When Victims Confront Power Structures: Lessons from Moses and Pharaoh
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:1-2)
I am writing here about a subject that I am certain others know far more about than I do, but I am going to broach the subject and hope that many of you can weigh in.
There are certain psychological mechanisms and dynamics that accompany entrenched power and its reaction to those who confront it. No doubt psychologists have studied these attitudes and patterns. Whether it be the top dogs in some powerful corporation, a dictator like Pharaoh who imagines himself to be God, an abuser who sees himself entitled to power and control, or church leaders who long ago left off Christ’s example of greatness through humble, sacrificial servanthood, the very same kinds of reactions can be expected when we look to such power brokers for justice.
What happens when power goes wrong?
For our purposes, let’s consider specifically what happens in a local church or denomination when power goes wrong. We could spend quite a lot of time on HOW it went wrong as well, but we leave that for someone doing a PhD thesis in psychology or sociology. Such dissertations have no doubt already been written and hopefully with some benefit. But what do we have when power goes wrong in a local church, for instance? That, after all, is the typical stage where the Christian abuse victim is dealt so much injustice.
Those at “the top” in such a local church have jettisoned Christ’s example and teachings about greatness in the kingdom of God. He said it very clearly. Just as He came not to be served, but to serve and give His live as a ransom, so must we do also if we are to be “great” in God’s measure of greatness. When local church leaders yield to the temptation of personal, worldly “greatness,” they have been seduced by the sirens of “privilege.” Power and privilege, you see. The one follows the other. Get to the top, get in control, get that power “over,” and you can then enjoy the perks. Reputation. Adulation. Veneration. Money. Being served. Benefits. Privileges. Advantages. It is the spirit of “I will be like the Most High.”
Of course there are costs. Just like the Old West in which the quickest draw was always being challenged, and eventually someone even faster came along, so it is at the top. It turns out to be rather precarious up there and behind the scenes there are very often “shoot outs” as church leaders vie for top gun status. “Where is Associate Pastor Jones?” “Oh, he felt he was called by the Lord to another field of ministry and resigned.” Reality? Associate Pastor Jones got to be too threatening to the head honcho. Or at least Honcho perceived him as a threat.
Alright, power and privilege. Now, what do you suppose is going to happen when Linda comes along and reveals that her husband, a long time church member, significant donor, and let’s say, deacon, has been wickedly abusing her and the children for a long, long time? That he is, in fact, not what he portrays himself to be on Sundays? What do you think is going to happen?
Well, we all know, don’t we? To the degree that unmasking what this wicked man really is will cause a shakeup in that church, to that degree the power/privilege enjoying elite are going to tell Linda (in pious-sounding language of course) to be quiet, get back home, and let’s hear no more about it. If that sounds too critical of these power/privilege fellows, then just do some reading on “whistle-blowing.” Books on that subject are not hard to find. Because Linda, you see, has just blown the whistle. Turns out all is not perfect in Camelot after all, and Linda is rocking the peace of the kingdom.
I am a pessimist/realist when it comes to confronting the possessors of power and privilege in the local church. Just as Moses found when he confronted Pharaoh — and remember, Moses was given some pretty convincing tools to use! We call them the plagues! — just as Moses found, so will we. Pharaohs don’t appreciate being threatened. They don’t like being told what to do. Not even if God Himself is telling them anything! Did Pharaoh repent? Nope. And I believe that is the normal outcome we can expect from people “at the top.”
Therefore, just what does this say about the spiritual condition of most local churches today? It is the experience of so many of our readers, and our own personal experience as well, that the typical and even expected outcome of an abuse victim going to her pastor and church for help, for justice, is to be dealt a heaping serving of injustice. Ok, we might grant that in some of the cases this is due to pastors being naive about the nature and mentality of abuse. But even in those cases, if such church leaders and members would honestly examine themselves, there is a sense of power and privilege being threatened. And so we ask again — what does this all say about the true spiritual condition of most local churches?
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)