The first article, “Identifying Leadership Power Abuse and its Prevention in the Local Church Context,” defined the term ‘power abuse’ as the exertion of influence through unjust means in order to coerce followers into doing one’s bidding. Abel Haon listed the many ways a church leader is capable of abusing this power. Haon identifies church leaders who attempt to “play God” before their followers and those who use their rank in order to influence their followers as guilty of power abuse.
He deems leaders answerable to criticism for acts of suppression when long-time believers and converts find themselves unable to contribute significantly to the work of gospel. And finally, Haon considers the significant number of believers who are biblically illiterate as a form of power abuse as they must remain dependent on their church leaders. The article unveils the many ways a leader’s power is derived and the various expectations society has of them.
Traditionally, a leader inherits his or her power from family. Other times, money may also serve as the means to power, whether the influence is direct or indirect (Haon). This notion is often witnessed in politics and in corrupt businesses. Haon elaborates, justifying the possession of knowledge as a means of gaining influence and prestige as well. The prevalence of power abuse, vis-à-vis religion, is surprisingly large. A church leader has the task of interpreting scripture so that followers can comply confidently.
However, as they gain influence, leaders begin to forget that all humankind are on equal footing before the scriptures. It is revealed that one “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be witness in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Haon). Therefore, it can be inferenced that anyone who attempts to lead God’s people without the aid of the Holy Spirit is abusing his or her power. Church leaders should follow the example of Jesus Christ himself. Although He “possesses unlimited power and authority, he remained in control over power itself, because His life was guided by much loftier motives. He seeked solely to glorify God’s name, aid needy humanity, and dislodge all evil powers.” Thus He chose to exercise His power in the most liberating of ways (Haon). “Power can only serve its true purpose when it is given away.
” Haon continues his commentary on power abuse pitfalls as he reveals how to avoid it in a Church’s leadership context. He explains that leaders must never forget their authentic motive to doing God’s work. They must lead to the glory of God.
The power that one may believe they possess belongs solely to the Holy Spirit. Leaders must be characterized by humility and a positive attitude towards suffering. They must also realize that their actions and words are accountable to their peers and their followers. All in all, power abuse should not be tolerated by all members of church.
The second article, “Making a Healthy Congregation: Conversations about Clergy Sexual Abuse” by Carrie McGuffinl, revealed another form of power abuse in church. The issue of sexual abuse by church leaders is one that remains an issue to this day. Reports show that 3% of women under the age of 18, who regularly attended church, reported being sexually harassed by church leaders (McGuffinl). These same church leaders are in renowned positions, and whose work is highly appreciated by the majority. When accusations are made, churches do not know how to respond. The image of a healthy, safe, and flourishing congregation they enthusiastically portray is not entirely accurate. Therefore, churches must also acknowledge the tainted reality of the church’s condition in order to uphold the respect that it receives from members of society. This notion reminded me of a news report I watched a few weeks ago.
Recently, there was great controversy around the funeral of former Cardinal Bernard Law, a church leader who was responsible for covering up hundreds of sexual assault scandals committed by valued members of the Catholic Church (Smith-Spark). One former priest, John Geoghan, sexually assaulted over 130 young boys before he was prosecuted and jailed (Smith-Spark). Law used his influence to cover up other priests’ child abuse for as long as he could; and when all was revealed, he faced no consequences (Smith-Spark)! Many sexual assault victims grew outraged by the inaction of the church. In addition to the scandals, Pope Francis’ decision to commemorate the former Cardinal with a traditional funeral service despite his crimes enraged many members of churches across the nation. If such a cover-up can be executed without any consequence and the leader is still honored after his death, how can the church deem themselves as a safe space? This issue is one that must be addressed until a positive change is made. It relates back to the prevalence of power abuse in church, as clergy sexual abuse is primarily about the misuse of power by the perpetrator and the inability of the victim to provide consent because of that power differential. The two articles were saturated with important information. Power abuse is an issue that is undeniably prevalent in almost every line of work, education system, and organization in this day and age.
It is important for individuals to be educated on recognising warning signs of power abuse and on the means to attaining a certain power themselves. Individuals who have undergone traumatic situations such as sexual assault, especially by religious leaders whom they trusted, must learn how to speak out about their experiences. They must also feel confident enough to challenge leaders who may attempt to silence them. By learning the ways in which power is gained and by learning the only Biblically mandated powers church leaders possess, victims of various forms of abuse can collectively make a real difference in the system.
What causes church leaders to gradually forget that their power lies in the Holy Spirit and that they are simply to relay the authentic words of God to their followers? When is their love for God and fear of God replaced by business tactics and corrupt morals? How can this issue be tackled in terms of bringing power-hungry clergy back to their Christian intentions? Issues regarding sexual abuse and harassment have frequented the American news for a significant portion this year (#MeToo movement, Aziz Ansari, etc). How can we as a society better combat this stigma behind sexual assault? How is the act of victim-blaming affecting members of society? In terms of sexual assault crimes, does society tend to side with the victim or silence the victim? Why? How can we change this detrimental habit of society?