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Apr 13, 2007

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grace

Michael,
Very interesting! Power and authority are topics that always fascinate me. I think understanding their nature in regard to the kingdom is really vital in understanding New Creation values and living.

will spotts

Michael,

I like this. I think your distinction is valid.

I personally tend to dislike and resent coercion, so I am biased.

However, I can find no coercion or deceit or manipulation in the means the New Testament provides for spreading Christianity. I just don't see it - whether it is in the form of forcing others to follow Christian personal morality, forcing others to tip their hats to Christian belief, or forcing society to adhere to one's interpretation of the 'kingdom'. I recognize, of course, that a society has coercive tools at its disposal - and the Bible doesn't criticize this. Paul talks, for example, about the civil authority's use of the sword. But I don't find a warrant for Christians to usurp that role to ourselves.

I would point out that there is a distinction between the actions of God the Father and Jesus Christ, and those commended to followers of Jesus. God by His nature has the ability to coerce and force if He so desires. But I'm convinced God alone has the wisdom to do this in a way that is right. I fear we sometimes enshrine the ethics commended to Christians (at least the ones we agree with - we tend to get quiet on the ones we don't like) as absolute goods - as opposed to regarding them as Christian - and then try to become the moral superiors of others, or even God, and hold them to standards of our own choosing. For example, Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. This is not just - it is denying the justice due you, and it is a way to avoid a blind and toothless world. However, if someone acted justly, they would not be doing evil. As Christians we are told to do this, but we lack the right to take away someone else's justice.

Michael W. Kruse

Thank you Grace. I'm glad this connected with you.

Michael W. Kruse

"I personally tend to dislike and resent coercion..."

Me too ... unless I am in charge of the coercion … which I think makes us pretty typically human. :)

Seriously, I am reflecting on this in the broadest context of Christians living in the world which includes our relationships inside and outside the church. Clearly we recognize police powers and the military as obvious ways may participate in necessary coercion. But even an employer or manager has coercive power that they must use. An employee who want abide by safety standards or who is sexually harassing another may need for coercive power (threatened loss of income) to be exercised to gain compliance. I think within the Church, similar uses of coercive power can come into play as well. I have mentioned the context of parents with children. Even spouses may need to use coercion to compel the other to cease self-destructive behavior.

At the level of social policy I think we would agree that Christians should be good citizens involved in establishing laws the grant coercive powers to the state to regulate bad behavior (ex. murder, theft, violating contracts, etc.) Some measure of evil must be restrained in order for good to flourish. But should Christians be involved in passing laws that prevent certain sexual behaviors between consenting adults in the privacy of their homes? Where is the line? The law may promote the behavior that is biblical but is this the appropriate means to use to transform society? Those are the questions I am driving at. My take is that the use of coercion is unavoidable in a fallen world and even desirable in restraining some more destructive evils. It is this minimalist use of coercion that creates a safe place for authority to emerge and become pervasive. In some sense, coercion is failure. It is a failure to accomplish things by better means but in a fallen world it will always be needed.

Dana Ames

"In some sense, coercion is failure. It is a failure to accomplish things by better means..."

Well, if God accomplishes things by the best means, I can't see how this means that God is coercive. I think in Jesus we see a God who is radically non-manipulative.

Perhaps we only disagree on terminology. I believe it's appropriate to say, "If you engage in this behavior, then that (ideally just, loving and ultimately redemptive even if unpleasant) consequence will follow." This may look different in a situation where the State says it and when a private person says it, but it still leaves a person the opportunity to choose. "Power" as described in the post gives no such choice.

To Campolo's definition of authority, I would add, "when a leader is willing to suffer loss in allowing people to choose to not comply with his wishes". That is what I see in Jesus, the incarnate God.

Dana

Michael W. Kruse

Dana, I’m not sure I follow. Are you using coercion and manipulate as synonyms? I don’t seem them as such. To me, “manipulate” carries strong overtones of selfishness and deceitfulness. Campolo wrote that power is “… the prerogative to determine what happens and the coercive force to make others yield to your wishes – even against their own will.” Some scenarios:

* “Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of robbers." Luke 19:45-46 NRSV

* A police officer tackles and handcuffs a man who is attacking another.

* A parent disciplines a son after he runs into the street for the third time without looking.

* An employer threatens termination to an employee who refuses to wear legally required safety gear in the performance her job.

I would say that all of these people are using power, “… the prerogative to determine what happens and the coercive force to make others yield to your wishes – even against their own will.” But I don’t see them as manipulative.

I agree that in a sinless world coercion would be unnecessary but in a fallen world it is necessary. The struggle is identifying when it is necessary. Even when power is used legitimately in circumstances like these, it has the effect of diminishing in at least some small way the authority of the person using the power.

“I would add, "when a leader is willing to suffer loss in allowing people to choose to not comply with his wishes".

I think by definition if the leader can not persuade, the only other option to gain compliance is power. That would be antithetical to using authority. So, I think it is implicit that the leader must be willing to not be followed to truly be using authority. But in some circumstances when we have not been able to persuade (ex. a parent with a child repeatedly running into the street) it is a greater evil to allow the other not to comply with our wishes than it is to use power to gain their compliance.

Dana Ames

I suppose I am seeing them as synonyms. I've never encountered them being differentiated in that way.

The cleansing of the temple was a unique prophetic event only he had the right to do. If you want to bring Jesus into this :) his encounters with people in the gospels would be a better template. He asked plenty of questions, sometimes very hard ones- and always let people choose whether they would follow him.

All your other examples fall into the

"If you engage in *this* behavior, then *that* (ideally just, loving and ultimately redemptive- even if unpleasant-) consequence will follow."

category.

If a child is not developed enough to understand the safety issues about running into the street, they don't get a choice because they truly can't make one. Of course you do it for them, because that is the loving and just thing to do in that situation.

Another problem I see is with all the baggage carried by the word "leader". Stevens' definition makes so much sense to me: one who calls into community, and who sees things to fruition. There's no intimation of coersion at all in that definition, and not a whiff of the "CEO" ideal. Not everyone who heard Jesus ended up following him. Does not being able to persuade them disqualify his "leadership"?

I'm not trying to argue- just clarify terms.

Dana

Michael Kruse

I am not arguing either. I really am trying to get a handle on how others process this stuff because it is core to a number of the things I am working on.

In trying to affect the will of others, it strikes me that there are three possible outcomes assuming we are capable of coercive power:

1. We use power – we compel others to comply, even against their will.

2. We use authority and succeed in persuading – through the good will we have established and integrity we have built, people choose to follow.

3. We use authority and fail to persuade – here we must chose power to gain compliance or we must accept we have failed to persuade and be content with that.

I am in full agreement with you that option two is the Kingdom model and a commitment to that model means a resistance to using power.

You wrote:

“If you engage in *this* behavior, then *that* (ideally just, loving and ultimately redemptive- even if unpleasant-) consequence will follow.”

And what are the consequences? I’m going to use coercive force to make you yield to my wishes – even against you will. What I think you are doing is giving some parameters for the legitimate use of power and I wholeheartedly agree with the parameters. Legitimate use of power is other-centered and focused on redemption. (Although in the case of police powers, and in some other circumstances, use of power to prevent the target of our actions from harming others is also legitimate.) But the bottom line is that it is still the use of power - coercive force to make others yield to your wishes – even against their own will. We have simply moved into a discussion about the proper parameters for its use.

That is why I say that within proper parameters, there are legitimate exercises of power for Christians. They are just, necessary and good. But even the use of power in these legitimate circumstances has the effect of minimizing the authority we have over the one we had to compel. Thus, even when we have the legitimate circumstances for using power we should really ask ourselves if we have truly done all we can do to persuade and whether or not non-compliance leads to such tragic consequences that we must use power to gain compliance.

Unfortunately, we are often unwilling to do the hard and patient work of “calling into community, and seeing things to fruition.” Use of power seems to be a so much quicker and more immediately effective way of transforming behavior. In fact, what it does is harden hearts against the one with power and transforms people away from the vision of the one using power, even though for the time being there may be behavioral compliance.

Does this make any more sense?

will spotts

I would offer a fourth option - that I originally equated with coercion: deceit and/or manipulation. This is a common tactic employed to cause others to conform to one's will. I tend to view this as pretty much always wrong.

I recognize that there are correct uses of power, but I'm not sure how legitimate it is as a modus operandi for Christians. Obviously the examples you both cite apply - particularly to prevent clear harm to oneself and others. (Though I'm not sure that even applies where a person chooses what we deem harmful to him or her self with full knowledge and understanding. I question this even in the cases where we are clearly right. The example of the child doesn't quite apply here both because the parent has a responsibility to protect the child, but also because the child is incapable of making an informed decision.)

Even within these parameters there is another tricky issue - e.g. do we clearly understand and reliably know what is harmful and what is beneficial? It seems to me that many of what I would call errors on this front have occurred when well-meaning people believed they truly knew this. Often there are consequences unforeseen to us, and often we are incapable of grasping the situation - even the experience of the other in question. For example, when the drug enforcement laws were changed to vastly increase the penalties for crack versus powdered cocaine - the rationale was the violent crime associated with crack. No one appears to have foreseen that this would result in system that disproportionately penalized African Americans. Similarly, 'three strikes' and mandatory sentencing laws have led to bizarre and often completely unjust applications. China's one child policy was viewed as preventing the harm of overpopulation, but it has clearly resulted in an overwhelmingly male generation.

RonMck

The chink between coercion and authority is submission. In Christ, we submit to each other. That gives the others authority over us, that they can exercise without coercision.

Husbands and wives submit to each other, so that they do not need to coerce each other.

When I agree to work for an employer, I am submitting to his authority. He is not coercing me, when he asks me to do something. If I refuse to accept his authority, I am termininating my submission and ending the relationship.

Submission to those with authority eliminates the need for coercion. I call this authority form below.

In this type of relationship, we are always free to withdraw our submission, if the person sumbmitted loses their love.

Michael W. Kruse

Will wrote:

"I would offer a fourth option - that I originally equated with coercion: deceit and/or manipulation. This is a common tactic employed to cause others to conform to one's will. I tend to view this as pretty much always wrong."

I would consider this as a subset of option one. It is still "the prerogative to determine what happens and the coercive force to make others yield to your wishes – even against their own will.” And I agree with you it is almost always an illegitmate use of "power."

All the questions you hit on go straight to the core of how do we distinguish a legitimate use of power. More on this in my next comment to Ron.

Michael W. Kruse

This idea of mutual submission plays out in a host of ways. One of the most basic ways we submit to each other is to agree to abide by laws that have been enacted by legitimate means. Then we em-“power” certain individuals called police officers to “determine what happens and use coercive force to make others yield to societies wishes – even against their own will.” The officer’s use of power is tightly constrained. He or she is not vested with power in his or her person but rather in the role occupied on behalf of society. We submit to the officer in his or her role as protector of individuals and the social order. The officer submits to the constraints placed on him or her and power that may be exercised against him or her should power be used beyond the carefully prescribed roles.

In some cases, we legitimize the use of power when one person is responsible for another person with diminished capacities. A parent raising a child. The adult child caring for a parent suffering with dementia.

Then there are cases where a mutual covenant is made that each will submit to the other. You wrote:

“When I agree to work for an employer, I am submitting to his authority. He is not coercing me, when he asks me to do something. If I refuse to accept his authority, I am terminating my submission and ending the relationship.”

Yes.

“Submission to those with authority eliminates the need for coercion. I call this authority form below.”

Your “authority from below” comment really captures a key element the way Campolo is using the term. No one can assume authority over others. No one can be placed in “authority” over others. We can be placed in a position with power over others but authority has to be granted by those without power. I would go so far as to say that there is no authority other then that which comes from below.

Dana Ames

Yes, that's clearer Michael. I think my trouble is with Campolo's definitions.

I believe that we are endowed with certain power because we're made in God's image: the ability to think, act, create, motivate oneself, etc. and we are to use the energy/power from our own insides in the way of love and for the true benefit of others. If used in this way, it will not be coercive.

I wonder, given the "normal" ability of a specific person to make an "informed choice", if people actually don't do what they want- if the don't simply act in their perceived self-interest. In other words, we really don't act against our will. If we submit to coersion, however it's dispensed, isn't it because we see some advantage in doing so?

"When I agree to work for an employer, I am submitting to his authority. He is not coercing me, when he asks me to do something. If I refuse to accept his authority, I am terminating my submission and ending the relationship."

This gets at what I'm trying to bring out. We are in various relationships, and depending on how much value we give to those relationships, we act in a manner that reflects that value, in accordance with our will.

Dana

Michael W. Kruse

“Yes, that's clearer Michael. I think my trouble is with Campolo's definitions.”

Actually, as Campolo suggests, these are standard definitions from the social sciences and it relates to social interaction. So maybe the real problem is sociology. :) I admit, I identify very strongly them.

“…and we are to use the energy/power from our own insides in the way of love and for the true benefit of others.”

And this is what Campolo goes on to build the case for in his book. I agree.

“If used in this way, it will not be coercive.”

But this is what blurs the line to me. It sounds to me like “As long as I mean well and genuinely had the other person’s best interests at heart then it is not coercive.” This evaluates whether or not is coercive from the standpoint of the actor instead of the one being acted upon. In Jesus story of the Good Samaritan the inquirer asks “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the story and then flips the question to “Who was neighbor to the man in need?” Whether or not someone has been coerced seems to me to be less about the intentions of the actor and more about the experience of the one acted upon. I am suggesting that even when we act lovingly for the true benefit of others, those acts will at times be experienced as coercive by the one on the receiving end and will in some cases objectively be coercive.

What I hear you saying is that in a relationship where there is mutual trust and submission, acts that might otherwise feel coercive will not be experienced as coercive because it will occur in an ongoing context of respect and caring. If so, I agree. And this is precisely what Campolo is getting at with his notion of authority. When told to do something, the respondent will defer his or her will to the requesting party out or appreciation for the care and respect that has been exhibited over time. Leadership based on authority, rather than power, dissolves the need for coercive measures.

My caveat is that in a fallen world, none of us ever acts completely with the best interest of others at heart and all of us or prone to resist constraints on our will, even when there is a legitimate expectation that we should defer. In some of these circumstances we will use power (sociological definition) to influence matters for purely selfish ends and other case we will withhold authority from someone who legitimately has a claim to it in our relationship. In the later case there is sometimes a legitimate need to use power. It is these marginal cases that present the challenge.

“In other words, we really don't act against our will. If we submit to coersion, however it's dispensed, isn't it because we see some advantage in doing so?”

Here I am thinking of the barring discrimination against African-Americans. The laws may restrain the discriminatory behavior of the racist but have you changed the will of the racist? They are conforming their behavior to avoid penalties, so I agree they are not against there will in a sense. But remove the penalties and the behavior returns. The ultimate goal is to transform the heart of the racist and exercise of power can not do that. Only leadership based in authority can do that.

“This gets at what I'm trying to bring out. We are in various relationships, and depending on how much value we give to those relationships, we act in a manner that reflects that value, in accordance with our will.”

I agree this is the gold standard but the fallen nature of our existence warps this. We sometimes do not value some relationships to a point that our devaluation is harmful to others and sometimes to ourselves. I am suggesting there are legitimate uses of power that contravene this. That power is used out of truly seeking the best for others but it is still coercive. The temptation from “the dark side” is that we come to confuse our preferences and wants for what some else needs to be compelled to do.

This conversation is really helpful for me. I hope I am not being exasperating.

Dana Ames

No, not at all. I think you understand what I mean, which means I've been relatively clear in communicating -hallelujah! :)

I do agree that the perception of the one "acted upon" is important, and the mutual trust in a relationship is the most important thing of all.

Those definitions may be the correct sociological ones, but do you see how much we, rather highly educated people that we are, have had to go back and forth in clarifying and agreeing upon terms and nuances? I think most people would conflate "power" and "authority" when used in everyday speech. So I wonder if it's possible to hold them apart outside of the academy, or how useful it would be to try to do so, in terms of everyday communication. The example that comes to mind with which we're both familiar is how many times those two words have been made interchangeable in the conversations at jesuscreed about women in ministry.

I'm also thinking that I'm not sure the term "leadership" is the best one to use anymore. If we're moving toward flattened structures, then there aren't so many pointy pyramids denoting the "position" of "leaders" as we typically think of them. And yet, what you describe as persuasion could be done by any number of folks, trained or untrained, simply on the basis of "relational capital". Is that clear? I hope I am not being exasperating either :)

Dana

RonMck

Michael, you said: "One of the most basic ways we submit to each other is to agree to abide by laws that have been enacted by legitimate means. Then we em-“power” certain individuals called police officers to “determine what happens and use coercive force to make others yield to societies wishes – even against their own will.” The officer’s use of power is tightly constrained. He or she is not vested with power in his or her person but rather in the role occupied on behalf of society. We submit to the officer in his or her role as protector of individuals and the social order."

I have problems with this one. The people in our Parliament assume that they have authority to decide certain things that they think will be good for society and therefore that they can force them on me. The problem is that I have never agreed to submit to them (social contract). I dont think Christians can give that blank slate to any group of people. And there is plenty of examples where what they decide is bad for social order. So most of the time, I feel that I am being coerced by the police officers.

I am not sure that one group of people can decide that everyone should submit to them. So in my view, their position is one of coercion, and not one of legimitmate authority.

Michael Kruse

Dana, I hear what you are saying about the power vs authority question. What I find curious is that I have presented this distinction in a number of different settings and get reactions all over the map. I had one guy buttonhole me a couple of years ago and pointed out to me how helpful a talk I had given on this topic had been. It was from fifteen years earlier! Other folks look at me as if I am speaking an alien language. So mulling this over is very helpful for me.

I also hear what you are saying about leadership. This always raises a difficult question. When you see a term morphing in an unhealthy direction should you let it go and event a new term or should work to redeem the existing term. Both have perils. Within sociology they distinguish between formal and informal leadership. Formal leadership is tied to holding a particular formal status and by virtue of that status one has power to compel compliance. Informal leadership is independent of a particular title or status and can be had by anyone. Their leadership can be based on either power or authority.

The wealthy widow who gives 25% of the church’s operating budget and is opposed to all changes to the worship space and worship service is exercising informal leadership. People are going to consult her or at least factor her into their decisions. Then there is the older woman who has gracefully endured many hardships, taught classes, and given compassion to so many people that others instinctively seek her out and take cues from her as to what decisions should be made. Both of these women will have often be more significant leaders than the pastor or board members with the titles.

Ideally, and I think this is what was happening in the NT Church, people who had developed informal leadership based on authority given them by others because of their other-centered service, were given an official status that corresponded with the charismatic (gifted) authority they exhibited. Most pastors in most contexts today do not emerge from the congregation based on other-centered earned authority but based on credentials that qualify them to have power over their flocks. I am being overly dichotomous here but I think the point is clear. It is not impossible for one inserted into a position of status above others to earn authority by other-centered living over time but I think it is backward to the natural order of things for a movement that is to be groundswell of other-centered living giving rise to other-centered leaders.

Thanks for your very helpful reflections.

Michael Kruse

“The people in our Parliament assume that they have authority to decide certain things that they think will be good for society and therefore that they can force them on me.”

I fully agree. This is the never ending tug-of-war that exists in human community. We need cooperation for joint survival so we create institutions to facilitate joint decision-making. But then sinful human beings enter these structures and try to convert them into tools for imposing their personal agendas that often have little to do with the best interests of the various parties affected. As the cliché goes, our various forms of democracies are the worst forms of government except for all the others.

With the formation of the American constitution, the framers took and exceedingly dim view of human beings acting responsibly. Their solution was the checks and balances of powers between the three branches of government. It calls upon the citizenry to willingly grant authority to elected representatives and calls upon representatives to genuinely represent the people, knowing full well all of this will fall short.

From a Christian standpoint, I think that God established civil powers for the good of humanity. That means that A) we should look to civil structures as something worthy of our submission, B) call upon those occupying power positions to behave in a ways that makes people want to submit to the state’s power, and C) occupy positions of power ourselves and model other-centered service.

I am not suggesting at all that we give a blank slate because the institutions are made up of sinful people who are prone to impose through power rather than lead through authority. Because we are citizens of another kingdom, we are free to live according to power structures of this world insofar as they bring order and justice, knowing all the time that it is incomplete and distorted. And when the institutions overstep their bounds we are free to confront them in other-centered resistance to evil. We are free to resist or not resist unjust state coercion based on what will engender the greatest good but always with aim of an order that more closely reflects the justice and love of God.

Those are just a few thoughts I have.

RonMcK

Amen

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