Partnership View of Power

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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.

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Community Builder

It was a great webinar! (Power With and Power Through ...)  So thought provoking - and the ideas expressed about a partnership model of power have really stuck with me.

Community Builder

Excellent article!

The concept of equal partnership as a part of an egalitarian world-view challenges both genders to modify long held patriarchal power structures within our ecclesiastical fold.  Male offices bearers under this view are required to "pull-back" or limit their grip on traditional male-held hierarchies within church polity structures. Women also have a role in seeking office and stating their case for egalitarian practices to take root within congregations. Both genders are required to be supportive of the other as they both seek God's will in serving through holding office-bearing roles up to and including Minister of Word and Sacrament.

As the husband of an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament with 15 years experience in this role, it has been my delight to support and uphold the office my wife maintains as a lead pastor in a CRC congregation. My wife is an effective pastor as evidenced by all who have benefited from her leadership and preaching.  God is honored and his people grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord as we all seek to minimize the prejudicial assumptions limiting the effectives of those who happen to be born to minorities or subject to ecclesiastically inspired gender prejudice. 

 

-Kelly Sibthorpe

Community Builder

I very much agree with you Kelly.  It pleases me to hear your continuing support of your wife's leadership!  Modeling for the community a partnership approach to power as we serve God together.

Community Builder

I'm not sure the discussion doesn't becomes derailed from the beginning by using the word "power" as it is used in this article (and, presumably the webinar?).  "Power" is the ability to cause an effect.  Everyone has "power," even if of different kinds and even if in different degrees.

I think it is more productive to discuss concepts of authority, responsibility, rights and obligations.  Power may be used properly or improperly exercise authority, discharge responsibility, enforce rights, or require the discharge of obligations.  It seems to me that in this article (perhaps in the webinar as well although I didn't see it), the word "power" is being misused.

Kelly talks of "patriarchal power structures" -- and the need to challenge them.  I'm assuming what is meant is "patriarchal authority structures"?

This isn't just a quibble about words.  The failure to conceptually distinguish between power and authority will ultimately lead to bad thinking -- and thus bad doing. 

Community Builder

The webinar talked about leadership structures and contrasted a dominant power-over model of leadership to a partnership power-with and through leadership model. Perhaps that helps clarify. 

Community Builder

Well, not really.  I think the discussion emphasis on "power" points the discussion in a very wrong direction, leading to competition for "power," as in:

   White power, Black power, Gay power, women power, Youth power, etc etc. 

Even the idea of "power sharing" focuses on an emphases on ability to force, coerce, manipulate, on the sheer ability (power) to get what one wants or thinks should be, in opposition to what others want or think should be.

I think this is terminology that fits a non-biblical worldview well.  Indeed, if we focus on power (as opposed to, e.g., authority/responsibility), we are destined to create, or recreate, a world where reality is defined by merely taking note of who is the most powerful. 

In that power-defined world, there might be "balances of power," but never true "power sharing."  A power-defined world does not include true "power sharing" but only a "balance of power."

If we shift the discussion from one of power to one of authority and responsibility, we introduce the idea that power doesn't rule the day.  Why?  Because there is recognition, including by those most powerful, that decisions should be made for reasons other than an analysis of relative power.  This happens in "upside down" worldview thinking, like Christianity.

 

 

 

Participant

Power with has to assume equality of participants.

Community Builder

Doug,

Yes, you are semantically correct. Thank-you for bringing clarity. Authority to exercise power of course is granted by the people as we have just witnessed yesterday in the mid-terms. Correct, patriarchal authority structures is more proper, the point being, through empirical observation is that most church denominational structures are patriarchal as are the majority of business and institutional structures. Thankfully, women are gaining ground.

The key, in this church structure authority discussion is, who are the qualified givers and receivers of authority? Who are the stake-holders responsible to delegate or appoint authority? Does this authority to grant power reside equally with both genders? Traditionally, authority to grant power has been the domain of males. More recently, females have been "allowed" to hold church offices. In other words, there is wrestling going on. Who allows who to do what? Is this authority to exercise power based on gender, race, socioeconomic standing? Naturally we are to look to the scriptures for guidance and not tradition to put into place proper authority structures.

 

Community Builder

I quite agree in most of what you say, Kelly.  Indeed, e.g., we should "allow men" to hold church offices every little bit as we "allow women" to hold church offices.

But we may possibly disagree some as well.  While I myself believe all church offices should be open to persons, men or women, I respect the complementarian view when held in good faith (that is, not as excuse to hold power).  I also believe that while men and women generally are, biblically, co-authorized (both have authority) in most things of life, there can differences in the kinds of power they are likely to wield well, just because "God made them male and female."

Believing the latter does not put me into the "patriarchy power" thinking camp, because I don't elevate the importance (or perhaps priority) of power questions over authority/responsibility questions.  I think the greatest is found among he or she that most/best serves, with whatever power God has given him or her.  If that upside-down premise is accepted, talk of and concern about power tends to disappear.  

I am concerned that an event like this webinar (which now I have listened some to) draws as much as it does from thinkers who come from a "power oriented" perspective.  We may disagree, but I believe modern day "feminism" is essentially a power oriented perspective and thus not a biblical perspective.  I think it is confusing, to say the least, to import that content into the CRC as if it is biblically normative.

Participant

Power...in physics means energy to act or create movement (horsepower).

It is not used today related to bringsing about change or movement “peacefully.”

Rather it’s used in context of forcing change by friction. Example protesting. 

Coercion is too often viewed as power using force or intimidation (both negative ways of being).

Contemporary use of the word is too often wrong.

God and The People can give or grant power...one Spiritual the other secular.