The church’s fear of losing power

Shortly after the US elections, I posted on a WhatsApp group I’m on that I feel sorry for any Christian who hasn’t seriously interrogated their faith in the last few years.

I got a bit of pushback. Someone replied that the faith of Nigerian and other Christians wasn’t necessarily based on the American elections, so they didn’t see what my point was.

They were wrong, of course, because part of my point was precisely that US Christianity is a huge influence on Nigerian Christianity. Yes, the faith was brought to our shores by the British, but the expressions thereof in the last 50 years come from the US: megachurches, Pentecostalism, prosperity and faith teaching—even the idea that “Christians don’t drink.”

But with the American influence also came another element: fear.

It’s the fear that often accompanies power: the fear of losing it. And the problem with fear is it drives people to act in ways contrary to their own values: because when we’re afraid we find it easier to justify doing whatever seems necessary to survive. We tell ourselves it’s either that or extinction.

Except, the entire point of Christianity is that power is not for the benefit of the powerful: to use it the way always ends up corrupting it. Power serves best when it serves. It’s even more ironic to see a lust for power define what began as a minority movement by a group of non-elite people in a politically unimportant country two millennia ago.

As it turns out, Martin Luther King Jr had something to say about this. His 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is well known, especially for MLK’s distrust of white moderates as possibly a bigger obstacle to civil rights than the KKK and the quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I wonder, though, how many people have read the entire thing. Especially the part where he writes to the Christians in the US, which reads like it might well have been written in 2020, not nearly 60 years ago (emphasis mine):

There was a time the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed.… Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Sound familiar?

Like I said, we’d better be questioning what’s really driving us.


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