People of power

The Centre for Theology & Community l

In our latest report, we explain how Community Organising recalls the Church to the vision of the Gospel. In this blog, based on the introduction to the report, its author Angus Ritchie summarises its argument… 

In the Bible and in the history of the Church, God raises up leaders from and not just for those who are oppressed. From Moses and Miriam to Rosa Parks and Desmond Tutu, God chooses the people who experience injustice to bring it to an end.

This goes to the very heart of the Christian Gospel. Where Jesus was from – a labouring family in Nazareth, forced to flee to Egypt as refugees – is a crucial part of what he reveals. Jesus tells us that if we are to speak of God we must adopt this perspective. He prays:

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matthew 11.25)

It is a point echoed by St Paul:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Cor. 1.26-7)

It’s not enough to be a Church with a “heart for the poor”. Rather, according to the New Testament, the poor are the heart of the Church.

As our new report explains, Christians engage in community organising because it recalls us to that vision, placing those who experience injustice at the heart of the struggle for social justice. Organising can recall the Church to two further dimensions of Jesus’ practice which we often prefer to evade – namely, his use of tension and his attitude to power.

Jesus’ ministry generated a huge amount of tension. He denounced King Herod as a “fox” and the religious leaders of hi s day as “vipers.” He cleansed the Temple with a whip of cords, and a few days later was brutally put to death. Jesus’ taught his disciples to love their enemies, but this teaching implied that there would be enemies to love. In the Beatitudes, he clearly indicates that faithful discipleship will generate resistance:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5.11-12)

Moreover, Jesus’ ministry built a people of power. This may sound strange to our ears, because we usually focus on the many ways in which power is used to dominate and exploit. Jesus’ ministry challenges the people and institutions which oppress the most vulnerable, and proclaims a Kingdom founded on a very different kind of power. Jesus commissions St Peter to build his Church and promises that “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” When he calls the disciples, Jesus gives them “power and authority” (Luke 9.1) and promises they will be “clothed with power from on high” at Pentecost (Luke 24.49). Likewise, St Paul tells the early Church that the kingdom of God “depends not on talk but on power” (1 Corinthians 4.20) and later writes that “the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1.7).

All too often, Christians imagine Jesus to be gentle and inoffensive and regard tension and power as things to be avoided. Yet, in the Gospels, Jesus is powerful and disruptive. He is able to both love his enemies and confront them – precisely because his Spirit is one of power, love and self-discipline.

For Christians, the measure of any practice is whether it helps us to be faithful to the Gospel. In placing the poor at the heart of the Church; in being unafraid of tension and confrontation; and in building a movement that is powerful, loving and disciplined, community organising helps us to be more faithful followers of Christ.

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