Protecting the Powerful at the Expense of the Weak

Most of us remember the story. David, serving his carnal desires, had Uriah’s wife Bathsheba brought into his bed. When David found out Bathsheba was pregnant and his sin was about to come to light, he launched a cover up, first telling Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife, and when that failed, having him killed in battle.

See, David’s desires were more important than Bathsheba’s honor. David’s reputation was more important than Uriah’s life. David had done so much for Israel, and Israel’s continued success was so dependent on him. So he had to be kept happy, and shielded from the consequences of his actions.

The people involved in this debacle were guilty of protecting the powerful (David) at the expense of the truly (Bathsheba) and comparatively (Uriah) weak. Why? Because they had so much to lose if David fell from grace. Bathsheba and Uriah’s victimization was insignificant compared to all the good David had done and was continuing to do.

But God didn’t see it that way.

I haven’t really been following the Sovereign Grace scandal. It’s sad, but nothing about it shocks me. This is what people do: they align with the powerful, instead of the weak, because which side do you want to be on? This happens in churches, on the mission field, in schools, at work, in politics, in the military, on the playground, pretty much everywhere.

It’s completely in line with human nature, and completely contrary to the way of Christ.

But this scandal has illuminated an important dynamic. Institutions that are very authoritarian, and/or are enthralled by charismatic leaders, are far more vulnerable to these sorts of shenanigans than places where power structures are just not a big deal, and everyone is more or less on equal footing.

It’s not that hierarchy causes abuse. But hierarchy does create an environment that favors the powerful over the weak, and often draws people with power issues.

Several years ago, Dr. Stephen Tracy wrote an in-depth and extensively footnoted paper for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society titled Patriarchy and Domestic Violence: Challenging Common Misconceptions. It provides a very balanced overview of the correlation between authoritarian power structures and abuse. Since he’s addressed this issue so thoroughly, I’m not even going to attempt to summarize it in this blog post–just hop over and read the article!

Really, though, propping up the powerful at the expense of the weak doesn’t just happen in cases of abuse.  It happens when we shame insecure girls about their female bodies to “keep men from stumbling” in church. It happens when we buy goods made by exploited workers so we can save a buck and buy more junk for ourselves. It happens when we snap at our families after a stressful day, instead of sucking it up like an adult and choosing to serve them.  It happens every time we decide we’d rather enjoy the benefits of empire than carry the cross of the kingdom.

We get to choose. Are we going to stack the cards so we can win, or lay them down and quit playing the power game? Are we going to use the gifts, resources, and abilities we have been entrusted with to gain prestige and power over others, or are we going to humble ourselves and serve them?

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

11 Responses to Protecting the Powerful at the Expense of the Weak

  1. Vicki Scheib May 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Jenny, the issue of power and authority that you mention is right on target. In my dissertation, I spoke to how vulnerability disarms leadership power structures and actually can minimize the temptation toward sexual sin in the lives of leaders. What we avoid is what we need in order to change and promote healthy organizational systems. Thanks for such a great post!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong May 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      “Vulnerability disarms leadership power structures and actually can minimize the temptation toward sexual sin in the lives of leaders.”

      What a great point, Vicki! Your dissertation sounds fascinating.

  2. Elena Johnston May 28, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Sometimes it can be so hard to know what to do with all the outrage. Thank you for the wise words.

  3. Virginia Knowles (Watch the Shepherd) May 28, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    Jennie Rae, as a former long-time SGM members and a mother of 10, I compiled a long list of links related to the SGM lawsuit here:

    I will add your link to it.


  4. Tim May 29, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Jen, you brought it all to bear when you talked about how we too often would “rather enjoy the benefits of empire … .” Jesus clearly said his kingdom is not of this world, and I think that includes church-based kingdoms which mimic the power structures of this world too.


  5. laura May 29, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    oh goodness, YES. I did a blog post a while back about why I would never take my daughters to a patriarchal church. I’m going to update it with a link to Patriarchy and Domestic Violence. Thank you!

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong May 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      Great! That article is one of those resources that should be WAY more widely distributed than it is.

  6. fiddlrts May 29, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    That article you liked to is excellent. I have experienced the statistics he starts with in my own law practice. I had been working on a blog post on this topic, and that article will be helpful.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong May 29, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

      Isn’t it a great resource? The article itself is fantastic, and the footnotes are even better. Some of the research is really astonishing.

  7. Lacey May 31, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot, too. I just finished reading “Hush” by Eishes Chayil, which is a young adult novel about sexual abuse and denial in the Chassidic Jewish community. I would like to read a novel like that and believe that in “real life” people would value the lives and safety of children over their reputations and the reputations of leaders in the community, but I’ve seen the same thing play out in the Catholic Church, so the scenario was disappointingly believable. I agree that a heirarchical power structure provides better breeding grounds for such abuses, and cover-ups, than more egalitarian, service-oriented structures.

    The truth is, we all care about our reputations, and the reputations of those we admire. We hate to imagine that such horrible things happen within trusted communities. But we absolutely MUST put the safety of children, and their very lives, before our own comfort. It’s so important to continue breaking silence on this issue.

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