It’s all about power. It always has been.
If you’ve been around social media for any length of time, you’ve seen the reactions to weeks like we’ve recently had.
“I’m shocked!” “Heartbreaking.” “How is this still happening?” “I can’t imagine.” “Why aren’t we doing anything about this?”
This can be any number of things.
Right now, it’s a(nother) devastating school shooting. A week before it was a(nother) supermarket shooting, aimed at black Americans. Before/concurrent with that, a(nother) report of massive church negligence and buried abuse. But it could be so many things.
We’re always shocked.
Not really. We’re never shocked anymore if we admit the truth. Anyone still shocked hasn’t been living in reality. It’s an easy placeholder when we have nothing else to say. When we have no intention of doing anything about the source of our shock.
We’re always heartbroken. We can never imagine what the tragedy is like, even though we can’t help but imagine every time we go to school drop off, at least for a while. BIPOC can’t help but imagine constantly.
We pretend we don’t know why it happens, and we wring our hands in hopelessness at any change. Then we go back to our lives and pray, in those hiding places in the depths of our minds and hearts, that “next time” isn’t coming for us. We know there’s a next time; we know the space between is increasingly tighter.
Violence is becoming claustrophobic.Tweet
The “why” is always the same.
It comes down to retention of power. What have we proven ourselves willing to accept in our fealty to the god of power? What sacrifices does this god require to grant power to those who are willing to feed it, bow to it, and beg from it? Church, how many silver coins have we taken to retain our small fiefdoms?
We know the answers.
- Too many church leaders have been willing to accept the collateral damage of people in our congregations dying or being permanently disabled by Covid. It’s a sacrifice worth making to the gods who will ensure we remain popular and powerful.
- As a whole, we’re willing to risk our children’s lives and mental well-being, so long as we can retain the power we imagine guns grant us. Future generations damaged by the psychological dissonance of fearing the place they should be safe don’t matter. Persons obsessed with their “rights” (and their campaign donations) keep their power. Children are a disposable sacrifice willingly made to uphold illusions of guns bestowing power and safety. Church leaders will pretend this is true so their base remains beneath their pedestal.
- Abandoning church abuse victims, while destroying their mental health and reputations, seems a small price to offer the gods. It leads to easily retaining the power of office, leadership titles, and flowing funds.
- Women know, too, when they speak up, that they will be screamed down by the worshipers of power. They know the price they will pay. They understand their abusers will receive at best 12-year sentences. Almost certainly, they’ll never even face legal ramifications. They know their careers will be endangered. Women recognize their detractors will be congratulated quietly in secret church meetings and openly on social media. The acolytes will never readily accept insulting their gods.
- Our citizens, and future citizens, of color appear marginal losses compared to the blessings bestowed by white majority power. The zeal to retain it—refusing the delusion of “replacement”—allows for just about any sacrifice on the altar of supremacy. Violence is a tenet of the religion. It’s preached from pulpits that dare to be backed by a cross.
- Our women endangered by traumatic pregnancies can be re-victimized and even left to die, because control over their behavior matters more than their lives. The church rightfully cares for life, but the lengths some will go to legally control rather than preserve life reveals their true goal. He who holds the control over any group’s bodies wields the power. Ask anyone who has a passing acquaintance with slavery in the US.
- That acquaintance, by the way, some in power desperately would have us not ever pass, for the same reason. Defaming brilliant people of color is a price they consider well worth paying. Don’t ask, don’t tell about our history of horror, and all will be well.
Make no mistake—these things are all related. They’re all related to power. They’re all part of the design to keep it at all and any cost. They’re all deeply rooted in the church, not just the culture.
Our outraged shock is misplaced. We should be past it. We can no longer be shocked, and we ought to give up the pretense. Shock isn’t action. There is no prize for being the most appalled. We’re not impressed by those whose privilege allows them to be continually amazed.
Our repeated cries of “Why?” only feed those in power. So long as we’re asking questions and wringing hands, we won’t be making any demands. Powerful churchmen can even appear righteous by answering the questions. Deflection. Whataboutism. Thoughts and prayers.
The church needs to strike at the idolatry. She needs to ask herself—what am I worshiping? The church—its power structures and people—must return to its founding Rabbi and internalize his words of humility and emptying. The people who crave churches based on goodness, while acting in humility and kindness, can’t hold back on those strikes. The American church has a graft of an evil branch attached to its tree, and it needs pruning. After all, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137.4). This land, right now, is very, very foreign.
- Any church leader who prizes reputation over transparency shouldn’t lead.
- Any church leader who bows to white values (sometimes mistaken for family values, biblical values, God and country values) shouldn’t lead.
- Any church leader whose behavior and doctrine embody disdain for women shouldn’t lead.
- Any church leader who isn’t willing to submit to and be taught by the marginalized shouldn’t lead.
- Any church leader whose love affair with authority exceeds a love for people shouldn’t lead.
And denominations should be holding their leaders to this, or we are right to abandon them. The church in American isn’t failing because of culture wars or Millennials and Gen Zers who just want to sin freely. We’re failing because we’re worshiping a false god and preaching a false gospel. When we give our offerings to the god of power, we reap the whirlwind we’ve sown.
Why does this keep happening? Because those in power are willing to let it–they want it to keep happening. Those not in power need to be loud in our refusal to assent.