The issue of power has been raised this past week - the power of position.
With the death of Justice Ruth Ginsburg, the President and Senate Republicans are rushing to fill the vacant position before the election on November 3. (This rush suggests they are afraid of losing the November 3 election, but that is another story.) This effort contradicts what Republican members of the Senate said just five years ago when a vacancy opened during the last year of Obama's presidency. It also goes against a tradition of filling a vacancy during an election year (which the Republicans argued five years ago). Their rationale for their reversal of position and current effort is "if the shoe were on the other foot, the Democrats would do the same thing."
This effort is about power. The Republicans hold a majority in the senate (which is apparently being threatened by the upcoming election). They are in the power position. Thus, they are choosing to use this position of power to impose their will in regards to the Supreme Court vacancy. Of course, this type of thing is something they have done throughout the time they have held the Senate majority (blocking legislation, opposing Obama's initiatives, etc.). Yea, I know: "if the shoe were on the other foot ..."
Using power in this way is a part of their political agenda. And if/when the Democrats win a majority, I assume we will see them follow suit. "If the shoe were on the other foot ..."
This use of power - by whichever party is in the majority - is a natural byproduct of our democratic form of government. It is built on us-them thinking and functioning. It creates a winner-take-all mentality. And, it seems to me, it loses sight of the common good. In this way of functioning, the common good is best served by imposing "my" way of thinking (Republican or Democrat), not by cooperation that seeks a way forward that is mutually advantageous. (Yea, I know: there goes my idealism again.)
This use of power is also an expression of the human ego. It is an expression of the ego's self-focused, self-serving nature. In my opinion, it is an expression of our most base (immature) nature, not our best (most mature) nature. This use of power is like being ruled by an ego-centric child or teenager who thinks only of what they want, when they want it, not by a mature, level-headed, thinking adult.
This use of power associated with the majority position raises an issue for me: what is a righteous use of power? My question arises out of thinking theologically as a follower of Jesus (something I see far too little of, but highly recommend!)
The use of power - whether by an individual or by a group or by a nation - lies at the heart of the Hebrew prophetic tradition and, consequently, at the heart of Jesus' ministry, and, consequently, at the heart of being a follower of Jesus. Jesus's teachings, following the Hebrew prophetic tradition, are clear: power is to be used to serve. "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45, NRSV).
Note the contrast: those who do not know God and the ways of God (the Gentiles) use the power of position over, down against others, for personal advantage at the others' expense (lord it over, tyrants). Jesus's disciples use power to serve - alongside the other, on behalf of the other, for the other's good at personal expense. The followers of Jesus use power to serve because Jesus uses power to serve. Jesus's use of power, in turn, reflects how God uses power. God uses power to create life and bring it to maturity. That's what we mean whenever we speak of God as Creator. God uses power in life-giving, life-nurturing ways. God uses power to serve.
The servant use of power is only possible when we move beyond the self-focused, self-serving spirit of the ego-governed self. The servant use of power requires a servant spirit, a servant heart. The servant use of power requires the heart-transforming work of the Spirit.
In the Hebrew prophetic tradition, this understanding of the use of power was expressed by two terms that were almost always linked together: justice and righteousness. When the Messiah came, he would rule with justice and righteousness. See Isaiah 9:7; 11:4-5; Amos 5:24. Justice and righteousness would produce peace and abundance (shalom).
Justice was the prophets' term for the servant use of power. Power was to be used on behalf of the powerless - to protect, provide for, and advocate for the most vulnerable in their society. "Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17). For the prophets, justice was more than a legal term. It was a covenant term. It was a relational term. It spoke of how power was used in their society as an expression of their covenant with Yahweh.
Righteousness was the companion of justice. Like justice, righteousness was a covenant term that spoke of how the people lived in relationship with one another. It was more than a religious or moral term. To live righteously was to live rightly in relation to one's neighbor. It was to practice justice, that is, to use one's power to help one's neighbor. To be righteous was to use one's power - in all its multiple forms - not just for one's own advantage and well-being, but on behalf of one's neighbors, particularly the most powerless and vulnerable. This understanding of righteousness is reflected in Jesus's parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The Samaritan used his power - in its many forms (time, knowledge, resources, money) - to take care of the stranger in need. Note that Jesus ended the parable by saying "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37). Go and practice righteousness. Go use your many forms of power to address the needs of others. Go and serve.
This servant use of power stands in stark contrast to what we see being played out by the President and Republican majority in the Senate this week. (And if the shoe were on the other foot ...)
Perhaps I am wrong to judge the President and Senate majority against the standard of the Hebrew prophetic tradition and the teachings of Jesus. Who knows if I will do the same with a Democratic majority if/when the shoe is on the other foot. I trust I will. But, after all, we proudly and loudly claim to be "a Christian nation." (I personally do not see it - but that's the theme of another blog.) The President ran for the presidency with the motto Make America Great Again. It is his rallying cry and the identifying logo of his supporters, many of whom identify themselves as evangelical Christians: MAGA. In the midst of their cry I hear the faint voice of the Hebrew wisdom writer: "Righteousness exalts a nation" (Proverbs 14:34).
What makes a nation great? Is it its economy (GNP) or its form of government or its military strength or its standing in the world? According to the Hebrew tradition, a nation's greatness is inseparably tied to righteousness - which is tied to justice - which is power used to serve the powerless and most vulnerable. In other words, a nation's greatness is based on how it uses its power.
At least, that's my conclusion as I attempt to think theologically.