Like most kids, our children love their candy.
A relatively rare treat in our house, every piece of candy is something to be cherished, savored, and, above all else, hidden from your siblings. I mean, God forbid your older brother finds your hidden stash of Jolly Ranchers!
I think a lot of us view power in a similar way.
I’m talking about social power, like who has authority, who exercises leadership and who commands attention in a given situation. As with my kids and their candy, in our guts, we see power as something to be guarded and kept safe, under lock and key. Over the last several years I’ve been wrestling with what to do with the social power that culture gives me as a man, and my conclusion is this:
Out of reverence for Jesus, I am to release my socially-granted male privilege and power so that others, particularly women, may thrive.
I’m a blogger, and in response to statements like this, I recently got the following comment on my blog:
So now hate for men is also a part of Christianity. This blog is proof of the anti-male nature of feminism. Oppressing people and calling it Jesus-like does not make it Christ-like. This is sad, I hope young men read their Bible and are not influenced to hate themselves cause they are male.”
Ouch, right? But it raises an important question:
Is power (or privilege) something to be held on to and guarded, like a cherry Starburst, or is it something to be joyfully released on behalf of others?
I think it’s the latter, and I have three reasons why.
First, by laying down power, I am following the example of Jesus.
We know from John 10:10 that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, offers abundant life. But have you really thought about what that life entails? Being the least. Dying to self. Raising up others. And, of course, Jesus models it. Take a look at Philippians 2:1-11 through the lens of power. When you do, you’ll see that Jesus is joyfully open-handed with his power and privilege, to the point of death on the cross. So when men like me lay down their socially-granted male privilege on behalf of others, we are following the way of Jesus. And that’s always life abundant.
Second, being free with power means it can’t control you.
Have you ever heard the saying “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”? It’s a paraphrase from Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth, and it captures one of the perils of power; namely, that it can bind us. Having power can mean protecting it and ever plotting to get more. How long after an election does a politician begin to strategize for their re-election? I bet not long. When we freely give up power, it loses its grip on us, and joyful freedom is the reward.
Third, it’s a joy to watch those you have empowered flourish.
When I get something right at work, it’s awesome. But for me it pales in comparison to watching those I have had a small hand in helping succeed. Trust me, laying down power isn’t a loss if someone picks it up and proceeds to flourish. As a community, we need Jesus to revolutionize our theology of and experience of social power. To be precise, we need to reimagine what it means to lay down, or share power.
Most of us, men in particular, see losing power as a negative thing, but what if the exact opposite is true?
What if instead it’s life-giving? Freeing? Even joyful? I’m convinced it can be. I’m convinced it will be. I’m convinced it is already. Now, to figure out how to help my kids share their Twix bars…
I appreciated this post, Rob. It smacks of sound thinking and real faith. But I am wondering, too, how will you lay it down in real terms? I understand the sentiment, and I’m sure that the living of your own life in your family and cultural context is a sound picture of egalitarianism, but what does that look like? I think I’m asking for the sake of other guys who would like to do that.
In my context, my husband and I served as co-founders of all the organisations we ignited. IN real terms though, I was paid a lesser salary though my work hours, innovations and responsibilities were equal. We passed the leadership of our church over to a second couple who continued in that same vein, but when they passed it on again to a younger couple, the guy insisted that his wife be given a raise so that their salaries were equal.
Now, it’s important to say that out of the three couples, all of us shared the same value of egalitarianism. In fact, it was my husband and myself who enculturised that, however, bias runs deep and we often don’t see it until someone else has thrown off the traces, like the third guy did. Truthfully, I would say that if the other two guys could go back and change their stance, they would… but it wasn’t seen with clarity at that point.
So the third guy was laying down his male privilege for joy… is that the sort of thing you mean?
Thanks Bev. And, yes, that example is a good one I think. In terms of practicals, I’m thinking about things like men sponsoring women into positions of power. Or men giving up power and access on behalf of women. Or of men advocating for equal access in their contexts. Over the past few years, I’ve been blogging on this stuff, and you can find some really concrete examples here: http://challengingtertullian.com/category/commit/
Great principle here which I think has application beyond the gender setting – we are all called to follow the example of Jesus in laying down power and privilege. It’s just sad that we so often see the exact opposite being played out in the church 🙁
Amen! I long for a Spirit-led reimagining of power and privilege to sweep through our communities of faith. To me that starts with conversations. Sounds simplistic, but I think talking about power and how it works in our communities would be a great beginning.
Well, we’ve got to start somewhere, don’t we? 🙂
I love the sentiment of this post, I agree it is Christ-like to give of ourselves so that others might have abundant life.
I just keep wondering: How is it that we (white cis-males) actually do this?
Practically speaking how do I lay down a privilege that is granted to me by others?
I’m wondering what it means to “lay down your privilege?” Literally, what fits our look like?
I think one small example of how men can begin to realize how they can lay down their privilege is by beginning to examine their conversations in groups or with females. When I did this, I realize that I would typically dominate the conversation or would interrupt females. A lot of the time, females also allow to be interrupted by a male. I think this is part of a power complex (male privilege) while I guess others can say it’s just my personality. Regardless, I’ve made it a habit to not interrupt females as often as I can as one of the small ways I can be laying down my privilege.
“This is sad, I hope young men read their Bible and are not influenced to hate themselves cause they are male.”
But it’s okay for women to hate themselves for being born female? That’s just their cross to bear, right?
When a man lovingly lays down his “rights” (I Corinthians 13) and it is equated with hating himself and needing to brush up on his theology, we have a huge problem in Christianity. Which really is sad. I hope the person who wrote that comment starts reading the Bible too.