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Politics, Power and Christian Ministry Part 2


In a previous post I introduced a simple model that maps behaviours of parties according to whether their power is equal or not, and their interests aligned or conflicting:

The strength of the model is that it explains what options are available to us depending on the situation. The tool is helpful in analysing the situation: any suggestions I make below about ways forward are made tentatively and should be evaluated with respect to what a Jesus-like use of power would look like. This relates to the authors’ insistence that the use of power always has ethical consequences.

What about...?

I wonder what this model says to a grouping (evangelicals, say) within a denomination (or Diocese, or society)? Their behaviour can be explained by the relative degrees of power and alignment.

In Cell 1 evangelicals are a sufficiently powerful group that they collaborate on an equal footing with the denomination. This is the ideal, but Burns, Chapman and Guthrie note that Cell 1 is not a stable arrangement: it needs constant maintenance.

In Cell 2, the evangelicals are a less powerful minority. They need to network if they are to achieve their ends. For those coming from life in Cell 1 this may feel like going cap in hand to former partners but if they can come to terms with reality they could replace bitterness with something better.

When interests diverge the options multiply. In Cell 3 the evangelicals might form a resistance group powerful enough to bargain with the denomination. This can be done in a more or less godly ways. It is important to realise that Cell 3 conditions only operate when power is actually equal. It can be frustrating to believe one is in Cell 3 (equal power) when the reality is more like Cell 4 (unequal power).

In a theologically broad denomination, evangelicals often find themselves in Cell 4, with less power and out of tune with the denomination’s direction of travel. We recall that those with more power can use their power to dominate, can give away their power, or occupy any positions in between. Those with less power (evangelicals in this example) can act on a scale ranging from resistance to surrender. Some choices are godlier than others, but all are picked from the options available within Cell 4 only.

What might a God-honouring response to life in Cell 4 look like? Here are three suggestions.

Burns et al suggest that the best course of action is to get out of Cell 4. One way out of Cell 4 is towards Cell 3 where the interests remain in conflict but power is now equal. In political terms thi would mean increasing relative power by getting organised as a constituency in order to gain a ‘place at the table’. The choice of method - such negotiation, horse-trading, making demands - is an ethical as well as a pragmatic decision.

Another way out of Cell 4 is towards Cell 2, where power remains unequal but interests are aligned. This is the ‘in it to win it’ strategy of influencing the denomination from within. There are judgements to be made about when and whether this is working. What is helpful I think is to acknowledge that this is a distinct strategy to a move towards Cell 3.

A third option is a reality check. It is to acknowledge that because one is in fact in Cell 4, inherited Cell 2 and Cell 3 behaviours are neither appropriate nor effective. Those who mistakenly believe they have equal power (Cell 3) wonder why their bargaining is bearing so little fruit; others who believe themselves and the denomination to be more closely aligned than is the case wonder why their networking (Cell 2) feels so one-sided. Once the minority group have a true understanding of the situation, they can consider the other two options which move towards either Cell 2 or Cell 3.

The Latimer Trust

Many of Latimer Trust’s resources aim to engage with the denomination (Cell 2), and many others aim to strengthen our understanding of principles Anglican evangelical identity which can support Cell 3 behaviours. This is how “Biblical Truth for today’s Anglican Church” can help evangelicals in a denomination. Why not visit the website?

Ed Moll is Vicar of Wembdon and Trustee of Latimer Trust

Reference

Bob Burns, Tasha Chapman, Donald Guthrie The Politics of Ministry: Navigating Power Dynamics and Negotiating Interests (Downers Grove: IVP, 2019)


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