Absolute Power Concedes Nothing

Smashing The Table Of Nationalism

U.S. President Richard Nixon (left) standing w...

U.S. President Richard Nixon (left) standing with former president Lyndon Johson outside the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, 05/22/1971 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Power concedes nothing without demands.” That’s a quote attributed to abolitionist intellectual Frederick Douglass. Ever since I was a kid, I have been blessed/cursed with a sense of what group of people have the power; in short, to observe who has the power, and then be compelled to ask why. Whether it is acknowledging the first kid usually picked to be on your kickball team during recess or side-eyeing the events hosted by the most active student groups on campus, power analysis has somehow always been important to me.

One thing I am learning about power (because it continually teaches) is that power is so seductive in the way it functions, that persons who do not do engage power/the Powers critically, may often times wind up defending the powerful and being complicit in the oppression of victims who go unseen. Perhaps when persons learn about powerful people in the past, deep down there may be an a desire to have the kind of power this or that person had, without taking into consideration the differences in their respective environments.

I know that at one time I was guilty of this myself, as a political science minor in undergrad, I took a look at the problems on campus, and I used to think maybe if there was someone as ambitious as a Lyndon B. Johnson or Richard Nixon, she would be able to implement all the changes she wanted, by any means necessary. I didn’t consider to think the collateral damage, the Southern Strategies of Nixon or the foreign policy mistakes of LBJ; this mentality does not limit itself to politicians. Influence is power, and people who want it, will protect people who have it. This is what happened with the Hugo Schwyzer saga. What would drive a prominent Southern Baptist leader to prefer cover ups over church issues rather than be open about them, or go to the media? Only persons in love with power. Who would not bother to confront pastors’ teaching white supremacist understandings of Scripture? People infatuated with power.

Our vocation as Christian thinkers isn’t to run from those in power here on Earth, or/either to run to those power in awe; ours is a calling to watch where the power flows and moves. To see power as solely influence is highly problematic. We need to also see it as a collection and patterns of movements from human bodies, but not just those bodies at the top who are “in charge.”  Power must be assessed from the bottom-up, an attentive ear to the least of these, because that is where Jesus, the dunamis theou, the power of God was/is disclosed.

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