Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Shalom Makers: Development in the Way of Christ – A More Human(e) Way Part XI

The New York Times on the New Art of Flickr

Originally uploaded by Thomas Hawk

You can check out the outline to connect to the previous sections of this essay. We are in the second section entitled A More Human(e) way.

Pneumatic Empowerment and Transforming the Powers
Alternative development work, in Friedmann’s view, “involves a process of social and political empowerment whose long-term objective is to re-balance the structure of power in society by making state action more accountable, strengthening the powers of civil society in the management of its own affairs, and making corporate business more socially responsible” (Friedmann 1992: 31). Friedmann is a fan of the poor being actors in their own development and helps us understand that if true development is going to take place among the poor, they must not only have greater social access, but they must be empowered to act politically.

Yet, as Myers points out, Friedmann’s approach has some blind spots, one being that “he does not mention the effect of worldview in perpetuating poverty and sustaining the privileged status of the non-poor” (Myers 1999:103). Paul Farmer in Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor says: “A central irony of human rights law is that is consists largely of appeals to the perpetrators. After all, most crimes against humanity are committed by powerful states, not by rogue factions or gangs or cults or terrorist. That makes is difficult for institutions accountable to states to take their constituents to task” (Farmer: 2003:242).

One way the story of God has an advantage over enlightenment – that Christian so aptly points out – is that a grassroots kingdom response to the powerlessness of the poor, “reverses the process of disempowerment, confronts the god-complexes, heals person in poverty relationships, addresses inadequacies in worldview, challenges principalities and powers, establishes truth and righteousness, and proclaims that all power belongs to God” (Christian 1999: 212,213). The beauty in the story of God is that the God of all power is the one who empowers the poor and non-poor alike. If the poor needed the non-poor to “empower them,” there would always be an asymmetry of power. But in God’s story, while some may be empowered by the Spirit before others, it is the same Spirit that empowers everyone. Being empowered does completely resolve the issue, however, for As Christian says, “Beyond mere strategies for empowerment, the very nature of power needs redefinition” (Christian 1999:166).

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screw Tape Letters, Screwtape, the chief demon, makes a toast to the demons he is training. He goes on at length about how they must use systems and structures and certain ideas and people to influence the masses so that the demons don’t have to use their energy personally, but simply use the “evil systems” to keep people from living out the calling of God in their lives. Screwtape makes it clear that the lowest demons are to be individual tempters. The greater demons are those that influence whole systems and the world values that cause people to fall, as well as to fail to live out their calling and thus become part of the evil system by not standing against it (Lewis 2001:179-181).

The historical problem of power is that those who gain power tend to get corrupted by the power they gain. How is it possible for the poor, or non-poor for that matter, to name, unmask, and engage the powers, instead of letting the powers shape us? That is what the next post is about.

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