What does power as service (hierodulia) look like, and how do we avoid maintaining hierarchy (power over and domination systems) instead?

Don Pribor is Call To Action Just Church Worker Organizer. We are happy to share this blog post by him, the second in a series which can be viewed on our web site. 

This  is the second in a series of blogs by new Call To Action Church Worker Justice Organizer Don Pribor. Don can be reached at 773.404.0004 x261 or don@cta-usa.org. See other posts in this series here.

Call To Action and the Grammar of Partnership

In my previous posting, I shared the wisdom of the Indian feminist theologian, Kochurani Abraham, about the need for our church to learn the grammar of partnership. Kochurani cited an Indian proverb that says that in order to pick a mango from the tree above the roof, we have to let go of what we are holding in our armpit. And our church can’t promote a relationship of mutuality between humans and the earth if we don’t practice mutual relationships within the church.

During the CTA national conference in Albuquerque last November, there was a meeting for people concerned about Church Worker Justice. An observation was made that the root issue is that many Bishops treat the laity like chattel – and that the problem of unjust treatment of lay people by Bishops must be dealt with theologically.

Leonardo Boff (1938-present) is a Brazilian Catholic theologian who is one of the founders of Latin American liberation theology. Liberation theology expresses the insight that liberation from social, political, and economic oppression is the will of God as expressed in both Jewish and Christian scriptures and that Jesus sought to bring this liberation to the people of his time and place. Liberation from oppression here on earth is an anticipation of our ultimate salvation at the end of time.

In 1981, Boff published a book called Church: Charism and Power. In it, Boff sought to apply the insights of liberation theology to the internal relationships of the church. He argued that the church must work for liberation in society and that church structures must embody just relationships. The present church structures are not just, therefore, not faithful to the fundamental insights of the Gospel. These structures must be, and can be changed.

In 2011, Boff published a book called Christianity in a Nutshell. Boff shares his understanding of the core meaning of Christianity. He states that in Jesus’ utopian vision, power is seen as service (hierodulia) and never as hierarchy (sacred power). Boff says that the development of a clerical caste within the church separate from and superior to lay people, a caste which imposes its authority upon lay people, is not in accord with the practice of Jesus and the ways in which he related to people. The stories of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, related at the beginning of the Gospels, before Jesus began his public ministry, are given to us as a warning of the false exercise of power and of Jesus’ rejection of this way of using power.

The issue before us then, is not getting rid of the ministries of priest and bishop, but rather calling priests and bishops who exercise power as coercion and domination to conversion, to use their power of leadership within our community in humble service to all people, staring with those who are most marginalized.

But not only must we call individual priests and bishops to conversion, we must promote a conversion of church structures at all levels so that leadership is always exercised in structures that are based in the equality of all church members. And for us at Call To Action, as the saying goes, the rubber hits the road when we struggle to implement leadership in our community that models what we wish to see in the entire Church.

There are many ways that Call To Action is called to reflect on how leadership is structured in our community. One issue that I want to hold up is the relationship between white Anglo members and members who are people of color. Our community is committed to a lens of anti-racism and anti-oppression principles. How do we implement structures where the insights, ways of organizing activities, and ways of celebrating our common faith that are authentic to people of color have equal weight with the customs and practices of white Anglos?

What does power as service (hierodulia) look like in this context? Or do we maintain hierarchy (sacred power) where white Anglo ways of thinking and doing are superior to the reflections and practices of people of color?

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