Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Community and Coercion

One thing that was impressed on me during our years in Africa is that ecclesial power is illusionary. In that situation you realize how powerless you are - and how foolish it would be to believe you can control those people.

I used to tell the Tanzanians "Budula wane buli giki, butogwa wingwe wa kudegeleka" (my power is this, your willingness to listen). I was being honest. They could walk away, do anything they wanted, and totally disregard me. There was nothing I could do to make them do what I wanted or said.

All Christians are volunteers. In Tanzania the word for believers also meant "agree-ers". What binds us together is uncoerced agreement. We agree to submit to one another. We agree to follow God's leading. None of this can be forced.

So often guilt, shame, and fear are used to wield power over people even in matters of faith. "Jesus gave us the power to bind on earth and in heaven so if you don't do what we say we will consign you to hell." The threat of excommunication kept medieval kings in line, if not because of their own fear, because their subjects would rise up in revolt against an excommunicated sovereign.

Spiritual blackmail has no place in spiritual formation. No fellow believer rules over me spiritually, and I rule over no one. We are all brothers. And yet I willingly submit to the instruction, guidance, and interests of others.

Trying to live out this reality in a community is challenging because all models that I am familiar with, have a hierarchy at the core. That hierarchy is based on illusory power, but those at the top of the structure attempt to wield it nonetheless.

Being free to pursue God, and yet indebted to love others, is the tension that keeps us in relationship without the coercion of human power.


Vicki Sullivan said...

totally out-of- sight Spirit inspired description of honorable witnessing. My Spirit rejoices in your words for they are from the mind of Christ. Walter Trobish (missionary to Africa) also had the ability to communicate with such clarity. Thank you.


Kevin said...

great insights...

i just e-mailed your post on to the Mwanza, Tanzania team...

I have been influenced by a man named Wayne Jacobsen... www.lifestream.org/wblog.html.
He got tired of the manipulation so common in institutional christianity, and has a journey like your own. Have you heard of him?

Greg Newton said...


I'd not heard of him but enjoyed looking around his site - thanks!