Whenever the word “power” is used, a range of feelings and experiences can swell up. Power is neither all-good or all-bad. It is embedded in our human relationships with one another and with God.
In a recent webinar called “Power With and Power Through – How Women Are Leading Differently” women leaders spoke about the importance of how we understand and use power with and power through. Power is determined and shared through different vectors, including race, disability, age, etc. These leaders examined power through the lens of gender. In reflecting on their secular messages, it may be helpful to hear ways the church could respond.
These leaders examined power through the lens of gender. In reflecting on their secular messages, it may be helpful to hear ways the church could respond.
Dr. Riane Eisler is the President of the Center for Partnership Studies and internationally known as a systems scientist, attorney working for the human rights of women and children. She emphasized the importance of moving from a “domination over” model to a “partnership with” model of power. She named that though male power over women has been described as human nature, this narrative simply isn’t found in pre-historic, egalitarian societies. Power over has been falsely equated with “real masculinity” which harms men as well as women.
Power over has been falsely equated with “real masculinity” which harms men as well as women.
A “partnership with” model of power is not about being nice, nor does it come about overnight. We start with safe spaces where we can talk about the construction of gender roles, power differentials, and the changing social values. Safe Church Ministry aims to create these spaces. Though we do respond and pray for healing where there has been abuse, we encourage congregations to focus on awareness and prevention. As the denomination looks at issues of power and leadership, we hope a “partnership” approach comes to the forefront as we live as beloved beings created, equally and diversely, in God’s image.
As the denomination looks at issues of power and leadership, we hope a “partnership” approach comes to the forefront as we live as beloved beings created, equally and diversely, in God’s image.
Jamia Wilson is the Executive Director and Publisher of the Feminist Press at CUNY where she is the youngest director in the Press's 47-year history, as well as the first woman of color to head the organization. Through the literary world she looks at how culture shapes us, our ideas of power, our leadership styles, and our biases. She shared how truth has to include all voices, and when disagreement around different perspective arises, there should remain honour and respect of each other.
Jamia named the importance of the African concept of “Ubuntu: I am because you are.” True investment and commitment to one another must be grounded in humility, and the reality of stretching ourselves because of others, not leaving because of our own discomfort. However, she did emphasize the need for self-care and supportive community, saying: “You are not alone. I am not alone. We are not alone. Together we have power for a new way.”
In Safe Church Ministry, we believe in the importance of accompanying each other as God steadfastly accompanies us. And that where conflict arises from the abuse of power, we listen with respect, seeking to bring healing. This work is not easy, and there are times of discomfort. Yet, it is holy and requires us to serve God together in community.
In Safe Church Ministry, we believe in the importance of accompanying each other as God steadfastly accompanies us.
Carla Goldstein has worked for decades with public policy in women’s rights. She is Omega Institute’s chief external affairs officer and cofounder of the Omega Women's Leadership Center. She spoke of the history of women having an adaptive relationship to power (i.e., the decision to talk or not talk in certain ways) that leads to inauthenticity. She promotes the idea of having a transformative relationship to power by lifting up one’s own sense of what is right. Cara lifts up the cooperation and diversity modeled by the black lives matter and #metoo movements. And she says, because of the reality and vulnerability of being human, we’re not going to get it right all the time, yet we continue in partnership.
They all spoke of the need for all peoples to be courageous and to keep courage throughout the journey to a partnership with model of power. The church knows a leader that demonstrates courage and partnership with God and others through the person of Jesus Christ. As Jesus followed God’s call of love, listened and respected and worked with his followers, brought healing to brokenness, and lived the message that life is stronger than death, we too may live in this way. We may struggle to get it “right” and yet, by God’s grace, we continue.