I want to dive headlong into the subject of politics. No, not national, regional, municipal, or school board politics. Those are all important. But I’m talking here about church politics. I’m talking about who has the most influence over church policy, doctrine, who’s in, who’s out, who gets withdrawn from, who is the next to become the golden boy, etc., etc., etc. And I’m talking about how one obtains that power and influence. Yeah, I’m talking about that unsavory aspect of organizational life. But first, some definitions:
b: the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy
c: the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government
2: political actions, practices, or policies
3a: political affairs or business
especially : competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)
b: political life especially as a principal activity or profession
c: political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices
4: the political opinions or sympathies of a person
5a: the total complex of relations between people living in society
b: relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view
Politics is necessarily a part of every type of human organization. A man starts a business and wants to pass it on to his chosen successor, maybe a son. But someone (another son, or his wife, or a business partner, or board member, perhaps) tries to derail that choice, either for good or bad reasons. A political battle ensues, either overtly, or under the surface, to influence who will eventually obtain that power.
What I see (admittedly from the outside looking in, so others with personal knowledge would have to confirm) is that the Stanton churches have become a highly politicized organization, much like the Sanhedrin of Jesus’s day. They had their power only by permission of the Roman power. All decisions were filtered through that lens. “I cannot say this, otherwise it will affect my position with Rome. And I cannot say that, otherwise it will affect my position with the people.” This type of arrangement is an economy, if you will, where power is the coin of the realm, and one obtains this coin by the patronage of existing power. Proximity and approval are thus traded to preserve or improve one’s own influence.
And don’t forget the unsavory part…that sometimes principles must be tossed aside to achieve one’s altruistic goals of bettering the organization. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, right? Sometimes, good people must be thrown under the bus. Conversations must be mis-remembered. Others need to be forgotten altogether, or only shared out of context, or with the right people to achieve one’s strategic goal. It’s funny how the first to plead their case seems right, until the other side gets to speak. It’s easier to just silence that other side, isn’t it? There’s a reason we call that political expediency, not truth-seeking.
I just did a very dense study of the entirety of Old Testament history, and I can tell you that it is replete with kings who believed they were entitled to lead God’s people. Entitled. You know, because they were God’s anointed and all, like the Pope thinks he is. And like the Pope, these kings believed they were entitled to hold onto that power by any means necessary. The ends justified the means.
Don’t you see just how unlike the New Testament church this behavior is? Jesus was a servant leader. He didn’t scheme his way into the history books to preserve his legacy. He did the right thing, even when it meant being misunderstood, slandered, and killed. He spoke truth to power. He spoke truth to the broken. He spoke truth to the proud, the strong, the weak, the sinner, the Pharisee, and to you and me. Most of all, he spoke truth in love.
He didn’t care about the Jewish polity. He knew that was not long for this world. He didn’t care whether the Pharisees or the Saducees retained the most influence with their Roman governors. He cared little about the political workings of the Sanhedrin.
But in Stanton, rather than servant-leaders, it seems that maybe there are those at or near the top whose primary job is to jockey for power, wield it, dole it out where useful, crush it at times, and thus preserve—manipulate might be another word for it—a favored outcome or legacy. In a classic attempt at legacy-building, the mother of James and John actually tried to make a political play to get her sons into positions of power with Jesus. Do you remember his response?
Matthew 20:26 – Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.
May it ever be so.