Power and Privilege: A Model from the Early Church

Seven DeaconsFor the past 6 years, I’ve gone to New Orleans in March to staff a service project for college students. This year, we piloted new curriculum that included racial reconciliation, power, and privilege. We looked at a situation that the early Christian church faced regarding injustice, power, and privilege (Acts 6:1-7) to see what we can learn from them. It was the last night of our community discussions, and I was honestly feeling fried. It was a long week, and we’ve already talked about so many hard topics. I didn’t know how much was left in me, and I didn’t know how much my table group could handle. But the Scriptures surprised me, and below is a quick sketch of what I gleaned from the chapter regarding how power and privilege can be used to address injustices.

A Biblical Model for the Use of Power and Privilege

  1. When injustice exists, acknowledge it.
  2. The affected group approaches the group causing the injustice. Not only are the affected received and listened to, they are also believed.
  3. The issue is taken seriously, and then brought to the highest level of authority and leadership, to the people who can actually do something about the injustice. In Acts 6, the issue was brought before The Twelve, the leading figures of the early church. This also must mean that the affected group has access to the people in power.
  4. The entire community is gathered, which shows the communal nature of injustice and its necessary communal response.
  5. Those in power empower those hurt to find the solution to the injustice affecting them. Here is what this empowerment looks like.
    1. It is done in public, in front of the entire community.
    2. Power is released from those who possess it to those who don’t. Thus, responsibility and decision-making-power is entrusted to the affected community.
    3. The decision was reviewed and blessed by the leadership, which further honors and elevates the affected community and its capacity to solves problems.
    4. The decision is implemented by the affected community and its chosen leadership.
  6. The injustice is addressed holistically: the issues are rectified while relationships deepen and strengthen. The disadvantaged community actually comes out stronger, with more power and privilege and with greater access to those with power.
  7. Lastly, the purpose and mission of the community expands and bears fruit.

I found this to be remarkably refreshing, yet it is not something that I’ve seen happen often in communities. My hope is that the Scriptures will offer fresh insight and new paths forward in the work of social justice, and that the Spirit of God will enable people to do the difficult work of releasing their power and privilege for the sake of elevating others.

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