The preservative power
of individuals and their communities, including networks of
mutuality, often is insufficient against the magnitude of exploitive
power. An intervening power, our third major form of power,
is also necessary to limit exploitive power. Karl Rahner correctly
sees this use of power as justified as the consequence of the sin to
which it answers. When power resources are broadly distributed,
exploitive power is limited sufficiently by the power of being. When
they are grossly maldistributed, those who are weakest--whether
peasant or refugee--are subject to injustice and violence. Where the
inner resources of preservative power are distributed more evenly
than the material resources, the psychological and spiritual
intrusion might be thwarted, yet not necessarily with a lessening of
the physical assault.
We have noted that from the
biblical perspective human life is one of community. Power of being
includes a supportive network of relationships, a power of
mutuality. We share power with others in establishing and
maintaining a community which is just. Through just community,
preservative power overlaps with this third form of power,
intervening power. Intervening power is an inherent part of social
living, supplementing the inadequacies of the preservative power of
individual and groups. It could be called "substitute
preservative power" with Christ on the cross as the great
exemplar, as Christ defended helpless humanity from sin, death, and
Satanic power. Intervening power stands in the gap between oppressor
Intervening power is creative as
it reestablishes power of being by thwarting exploitive power. Preservative
power is the ability to retain one's created nature and purpose.
Exploitive power which defeats preservative power is thus
evil and an assault upon God's creation. Intervening power
restores preservative power by defeating or limiting exploitive
Intervening power is creative in
that its model and source is God. God in general and in special
grace reestablishes power of being by overcoming the forces which
pervert the creation. God's role as creator continues in the present
and is not restricted to the beginnings. God did not grant powers of
being and then abandon the creation. God is forming new life and
recreating destroyed life. God's role as creator continues in
resisting the fallen forces which assail God's creation. God's
redemptive acts ultimately are creative as they restore all things
so that the glory of God will be known upon the earth.
The center of God's restoration is
in the self-giving of God through Christ upon the cross; yet power
is not excluded from that process. At the cross, Christ "disarmed
the powers and principalities" of the rebellious cosmos
which God is overcoming, and Christ reigns until they are destroyed
(Col. 2.15; 1 Cor. 15.23-25).
God's creative love is expressed
in acts of justice. God is working in history to overcome injustice
and all other evil and unbelief, to order to bring in God's final
reign where love and justice dwell. In the middle of a passage which
celebrates God's creative power in the earth, mention is made of
God's care which is present in the destruction of the power of the
Have you commanded the morning
since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked
be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and it
is dyed like a garment. Light is withheld from the wicked, and their
uplifted arm is broken. Have you entered into springs of the sea....(Job
God's power provides deliverance
by shattering the destructive power of the enemy. Yahweh delivered
Israel from the power (yad) of the Egyptians (Exod. 14.30-31).
Yahweh exerts power as the defender of the poor. God does "justice
for the orphan and the oppressed" (Ps. 10.18, NRSV)
by "break[ing] the arm [i.e. power] of the wicked" (v. 15)
"so that those from earth may strike terror no more" (v.
18). Intervening power provides justice by overcoming exploitive
power. Yahweh empowers the needy to resist this power. Yahweh "stands
at the right hand of the needy, to save them from those who would
condemn them to death" (Ps. 109.31, NRSV).
God's normal way of exerting power
is through human creatures, who are God's lieutenants on the earth.
The created being of the man and the woman possessed the power to
subdue (v. 28) the earth, thus as God's vicegerent bearing God's
image in their power (Gen. 1.26-30). This mandate is clarified in
the following chapter to be one of service and care (Gen. 2.15).
Carrying out power faithfully is to share in one's human heritage
and destiny received from God. As Jesus taught in his sayings about
the greatest being the servant of all, and as Jesus and Paul
demonstrated in their lives, the purpose of power is to serve
Power is thus a charge of God to
use. The earth to subdue is now the world of the fall. It is when
human justice fails and there is "no one to intervene"
that God acts in more direct and extraordinary ways (Isa. 59.15-18).
The proper situation is when the government and other human
institutions are faithful channels of God's intervening power. This
was the role of the judges, by whose "power" God delivered
Israel (Judg. 6.36f.). The monarch receives God's justice to defend
the poor by crushing the oppressor (Ps. 72.1-4; cf. Rom 13.1, 4, 6).
The criticism of the rulers in Ezekiel 34 is that they have not
strengthened the weak (v. 4). God will do this through the promised
new David (vv. 16, 23).
Power exists not only for the
defense of our own being, but also for actions on behalf of the
being of others. In Leviticus 25.35 a person who is poor is one
whose "power slips" (literally, whose "hand
trembles") in relation to the rest of the community ("with
you"). The divine mandate is to empower that person (literally,
"cause him to be strong" [h’azaq in the Hiph'il]). In
the context the way of carrying out this responsibility is
institutionalized as a proscription on exploitive power: "You
must not charge [them] interest on a loan, either by deducting it in
advance from the capital sum, or by adding it on repayment" (v.
36, Revised English Bible). The purpose is that the needy may
regain their preservative power as mutually participating members of
the community ("that your brother or sister may live with
you") (v. 36). Sodom was condemned for not carrying out this
empowerment of the poor, showing the universality of this mandate
beyond the Mosaic covenantal community or theocracy. The terminology
used is that of Leviticus 25:35: Sodom "did not make
strong" (h’azaq in the Hiph'il) the power (yad) of the poor
and needy when it had the power to do it (Ezek. 16.49). As stated in
the international wisdom of Proverbs, we are not to "hold back
good from those who are entitled to it, when [we] possess the power
to do it" (3.27). Creative power intervenes in two ways: by
limiting exploitive power or by enhancing the preservative power of
The three dimensions of power are
seen in Nehemiah 5, a chapter which provides a specific example of
topics which are interrelated in Leviticus 25: loss of land,
weakness, interest, slavery. The people, in their plight at having
lost control of their lands to creditors, were selling their
children into slavery. "We are powerless, and our fields and
vineyards now belong to others" (v. 5, NRSV). The
diminution of their preservative power in the land had led to
further exploitive power being exercised against them. Nehemiah as
governor interfered on their behalf. He filed charges against those
exacting interest, which had led to the loss of lands; and he
restored the lands. The government as the intervening power acted
against exploitive power to reestablish preservative power.
Paul, however, when he used his
power of exorcism to free a woman who was being exploited by a
demonic spirit and in turn by men, was jailed for agitating the
city. Two intervening powers are at play here, one perverted. Paul's
confinement by the city magistrates reminds us significantly that
intervening power often itself becomes an exploitive power.
Accordingly, intervening power must be limited and kept instrumental
to creating a better distribution of preservative power. However,
preservative powers when present in excess also can be used to
dominate others and become exploitive.
Intervening power must be guided
and restrained by the principles of justice, to which the Scriptures
frequently call the followers of God. Tillich states that justice is
but the structure of power. Without justice, power becomes
destructive. Justice determines the proper limits and applications
of power. Yet it is these activities which give form to justice so
that there is no justice without the exercise of power. "My
power [yad] takes hold on justice [mispat]" (Deut. 32.41).
"I put on justice. . . . I championed the cause of the
stranger. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop
their prey from their teeth" (Job 29.14, 16-17).
Tillich also states that justice
is power performing the work of love. Love, as our desire to uphold
the defensive being of others, conflicts with exploitive power, so
that love requires resistance in the form of power. Biblical justice
is not merely a mitigation of suffering but a deliverance from the
power that causes it. Moses "saw to it that justice was carried
out to the oppressed by striking the Egyptian." God was
"providing deliverance" to the Israelites "through
his [Moses'] power" (Acts 7.24f.).
Because of its view of human
nature, Scripture sees a peril in the lack of power (the lack of
preservative power) and in the excess of power (the occasion of
exploitive power). Reinhold Niebuhr rightly argued that since social
injustice is supported by the self-interests of the powerful, it
cannot be overcome by appeals of reason. Power is never completely
under the control of reason and conscience. Replacing regulation,
inspection, and sanctions against industrial evils with
self-regulation, dialogue, and negotiation is ineffective.
Successful resistance includes power challenging power. Justice must
be political as well as rational.
Intervening power, however, must
move beyond itself and prepare for participatory forms of
preservative power. An exercise of power must be identified and
evaluated by its purpose, as Adams argues. Such an end is to bring
the marginal person into systems of power. As God brings people into
relationship with God and with others in covenantal community, so
intervening power must give way to mutuality, as it brings mutuality
into being. The goal is to bring the powerless into roles of
participation in the direction of their lives and community.
Community organizing can be a very
effective strategy for this work of just inclusion. Philanthropy,
welfare payments, even forms of community development while
essential are not sufficient. Power is still in the hands of the
giver. Community organizing is a form of justice to the degree that
it brings people into community, or keeps them there. It combines
intervening power and communal power to promote greater communal and
other preservative powers. The result is a creative, innovative
relationship between those who have a vision of the possibility of
just community, with the social skills and knowledge to implement
their vision, and those who do not but desperately need it. This
type of relationship begins in the church. There preservative power
and communal power are enhanced, and then they are brought into the
community for change.
Politics needs the church in other
ways, however. Politics is limited in its ability to provide
solutions to human evils. It can restrain the effects of exploitive
power. For the self-willed twistings of preservative power which
reject God's purposes for ourselves, politics can do even less; it
can only create conditions which are conducive to the power of
being. The perversions of power require a transformation of the
inner being of both victims and perpetrators of injustice through
God's transcendent redemptive power in Jesus Christ. Of this the
church is the only receptive human agency.