Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Power-Over or Power-With

One of the dilemmas in working with criminals and bringing them to Christ is the misconception that coming to Christ is bowing to a power greater than oneself in abject obedience when the truth is that the bowing is in devoted deference and deep respect and it is—in the sense of congruent practice—power-with rather than power-over.

The call from Christ—and from the Church—is to be like Christ, or as Baron (1998) puts it:

“Now the Gospel writers agree that the Kingdom of God, the enfleshment of the divine life in human form, the Incarnation, is not something to be admired from the outside, but rather an energy in which to participate.” (And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation, p. 3, italics in original)

This is also a concept formulated by Mary Parker Follett, noted in the forward to her book The New State:

“In a 1925 paper entitled “Power,” Follett proposed the distinction between “power-with” and “power-over” that is now common in feminist theory. She began provisionally by saying that power might be defined as “simply the ability to make things happen, to be a casual agent, to initiate change” (sometimes now called power-to.) Then in a section entitled “Power-with versus power-over” she elaborated her theory of “power-with”: Whereas power usually means power-over, the power of some person or group over some other person or group, it is possible to develop the conception of power-with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not a coercive power.” (1998, pp. xvii-xviii)

And power-with is the great power given to the faithful, for did not Christ say,

Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."

This is the ultimate power-with.