Editor’s note: At the beginning of December, China experienced highly unusual protests. Many people protested harsh Covid restrictions, students at prestigious universities foremost among them. As the protests gathered steam, a university professor began to gather his thoughts on the role of power in society, and how the church might approach power differently than the culture around it. This essay began with the professor’s online discussion with other believers at the time of the protests, but later evolved to include further thoughts and examples.
This translation has been edited and rearranged for clarity.
The Point of Power
Power should be used to create goodness, to make people comfortable, happy, relaxed, free, encouraged, and cared for. Power should be used to serve those for whom it is intended. The point of power is to ask: “What can I do for you?”
Power should especially be used to serve those who are weak and vulnerable. Those who enjoy power should humble themselves to serve the disadvantaged, those who are unable to have a voice and are rejected by others. The use of power in this way might create an entry point for the gospel. Using power like this requires the virtue of complete humility, and a willingness for behind-the-scenes self-sacrifice.
Power and Relationships
My thoughts on power are probably related to my thoughts about the question, “How should Christians live?” In recent years I have realized there is a problem: in church, Christians receive a lot of intellectual teaching, but believers often have difficulty living a life of virtue. This may be related to the fact that we pay little attention to our use of power. We seldom look at relationships from the perspective of “power relationships.”
Although no one can escape these things, in the church tradition, we rarely talk about power or politics. Of course, all of my thoughts on this are related to my profession, as I study and teach the history of political thought in the university.
Every Christian needs to be equipped to approach all aspects of life from the perspective that power exists to serve the weak. For instance, parents have a power-and-weakness relationship with their children. There are many other examples: pastors and their congregations; teachers and students; supervisors and their teams at work. All of these relationships, when viewed from the perspective of power, actually contain a political dimension.
An example of this can be found in a colleague I have, who is also a member of the church. She is a professor in a fairly high position. For many years, her research has been devoted to the protection of the elderly and women. In the church, she is very humble. You can see that she speaks to her students and to people who are less educated as equals. She serves them, too.
Power in Society
There is a real lack of proper understanding and proper use of power in Chinese society. I hope the church can help promote a transformation in the way our society understands and uses power. The way Chinese people feel about power is usually based on a great deal of harm they have experienced based on the abuse of power. All this has led to a bad cultural environment, an environment in great need of change.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
The current state of Chinese society is in great political disorder. The corruption of power is obvious. The church needs to think and practice carefully to respond to the most pressing issues in people’s lives. There are few well-organized groups in Chinese society, so the community life of the church is actually very rare. In this community life, the church needs to demonstrate what right and good power relationships look like.
Power and the Church
The church does not demonstrate these healthy power relationships in order to take a political stance. The church demonstrates good power relationships so as to provide normal people with a picture of flourishing. This flourishing is not limited to individuals and families, but extends to the whole community.
Any organization has the potential to produce a marginalized group. The vulnerable part of the group – the part of the organization that has a weak stance in power relationships – might lose the attention of others, or even their voice within the group.
The power of the gospel lies in a community that reaches out from the center to the margins. In the gospel, the center embraces and protects the marginalized. This culture of love flowing from God is the driving force for change.
I have been a believer for a long time. Over time, I have become more acutely aware of the various temptations we encounter from the devil. Among those temptations are knowledge, ability, eloquence, and even piety. Each of these virtues can be used by the devil. However, the devil cannot use humility for his purposes, because he himself is a spirit who is full of pride.
Reflecting on this may give us another reminder of how we can remain humble as we exist in power relationships. For me, it is always a tremendous encouragement – with an immense restorative force – as I think of the all-powerful Lord descending to such a humble level on the cross to serve and save us.
The devil may imitate and mimic God’s omnipotence, authority, and command, but he cannot play at humility and self-sacrifice. The devil is afraid of the cross.
多马 Duo Ma is a pseudonym for a university professor and longtime believer who studies and teaches the history of political thought.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray that the church in China will follow Christ’s example and willingly lay down power in order to serve and protect the weak.