David, Bathsheba, and Woke Exegesis

This week, the flagship magazine of Evangelicalism, Christianity Today, published an article by Kyle Worley on the importance of acknowledging the rape of Bathsheba. The episode recounted in 2 Samuel 11, in other words, does not merely document an account of adultery and murder, but should be labeled for what it really is: the rape of an innocent woman by a man in power. “The story of David and Bathsheba,” Worley writes, “is not a story of adultery or an affair, but one where a powerful man is sexually exploiting a vulnerable woman and is willing to use coercive power to call her to his chamber and cover up his actions.” Worley goes on to suggest that Evangelical resistance to admitting David’s rape betrays an unwillingness to acknowledge systemic abuses of power: “I’m convinced that we don’t want David to be a rapist because we don’t want to reckon with the sin of abusive power.”

Bathsheba, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

The article is troubling—it suggests that if I have a resistance to accepting his interpretation (of rape), it is because I have a deeper problem (I refuse to admit abusive power). This, I think, amounts to a bit of intellectual bullying. More than this, however, the article insufficiently accounts for the messy modern dialogue about sex in the Bible, and the easy, if not cavalier way that modern categories of judgment are given interpretive priority over ancient texts—i.e., how a ‘woke’ exegesis can be a distorting one. Ultimately, the article is tone-deaf to the way that a modern label such as ‘rape’ can further distance us from fully acknowledging the power-sins that—I fully agree—are at the heart of the story of David’s sin. The result is that Worley gets it half wrong, and half right, but in the process the wrong makes a mess of whatever good might have come from the right.

We will need to begin by talking about rape. The word itself is potent, violent, evocative, and fearful. It can be ‘triggering’ in that even its utterance evokes in victims the memory of abuse. But this supra-powerful nature of the word is very the place to begin to ask questions. Rape, like the word ‘racist,’ has in our present age become a power-label, not dissimilar to ‘bourgeoisie’ in Communist Russia, or like ‘privileged’ is sometimes used today. Each word, of course, has a definite meaning, but in its cultural context it is invested with additional performative power. They are words that can do things to people. In practice, a given power word in the mouth of a victim levels the playing field. You have done X to me (whatever X might be) and in order to equalize the situation I will label you accordingly. If the label sticks, no fact-finding or investigation is necessary; if I can label you, I can destroy you. Ironically, each word—duly invested by a cultural narrative—has the potential to become its own abuse of power.

“Struggle Sessions” in Maoist China were public humiliations performed against citizens accused of, among other things, thought crimes.

Viewed from this perspective, I might well object to labeling David’s sin with Bathsheba as ‘rape’ in the same way that I would object to labeling Solomon’s acquisition of wealth as ‘bourgeoisie.’ In both cases I would be applying a highly contextualized modern power-word to an ancient context. I am executing a ‘woke’ exegesis on an ancient text, and whatever I gain is likely to come at the expense of important things in the text itself. I would feel quite similarly if I encountered an article asking, “Did David mis-gender Mephibosheth?” The ‘woke’ questions we ask, and the narrative, do not so easily align.

Worley consciously links David’s sin to abuse of power (again, I think this is correct), but neglecting the broader cultural context of our discussion about consent, sex, and gender in the modern world means that he also—subconsciously I am sure—imports an unhappy logical correlative. All rape, Worley’s article suggests, is abuse of power, and on this basis he claims that “the story of David and Bathsheba appears to many modern readers, including me, to meet contemporary definitions of rape.” While it is doubtless that all non-consensual sexual encounters involve some abuse of power, the dynamic between the two categories (sex and power) remains unclear. As a result, it seems that contemporary definitions of rape depend, in part, on an inversion of the initial logic: “all rape is abuse of power” becomes “all abuse of power is rape.” This inversion brings about significant effects—clear conditions of violence are exchanged for fuzzy conditions of power. In turn, the inversion plays into the inherent flexibility of power-words—any situation in which an individual feels personally compromised by the power of an authority can be labeled ‘rape.’ This creates confusion and fear, and while it offers a heady cultural critique of power (down with the bourgeoisie!) it does nothing to help us understand how to manage or shape it. It is a mis-labeling. Ironically enough, it violates the person in power in an unwarranted way.

Marc Chagall’s interpretation of David and Bathsheba.

This brings us back to David. Did David rape Bathsheba? The text doesn’t say, and depending on your convictions about the nature of the text, that may be a pretty strong argument. Furthermore, it is worth noting that, compared to the other episodes of rape in the Bible (Dinah in Genesis 34 and Tamar in 2 Sam 13), David’s encounter with Bathsheba looks very little like these—specifically in the fact that these episodes document the lust of the male perpetrator, the unwillingness of the female victim, the violence of the act itself, and the grim consequences for the perpetrator(s). Instead, David sees Bathsheba, calls her over, and they have sex. There is certainly a power dynamic involved here—David is the most powerful man in the kingdom. But—once again—the modern language of consent does not easily square with the ancient world. Do ancient husbands and wives communicate permission to one another? What rights are given to ancient kings with reference to the property of their subjects? On these issues we are speculating.

If we can speculate about the unarticulated motives of David, then we can speculate about Bathsheba’s unarticulated motives as well. What was she doing, bathing on the roof? Did she know David would be walking past? These questions have, similarly, led to some unfortunate interpretations. Let me be extremely clear—any exegesis that argues that Bathsheba, by being scantily clad, brought this on herself should be rejected outright. The point to highlight is that once again the motives of the characters are unspoken in the text. Do we have other texts that inform our thinking about Bathsheba as well? Curiously, in 1 Kings 1, under instruction from Nathan, she helps to arrange matters politically so that Solomon becomes king instead of Adonijah. How we interpret her motives will depend on how much charity we are willing to extend to her. Is Bathsheba simply saving her own life and the life of her son? Is she merely obeying the advice of David’s court? Or, more maliciously, has this been Bathsheba’s plan all along? It would not be challenging to cast her in the role as the conniving female, working her way to the queenship of Israel by means of the powerful men around her. I think this is a bad interpretation, but it suggests that we have as much evidence to accuse Bathsheba of social climbing as we do to accuse David of rape.

Susan Hayward, smouldering as Bathsheba. It is worth noting that most images of Bathsheba highlight her sexiness while avoiding David’s gaze. Is there something to be said for how we only re-create David’s gaze by participating in it?

What, then, was the nature of David’s sin? Worley’s article rightly notes that Nathaniel, when he calls David out for his sin, critiques David’s abuse of power. But a critically missing component is the opening verses of 2 Sam 11: “In the springtime, when the kings go off to war, David sent Joab…” David is a king, David should be at war, but he’s not. The sin of David begins here, in a changed relationship to his kingship. Instead of performing the duties of a king, David is—what?—enjoying his kingdom? The text will go on to show how he enjoys it disastrously. Not only does he treat another man’s wife as part of the property of his kingdom, he then covers up his indiscretion by arranging to have the husband murdered, then marries the widow. Nathaniel doesn’t accuse David of rape—he accuses him of theft.

Charles Williams

Importantly, the interpretive frame for understanding the David/Bathsheba episode is David’s relationship to his own kingdom. Charles Williams, Inkling and Arthurian poet, captures this dynamic in a phrase he uses to describe the beginning of King Arthur’s demise. Arthur, looking out over his people, asks himself a question: “the king made for the kingdom, or the kingdom made for the king?” Do I exist to serve others, or do others—all that I see—exist to serve me? In that moment, Arthur’s relationship to what is good is corrupted—it constitutes his ‘fall’. Instead of perceiving his power as a tool to benefit the people, now the people benefit his power. David’s sin is the same.

It also seems clear from the text that David didn’t learn his lesson from the episode with Uriah/Bathsheba. In 2 Sam 24 we learn that David is tempted to take a census of Israel. The text is frustratingly silent on what David thought he would gain from counting the Israelites—whether he wanted to know his military strength, or had a new tax plan—all we know is that it represented an act of disobedience. He viewed his people as existing for his plans, rather than seeing that he, as king, existed to serve Yahweh’s plans for Israel. The result was a confrontation with another prophet (Gad, this time) who communicated three options. David must choose: seven years of famine, three months of flight before enemies, or three days of pestilence. We should note, here, that two of these options effect the economics of Israel, and one impacts David personally. David chooses the pestilence, “Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” But after the plague reaches Jerusalem David recognizes his error and changes his prayer, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.” Let me suffer—as the king—and not my people. This is how David had to learn that the kingdom didn’t exist for his benefit. This is how David is shaped with respect to his power and authority.

It seems to me that all three sins—the sin of adultery, of murder, and the sin of the census—are, in the text, fundamentally the same sin. Each points to David’s misuse of his kingly power, each seems to lie in the idea of the king as possessing a kind of sovereign ownership over his people, and each demands repentance and re-learning on his part. It also seems to me that, unless we are willing to call the census a ‘rape’ (i.e., all abuse of power is rape), or the murder a ‘rape’, then we ought to be quite careful in labeling the sin with Bathsheba ‘rape.’ I want to point out a further reason for this. Christianity, as a rule, has been beset by three categories of sin in leadership: sins of sex, money, and power. Trenchantly, we seem to focus on sex and money while neglecting sins of power. When a minister has a fall from grace, it is far more often because of adultery or financial misuse than ever because the minster abused his ministerial authority. We struggle even to see the sins of power. In view of this, forcing our interpretation to incorporate a modern definition of rape may be fundamentally counterproductive to the message of the text. If we’re going to see the sin of power, we must see it in all its effect in the text, as it impacts men and women alike.

If we mean to draw from David’s life a critique of the use of kingly power and authority—which we should very much indeed do—then we might want to reconsider the use of power-words, prone to their own abuses of power, in identifying these factors. The narratives—our modern sexual narrative and the Biblical power narrative—are not so easily intermingled as we might hope, and uncritical cross-pollination between them creates harm in our interpretation of the text.

I Used to Know What was Wrong with Willow Creek

I used to know what was wrong with Willow Creek. After my parents separated in 1991, my mom and I attended there. It was massive, and well-produced, and on the whole not a bad place for a recently divorced single mom and her eleven-year-old son. I joined her there for about seven years. We would go both to weekend services and mid-week services. The regular teaching staff included Bill Hybels, Lee Strobel, and John Ortberg. We used to eat in the food court. I played in the orchestra. We made friends. I was baptized in the pond out front.

Willow Creek Sanctuary

Naturally, I began to develop opinions about the place—many of which developed further after I’d left and began to take on some more formal theological education. The language of being “seeker-sensitive” was in the air—we all knew what was going on. Willow was attempting a model of attraction by simplification and production. Simplification meant reducing to the absolute minimum those churchy things that might turn away seekers—hymns, theologically heavy sermons, even the representation of a cross. Production meant controlling the weekly service outcomes—professional musicians and singers, perfect timing, lighting and camera work. Willow both authored and mastered these techniques with immense, almost unimaginable success. By the time we were there some twenty thousand people were attending on a given weekend.

NIV Application Commentary

The image at the bottom is of Willow’s Barrington, Illinois sanctuary. Is the message, “use our commentary and you’ll preach to groups THIS size!”?

Over time, I came to form judgments about the place. Willow was, indeed, successful—and yet it was also shallow. Even as a young man I missed biblical teaching. Even as a young man I could tell that I was being fed diet, Jenny Craig Christianity. There was meat to be had, but I was being offered salad without dressing. Clearly, Willow was also business-like. How else would it be possible to manage 20K people on a weekend without a strong management system? Things moved like clockwork, and it showed. But that same business efficiency masked the ultimately superficial nature of the enterprise. Things functioned, and people were busy, and everybody had a job, and friendships were made—but did it result in greater Christlikeness? Could shallow and superficial teaching generate deep and thoughtful Christians? No, it couldn’t, and my convictions were confirmed a few years back when Willow issued a public apology for being too soft on teaching the Bible. It was an astonishing reversal.

I was troubled, as time passed, at how other churches were eager to ape the Willow Creek model. It appeared that under the influence of Willow’s success they, hungry for their own success, began to implement degrees of simplification and production. The secret to church growth would be programs, lighting, timing, and an ethic of theological laxity. In one of the worst cases, I remember reading about a pastor who attended a Willow Creek leadership summit, and, returning to his home church, announced that he knew just what they needed to revitalize their ministry: theater seats. They would remove their pews and put in theater seats. That would get the butts in the door.

I don’t regret attending Willow for those seven years of my life, and yet I never loved the place. Having moved on, I continued to believe that it served a kind of purpose. A lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise go to church attended Willow. In a church of 20K certainly some—if not quite a few—of its members must be good Christian people.

Hybels bookI could make my peace with Willow Creek because I used to know what was wrong with it. Not anymore. Just a few months ago news began to break about some serious allegations regarding Bill Hybels, Willow’s founding and senior pastor, leadership guru and megachurch patriarch. First in the Chicago Tribune, then other rumors and stories, and lately in the New York Times, we have read how (allegedly, but is seems pretty certain), Hybels has sexually harassed quite a number of his female associates over the years. These were events that took place during my time at Willow. They were happening behind closed doors, and with some frequency, and apparently not a few people knew that Hybels may not be the most safe person to be around. This, the same Bill Hybels who authored the book, Who You Are When No One’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise. The irony would be laughable if it didn’t induce vomiting.

Suddenly, there’s much more wrong with Willow Creek than I had anticipated, and my previous critiques, which I could consider somewhat benign, are now more insidious. It’s a rule of thumb that (Protestant) churches carry the DNA of their founding pastors. Was he a gregarious, outgoing preacher? In time that comes to shape the congregation. Was he a reflective, thoughtful counsellor? In time, so also the congregation. Was he short tempered, divisive, and double-faced? So too the congregation. The DNA of Bill Hybels saturates and overshadows the Willow infrastructure. And that’s a frightening thing to realize. There’s now something poisonous running through everything with associations to Willow Creek. The best comparison is to imagine that you found out that MacDonalds, for years, has been grinding up puppies and mixing them into its french fries. Upon discovery of this you might become sick at your stomach. You’d probably never be able to eat them again. Willow has mixed something just as wicked into its brand.

global-leadership-summit-brené-brown

Here’s Brené Brown, speaking (prophetically?) at a previous leadership summit.

Willow Creek’s model promulgated a fundamental expediency about ministry, but with these revelations it appears more than ever that their expediency was influenced by a hunger for power. Willow was eager to be the best, it was quick to believe its own success. To this hunger for power was added protectionism—defending, and even masking Hybels’s concerns because in many ways he was the brand. And, fundamentally, these both reflect a corrupting utilitarianism—if a thing works, we go with it. Hybels worked, and therefore we’ve got to keep going with him. This is the poison that now infects the Willow Creek brand.

In the year 2000, in a move that now screams of incredible irony, Hybels invited then president Bill Clinton to join the global leadership summit, during the Monica Lewinski investigation. The Bills sat across from one another, the pastor offering solace (and… what? acceptance?) to the president. And yet behind the scenes the two were far more alike than we had imagined. Both were using their positions of power to mask corrupt character and decrepit behavior.

US President Bill Clinton (R) answers Willow Creek

One of the things we have to be careful about in these matters is assuming that correlation is causation—just because two events can be linked does not mean that one was necessarily the cause of the other. Did Willow’s weak theology lead to pastoral misconduct? Probably not—especially since churches with solid theology also commit pastoral misconduct. And yet what becomes prominent in this present Willow nightmare is the presence of utilitarianism and the love of power. Is it not the case that a culture of expediency unmoored from reflective orthodoxy creates the conditions for other sins of power? But hang on—is it not also the case that sins of power become self-perpetuating, encouraging greater laxity and utilitarianism? Which came first? Moral failure, or bad theological praxis? It’s impossible to say, but one thing is true—utilitarianism gets masked and hidden in the church, masked in particular by the promise of power and success. It is that power and success that Willow has sold to the churches of the world. It is the poison at the heart of the Willow model.

The fallout is disastrous. Willow leadership models have influenced countless numbers of Christians globally. Willow ecclesiological models have encouraged utilitarian approaches to ministry. And now all of it is impacted by this. “Disaster” might be too weak a word.

Paul, writing to his disciple Timothy, commanded the following, “Keep yourself and your doctrine, remain in them; for doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tm 4:16). Keep yourself, Timothy. Guard your life, your holiness, your purity, your sense of identity. Keep also your doctrine, preserve it with the same fervor as you do your bodily life. And by so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you. Your life and your doctrine save your hearers, Timothy. It’s both. Willow Creek has failed to keep its life, and it has failed to keep its doctrine. The fallout from this is just beginning. May God have mercy on His Church.

Dear James (G)–Pride and Self-Damnation

Dear James,

I hinted at this throughout our correspondence, but I’m not fully convinced that sins can be ranked—at least in the traditional sense of ranking them. They have degrees of external effects (on individuals and groups), but the real measure of sin in my estimation is in its capacity to remove you from the presence of God. Whether the removing happens on account of your belly, your loins, or your mind seems largely irrelevant. The fact that you have been removed seems to be the most important. In this sense I am skeptical of the division between “mortal” and “venial” sins, since the division seems to be so clearly rooted in a fundamental ranking of sinfulness. Given that, I believe I can still hold Pride to be the chief and worst of sins because it is, fundamentally, the replacement of God with the self. In this it sits behind and beneath all the other sins we’ve discussed; they are, in their extreme, expressions of this attitude of self-love and self-exaltation. To commit the sin of Pride, therefore, is to reject God.

Pride, then, is the sin of sins. But be careful not to confuse this theological pride with our human conceptions of arrogance or vainglory. There is an appropriate pride that I feel when my children do something praiseworthy, or when I take pride in my work to make it presentable. To get at the real meaning of sinful Pride we’ve got to look closely at the Garden again. There, Adam and Eve make a choice. They have the capacity to choose to obey God’s command, to live with the bounds of His provision, or to capitulate with the Serpent’s wishes. They choose against God’s way; they choose their own ethics, their own desires, and I believe that the heart of that choice is a choice to do things my own way. I exalt my will, and diminish God’s. I place my own desires in command, and ignore my Maker’s. I declare my independence and self-sufficiency. And that act of rejection, which happens at the level of the soul, is an act of necessary self-damnation. In Pride I stand upon my own power for life and living. In the extremis of Pride God grants to me the right to stand upon my own power for life and living. The storm necessarily comes, and I, built upon the sand, am washed away.

George MacDonald once wrote that “The one principle of Hell is—I am my own.” That’s the ethic of self-damnation in practice. I do what I want, for myself, by my own rules, and all others be damned! But the only one I damn is in fact me. We are not self-sufficient creatures, we are creatures, made for a living dependency upon our maker, made for relationships with one another. The inverse of MacDonald’s phrase is therefore equally true, that “The one principle of Heaven is—I belong to someone else.” We see that principle in action when the Father gives to the Son, and the Son gives the Spirit to us, and in the Spirit we are presented as gifts to the Father. At the centre of the nexus of Heaven and Earth is a being whose whole existence appears to be wrapped up in a giving away, a man on a cross who spills himself out for the life of the world.

So much of our world depends on this self-love, this self-supremacy. I’m reminded of that story of Laplace speaking of science to Napoleon. When asked where God fit in this theories, Laplace replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” The story may not be true, but the sentiment certainly is. What need has the modern world for a God-hypothesis? We have power, and resources, and medication, and happiness—what use have we for the theory of a God who might interfere with such happinesses as are offered by the world? Who regulates pleasure, and finances, and creativity, and industry, and the treatment of other persons? Isn’t such a “God” merely an interference in fulfilling our true joys? The answer, of course, is “Yes, He is.” He does interfere; but we forget that it is His world with which He interferes.

Pride then expresses itself in our resistance to God’s interference. It is the petulant “No!” which pushes back against the loving (occasionally painful and discomforting) advances of our creator. Pride hates to be told what to do, hates to be told to self-mortify, hates to give up authority over life. It is in this sense that Pride expresses itself through our other sins. Pride behind Lust refuses to release desire to God’s control. Pride behind Greed refuses to trust in God’s provision. Pride behind Sloth clings to control by blocking God’s call. In the grip of Pride, I reject God so that I can maintain what I believe to be control of my self. It is a sin of self damnation, God help us all.

My will is too corrupted to even see all the Pride that sits within me. I need help. And I think the best help we get is to meditate upon the obedience of Christ. He who had all power became powerless so that we could be restored. There—in another Garden!—he says “Yes” to God where Adam and Eve had said, “No.” “Thy will and not Mine.” We go on to examine the extent of his obedience—prayer, pain, loss, fear, suffering, unjust suffering, betrayal, excruciating pain, and death itself. No human has ever or will ever do away with Pride who will not suffer the image of the humble and obedient Christ to penetrate his heart.

James, may image of Christ so penetrate you and I this Good Friday, and bring us to new and restored life this Resurrection Sunday!

Every Blessing,

Jeremy Rios

Dear James (9)–Hierarchy and the Good

Dear James,

Once again I’m sorry for the delay in writing you—yes, I have received both of your letters in the meantime. I was away for three weeks in the summer, was recovering from illness, and have been otherwise swamped with church work overall. I am glad to get back to my correspondence at last (especially ours).

I am as surprised to hear as I expect you are to report that your pastor has chosen to stick through this difficult time. It certainly sounds like it has been rough. And I can attest to how difficult it is to perform the pastoral office faithfully while every move and motive is being examined by committee. I shudder at the thought. Does his perseverance elevate your opinion of him, or do you begin to think that he is stubbornly refusing to see the truth? Ironically, every pastor needs stubbornness—in positive language we would call it “backbone.” The only question is where we pastors should choose to dig in, and wisdom is the business of choosing those battles correctly.

If you think about it, to choose anything always means to choose between good and bad, and sometimes even between one good and another. I bring this up because of one of your objections—you say that “doesn’t the kind of inequality you are talking about point to hierarchy, and isn’t hierarchy oppressive?” But I think you are wrong to assume that hierarchy is bad—hierarchy, in fact, is necessary for us to make any discerning choices at all. All choices depend on our ability to discriminate between goods, and the process of discriminating requires us to employ hierarchy.

This is actually a process that is grounded in the basis of human thought—that we have the ability to discern between good and bad, and then within goods to discern between good, better, and best. For any given set of choices I have there is often a choice between good and bad itself. For example, I have a son, and the good choice is to feed him, while the bad choice is to neglect him. But within the good choice I also have a ranked series—a hierarchy—of goods to choose from. I can feed him bread and water (good), or I can feed him a bologna sandwich (better), or I can prepare him a proper meal with spaghetti and salad (best). The differences between the three kinds of meals are relative goods. Surely it is better to feed him bread and water than to neglect him, but it is also best of all to provide him with regular, proper meals. The point is that we are making these discernments all the time, and in every circumstance we make choices between goods by utilizing a hierarchy of thoughts.

It is interesting that we see Jesus displaying this process during the temptation narrative. Satan there prompts Jesus to feed the multitudes, perform miraculous signs, and inherit the nations. Jesus refuses Satan in all three temptations, but then goes on in his ministry to do all three of those things. The problem, we see, wasn’t that Satan tempted Jesus with evils, but with goods that were outside of God’s timing. Jesus didn’t really refuse to feed the multitudes, he refused to do it on Satan’s schedule. He made a choice based on relative goods.

So, it is incorrect to claim that hierarchy is evil, or wrong. In fact, even to make that claim you have to argue that hierarchy is bad, and in arguing that it is bad you are arguing that something else is better, and therefore using hierarchy to argue that hierarchy is wrong. You can hear the saw working at the branch even now.

Perhaps this brings us back to our discussion of equality and inequality. I have argued that equality is always a fiction, and that just behavior in the world demands acknowledgement of those fundamental inequalities. This, you have observed, appears to imply a hierarchy among people, and this is a concept which the world finds abhorrent. But revulsion is not an argument, and hatred cannot equalize except by violence. There are people in the world who exceed me in virtue, as well as others who exceed me in power and influence (they are rarely the same people). They are my betters (relative to those particular categories), and I must function in the world acknowledging those differences, aspiring to greatness in virtue and to justice in using the power I have been given. I am not intrinsically more valuable than someone else, but by virtue of the gifts I have been given by God I must administrate those gifts according to their good. Hierarchy, in this way, is inseparable from responsibility and stewardship.

What I think has happened is that we humans fear power and hate pride—at least we fear and hate it in others, because we love it plenty well enough when we have it ourselves. Once again, envious of power and discontented that any should be exalted over us, we use the language of equality to violently reject the differences. The person who says, “Hierarchy is oppressive” is also saying he or she hates that any person would be higher than them. It is pride, rejecting the natural humility of life as a human. Hierarchy is not naturally oppressive, it simply exists. We might well reject actual oppression, and we will rightly condemn all misuses of power. But to reject hierarchy itself is to reject thinking at all. Human discourse decays into meaninglessness. Nothing can be done because nothing can be thought of as right or wrong.

You mention the parable of the vineyard workers from Matthew 20, where the master hires men at different times of the day but pays them all equally at the end of the day. This parable does not, in my estimation, argue for equality—certainly not as the world argues for equality. The point of the parable highlights the order of salvation. The Jews, who were God’s first workers in the vineyard, will receive the same reward (God’s kingdom) as the Gentiles who come in late. The final word gives away the game, “Are you envious because I am generous?” It hearkens to the sin of Jonah, filled with bitterness because God saved the Ninevites. Stated in Paul’s language, this is exactly what it means for there to be “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” These factors no longer give us privileged access to God’s kingdom, which is open to all. There is no place for racism among God’s people. But that does not mean there is neither status, nor roles, nor hierarchy. All are part of the people of God; those exalted by God with power are expected to steward their power for the benefit of others.

So, as you continue to walk with your pastor, try to help him discern these goods. What is the best choice? And is there a better set of options available to him? Remember that at this time you have been given an exalted place—access to his heart and mind. You are “above” many others, but he is “below” the committee. You cannot escape these hierarchies, but you can act as a faithful steward within them. I am eager to hear how the situation develops.

Every Blessing,

Jeremy Rios

Dear James (7)–Privilege and Power

Dear James,

My apologies that it has taken so long to write you back—travel, illness, company, and work, together conspired to take me out of the game for a while. Please be assured that I have not forgotten our correspondence.

In your last letter you brought us to one of the great bugbears of our time—the question of privilege. You say that you “can appreciate the vision for reconciliation” that I have outlined (and I hope you will do a great deal more than simply appreciate it!), but ask how this, now, connects to the discussion of privilege that appears to dominate our public discourse. It is a highly appropriate question, and I’m glad you have presented it.

First off, I think that the language of privilege is what Lewis described as a Bulverism. A Bulverism is where you or I dismiss a person by means of appealing to a factor outside of whatever position he or she has espoused. A classic Bulverism is the phrase, “You say that because you’re a woman.” Note that in saying this, I have not addressed the claim of my disputant, rather I have identified some separate factor in her persona (namely, her womanhood), and am using it to dismiss her position summarily. Instead of dealing with a person as the person he or she is, or even instead of dealing with the arguments as the argument, I am introducing an external factor in order to win my case.

Most of the time when I hear a person identify “privilege” in another person it’s this kind of dismissal—“You say that because you’re privileged.” It is a conversation-ending statement in much the same way that, were I to announce to my wife, “You say that because you’re a woman,” I would discover that I had ended the conversation. In both cases it stifles understanding and denies effective communication. It can also, we should note, ruin a relationship.

However, we should acknowledge that power is real, and that furthermore differentials in power really do exist between people. I have been raised in North America, am the beneficiary of dietary and social benefits which are attendant to my upbringing, have been well educated, and today inhabit a career which (barring extreme circumstances) ensures that I will never rank among the global poor. In those senses, of course, we might identify something likening itself to a kind of privilege—that is, to the gift of circumstances which have enriched my life apart from my effort.

But this difference in power and advantage must be sharply distinguished from issues of race—not to suggest that they do not at times combine, but that they are not the same thing. My use of power, and my beliefs about race, can be combined for either great good or great ill. We must remember that racism, historically, always begins with belief about the self—not with belief about others. Nazi Germany believed first in the primacy of Arianism, and that belief in themselves gave permission to redefine and dehumanize others, especially the Jews. Japanese Imperialism similarly believed in the native mastery of their own heritage, and this gave them permission to dehumanize the Chinese, as well as their other enemies in the Second World War. Japanese and German atrocities were birthed, in other words, from their beliefs about themselves, and only secondarily from their beliefs about others.

I hope you can see that, within these structures, power is a neutral force. It can be used for either good or evil, applied to either health or destruction. Racism, false belief in the self which redefines the ‘other,’ added to power, creates vast destruction. But racism can be just as prevalent among powerless people as “privileged” ones. Racism is racism; power is power.

Notably, within this dialogue of privilege and race we still witness an abuse of power—in this case with the inversion of the power differential through words. “Privilege” is thrown about as a term to silence the opposition. Words are used, not to encourage understanding, nor to expand the boundaries of human self-perception, but to divide, exclude, and punish. The language of “privilege” is then reduced to a punitive missile aimed at leveling the perceived inequality of power. To use this language, then, is to commit an injustice in the service of one’s favored justice.

This brings us, at last, to the use of power, which is really the most helpful discussion we might have. Here, as a clarification, we ought to keep in mind that the fact of identifying power (or privilege) does not mean that we have dismissed power. The fact that I have a measure of privilege relative to others is not in itself a problem, it is how I use that power which is important. The Christian question to ask, then, is this: am I being a good steward of the power with which God has entrusted me? This, of course, is precisely what we see in the parables of the talents and the pounds in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels respectively. In both cases that master (our Lord), has entrusted his servants with unequal responsibility. This is a point we mustn’t overlook, because inequality is a fact of life, and it is therefore not an evil fact. When the master returns, each of the servants is then judged according to the responsibility he was given. On the Day of Judgment I will answer for how I have made use of the gifts God has given me, and you will likewise answer for the gifts God has given you. And it won’t matter then that I had more than you, and you had more than person X, but it will matter a great deal whether we have been faithful stewards of that which we have been given. And the standard of judgment will not pay regard to the quantitative value of that trust.

One of the great strengths of the dialogue about “privilege,” then, is that it can highlight for us the fact that many of the things we have taken for granted are in fact portions of the investment God has placed in our lives. They are therefore elements of our stewardship for which we are accountable. In this, the role of the Church in the dialogue of race and power ought to inhabit a profoundly prophetic voice, calling the powerful to convert their resources (all of them!) into service for the Kingdom. We ought not, in other words, blame white Christians for being white, or privileged Christians for being privileged, or black Christians for being black, but to each and all we should call them prophetically to seek the complete sanctification of every aspect of their lives—of race, power, privilege, and all else.

At the same time, the danger remains that those who perceive themselves as “underprivileged” will forget that although they may have less power and access than others, they are equally responsible to spend their power well. We are all judged alike, and if identifying privilege makes you feel better about yourself, then I suggest that you are motivated by envy rather than justice, and that you are in an altogether dangerous place.

All that being said, I believe that the world’s vision of privilege and race is deeply flawed, while the Church’s vision presents great hope. The world claims that we are unequal and divided, and that therefore we should take power forcibly from the privileged and distribute it among the underprivileged. What the world neglects to mention is that this change still operates under the dictates of power—it is not that we have transcended power, merely that we have made it change hands. The new masters will be every bit as wicked as the last, if not more so. The Church, on the other hand, says that the answer to the problem of race is the New People of God, and that the answer to the problem of power is its complete submission to God’s purposes. Instead of suppression, or vindictiveness, it is an action of redirection and sanctification. In Christ we do not do away with race or power, but sanctify them both, and therein lies the glory of the Church.

It’s time for us to wrap this up, but maybe we can end with a personal point—you yourself have already experienced some of this power in meeting with your fellow disgruntled church members. There is great power in coming together, in talking things through, and in dreaming about how to change the situation in your church. Have you considered what it will look like to convert that power for the service of Christ’s church? What will true submission to Jesus’ agenda look like for this group? What might it look like for your neighbors?

Every Blessing,

Jeremy Rios

The Law of Forgiveness

clenched-fist-silhouette_21-56776952“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Matthew 6:14-15

According to Jesus, we don’t have a choice about forgiveness. If we forgive others, we will be forgiven. If we do not forgive others, we will not be forgiven. This is explicit. There is no wiggle room. There is no option. Forgiveness for the Christian is a command, not a choice.

It’s not like this is the only place where Jesus says this kind of thing. When Peter asks about forgiving his brother seven times, Jesus drops an ideological bomb on him in response—not seven, but seventy times seven (in other words, so often that you’re not counting anymore). Then he tells that chilling parable about the guy who owed a lot, was forgiven, and then went on to choke the other guy who owed him a little. The story finishes with the lord, moved to anger, handing “him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” Wow—but that’s not all, because Jesus completes the parable with the following stunner: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Huh? If we don’t forgive from the heart the Father of Jesus will hand us over to the torturers to make us repay what we are owed? Not forgiving others invalidates our own forgiveness like that? Apparently this forgiveness business is serious stuff.

Even in the Lord’s Prayer, which is the passage immediately preceding the scripture quoted at the top, there is a subtle hint to this—one that our traditional translations obscure. You’ve heard this clause as, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” One small problem—the word “forgive” in the second part is in the perfect tense. That means it’s something that has been done and completed already. A better translation would be, “Forgive us our transgressions as we have already forgiven those who transgressed against us.” Before we even ask for forgiveness, Jesus commands, we must deal with our own forgiveness issues. This is serious, tough stuff.

It’s such tough stuff that some have attempted to write these passages off entirely by dividing the teachings of Jesus into two categories—they argue that all the teachings before the cross fall under law, while the Christian life is all about grace. Passages like these three certainly have a force like law, and this equips these readers to dismiss them with a clear conscience. “Jesus came to free us from the law,” they say, “and these words are law. Therefore we aren’t bound by them.”

This seems inadequate, even laying aside the fact that such a reading invalidates most of the New Testament. So, presuming that as followers of Christ we must take the words of Christ with utter seriousness, how will we make sense of such a statement? What do we do with this “law” of forgiveness?

Sermon on the Mount_Altar in Copenhagen ChurchLet’s begin with the immediate context—the Sermon on the Mount. The first time Jesus lays down this law of forgiveness is in the section of the Sermon where he talks about three aspects of the Christian religious life—almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In each of those teachings he makes a specific point to talk about not performing these actions “to be seen by men.” Instead, we must focus our attention solely on our Father “who sees what is in secret.” Our model for bad spiritual practice in each case is the Pharisees, who love to give in order to be seen, who love to pray in public places, and who love to disfigure their appearances when they fast. This is noteworthy: in each case the Pharisees are taking advantage of their power—whether status, visibility, or position—in order to make themselves look better. This is perhaps most clear for us in the passage on almsgiving. The only way to be seen giving to someone in need is to make the need of the other person highly visible. If I were to give today in the Pharisee fashion, then I could stand in front of my church, summon a needy member to come forward, then make a show of offering this poor person some portion of my grand resources, perhaps in the form of an oversized cheque. In that circumstance I would look big at the other person’s expense—my magnification would be one of perspective only, a righteousness achieved through injustice. This seems to be the heart of Jesus’ rejection of the Pharisees. It is a rebuke of their abuse of power.

To take this and apply it to the other three teachings is straightforward—we cannot ever give, pray, or fast in such a way as to either shame others or seek to make ourselves look good. Our religious life is designed to focus our attention on God alone, and not our fellow man; that is its “secrecy.”

So then, how does this impact the law of forgiveness? Observe that in the middle of a passage about the abuse and right use of power—especially religious power—Jesus speaks a word about human forgiveness. The placement of Jesus’ command begs the question: if we are not to use our religious power to make ourselves look good or others look bad, how are we to use our religious power? The answer is forgive. This is the proper use of power—and not just a proper use, but the mandate of human power. We are not in control of our circumstances or our futures, of what will happen tomorrow, of what others will do to us—but the thing over which we do have control is whether or not we will forgive. In this place, the place where we do possess control, our Lord commands us to forgive.

Christian in Pilgrim's ProgressEven the word for forgive is interesting—it is aphiemi and it means “let go.” In the place where you do have power, hold your hands openly. In the place where you might hold a grudge, or be tempted to keep something, you must let it go. In the same way that we are commanded to trust our Lord with provision for our lives, we are also commanded to trust him completely with the wounds and grievances we bear. We entrust absolutely everything to our Lord and King, and perhaps our greatest obstacle to receiving and living out these words—the reason we ignore them and invent theological motifs to remove them from consideration—is that we recoil in fear from the radical submission required by absolute forgiveness.

The command to forgive is a command that humbles, convicts, and challenges God’s people. You can never shame someone when you are forgiving them. It is not possible to make yourself look good when you forgive someone from the heart. Forgiveness is the power that makes us powerless, and this, perhaps, is one of the innermost foundations of this thing called “Church.” How will we survive if we do not forgive one another? How will we preach a message of forgiveness from sin if we refuse to forgive at home? Will we allow our lack of forgiveness to invalidate the message we are commanded to bring? Would we be like that wicked servant who choked the other servant for a pittance, forgetting that we have been forgiven an amount that cannot possibly be repaid?

The Law of Forgiveness. Lex Aphesis. The law that breaks, and makes, the People of God.

The Myth of Mitigating Circumstances: An Essay on Power and Morality

If you like, you can get this printed on a t-shirt.

If you like, you can get this printed on a t-shirt.

Money, sex, and power are the three sins to which people in power seem most prone to fall. Money, because it is tempting to allot extra to yourself, to permit yourself another dip in the bucket, and to make use of the fiscal resources at your disposal to illicitly advance your agenda (i.e., bribery). Virtually every politician in history has had some connection to the misappropriation of civic funds—and in my home state of Illinois three of its recent governors are serving prison sentences for just this. Sex, because power is attractive, and the allure of power appeals to people who want to be near power, possibly to influence power, and who consequently mold themselves to appear more attractive and appealing to your desire. They prostitute themselves to the powerful in exchange for power, whether real or perceived. The list of examples for this is quite long as well—Bill Clinton, David and Bathsheba, etc. Lastly, power itself awakens its own breed of temptations. The allure of getting your own way, the desire to exact vengeance on your enemies, the pleasure of achieving something for your own name, no matter how you damage others in the process, the allure of justifying improper means with appealing ends. In recent news, we might point to Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill church, who is on record saying that “There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus, and by God’s grace, it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done.” Do the ends justify the means?

Hundred Thousand KingdomsThese thoughts trundled through my mind when I recently read N.K. Jemisin’s fantasy novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Jemisin’s book was a compelling story, portrayed an interesting world, and did these things with above average execution. But after I had finished the book I was troubled by a fundamental flaw in the book’s logic. The premise of the story is that a group of gods walk among humans, imprisoned and unable to access their full divine power. The main character, a human, is unexpectedly jettisoned into a position near the apex of earthly power. As the story unfolds, Jemisin makes an explicit point that the humans have been made in the gods’ image, and that this explains their immorality. The humans are capricious and cold, violent, vindictive, acting according to whim and fancy, and are profoundly immoral (or possibly amoral)—just like their gods. But as the heroine acquaints herself with the imprisoned gods she discovers that they answer to a moral code which, because of their power, is inscrutable to human minds. This shows up in capriciousness, violence, and, especially (in the novel) sex—these gods are permitted to sleep with whomever they like, each other, without boundaries, consequences, gender differentiation, or limits.

As I hope you can see, Jemisin has taken a common assumption—that power mitigates morality—and simply extended it to a divine level. We humans assume that the more powerful a person is, the more immoral he or she will become. If this is the case, then how much more will a god be immoral by extension? Look, for example, at the Greek gods, who are essentially personifications of human emotions and whims—war, sex, creativity, love, thought, power. The Greek gods are essentially human figures boosted to levels of incredible power, and with the freedom to exact that power on any human figure they desire.

The flaw within Jemisin’s book is fairly simple, if essential, because all actions, whether they are divine or human in origin, are moral actions; all choices are moral choices whether the actor is powerful or weak. The strength of the heroine’s position is that she maintains a moral centre within the chaos of the immoral world she inhabits. She judges the actions of others. But if Jemisin’s world really is a place of shifting morality, shifting especially as you achieve more power, then her heroine has no viable perspective from which to judge the immorality of her compatriots. Furthermore, assuming the logic of the world is accurate, then we the readers have no position of morality from which to consider either the heroine’s actions just or the divine actions unjust. To remove morality is to remove the judgment of any motive entirely. The plot falls apart because there is no reason for concern, growth, or change.

What troubled me about Jemisin’s book was not the immorality of her characters, but rather the assumptions about morality that she made in writing it. We seem to believe that circumstances have power to mitigate our morality, that power causes morality to blur. When President Bill Clinton was being investigated for his illicit sexual actions while in the White House, there was a strong move, at that time, to excuse Clinton’s actions precisely because he was president. I even remember one person suggesting to me that one of the perks of being president ought to be sexual access to whomever he liked at any time—after all, this person reasoned, he’s got other things to think about.CLINTON LEWINSKY

Whether the issue is money, sex, or power, with each indiscretion there is a temptation to blame immorality on power. As if by identifying the fact of power we have at the same time made full excuses for its abuse. “What did you expect?” we reason, “It’s power we’re talking about, and don’t you know that power corrupts?” Thus we are given permission at the same time to both excuse and blame those who have power.

But something else bizarre happens—not only do we mitigate the circumstances of the powerful because of their power, we also mitigate the circumstances of the powerless because of, ironically, their powerlessness. In recent news, (some) protesters in Ferguson, Missouri have rioted and looted local businesses—their excuse for this behaviour is their powerlessness. Against the militarized perception of the police, some have reacted with (un)civil disobedience. And so, in either case the problem isn’t that power corrupts, it is that we use both the presence and the absence of power as excuses for immoral behaviour. It seems that whether power or powerlessness is involved, we are eager to throw off the yoke of our morality.Fergusun Rios

Ironically, we do this with the Christian God as well. We make a deduction from our perception of power, then apply it to His character. We assume that power mitigates morality, then we conclude that because God is the absolute apex of power His morality must be of a different order than ours. Luther once remarked, in attempting to assert the absolute authority of God, that if God chose to declare something evil to be good, it would be good, even though we considered it evil. It seems our perceptions of power have changed little in the past 500 years.

Sir-John-Dalberg-ActonThere are a few things to say about this. First of these is a clarification about power itself. Our widely held perception that power is essentially a corrupting force has been given cultural strength by a famous quote from Lord Acton—one that we famously misquote. The actual quote is as follows: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.” (Note the missing word in bold.) Today we take Acton’s sentiment as axiomatic, but I think it fair to ask if it is even true. Does power corrupt people, or are people natively corrupt, and power only magnifies their inherent corruption? The latter, I hope, is self-evident. As humans we have wickedness within us. It can be small wickedness of petty words, spiteful actions, tax-fibbing, or little lies; it can be great wickedness of murder, theft, adultery, and false witness. We can commit our wickednesses in the quiet of our homes, or we can commit them on stages of public viewing. It is the same wickedness in both cases—the only difference power makes is that of the amplification of the wickedness. David sins with Bathsheba, and the wickedness is common enough—the consequence, however, affects the whole kingdom. Clinton sins with Monica Lewisnky and the sin is common enough—even banal and stupid—but the consequence drags a whole nation down. Driscoll sins with power and the sin is common enough—doing anything to get one’s way—but the amplification by power affects the reputation of the church catholic.

So, to begin, let’s be clear about something: power is neutral. It is neither evil, nor good, but can be used by humans for either good or evil purposes. It is a magnifying, amplifying force, one that projects the inherent faults in the human creature onto a canvas both visible and large. It is not that people in power sin more, it is that their sins are visible for everyone to see.

That being said, there is a real danger in power—the danger of trusting in one’s power. It is a very slight, subtle shift from the sentiment of, “I want this” to the belief that “the power that has been allotted to me means that I deserve this.” The temptation of power is precisely in its ability to turn our wants into deserves. I want to get my way—am I appealing to power in order to force my way? I want to enjoy the benefits of illicit relationship with person X—am I appealing to power in order to permit myself that illicit relationship? I want this benefit, this reward, this advantage—am I using the excuse of power to claim that I deserve it?

Again, however, it is not just the visibly powerful who have this temptation. The man who feels powerless in his relationships may turn to pornography to feel the illusion of power, to experience some relational control where he has none. He, quietly, is also sinning in his power. The woman who uses her words to put others in their place is also appealing to the power of her language to dominate and control. She also, quietly, is sinning in her power. And this is one of the dangerous misperceptions of power: that only the visibly powerful—presidents, celebrities, megachurch pastors—have power. In fact, each and every human is endowed with incredible power—power to bless or curse.

The computer creates the illusion of power--a powerful illusion it is.

The computer creates the illusion of power–a powerful illusion it is.

But, you may ask, does divinity mitigate morality? Are things different at the apex of power? That this is impossible ought to be clarified by a simple illustration. To the human mind, an error in measurement of .01cm would seem irrelevant—one not worth considering. Is it an error? Certainly, but other circumstances (among them the impossibility of perfection) mitigate the mistake. But imagine making a .01cm mistake in plotting a journey from one solar system to another. .01cm magnified by a distance of four light years has become an enormous error in magnitude. It is the difference between finding your mark and missing it completely. The point of the illustration is that at the level of divinity—which is comparable essentially to a measurement of infinity—the small errors become not inconsequential, but absolutely essential. At the apex of power morality is not ambiguous but absolute—the heights of power demand a perfection beyond anything humans have conceived. Therefore God’s power makes morals explicit. When Isaiah beholds a vision of God’s power, his first response is repentance for his unclean lips. Visions of absolute power convict us of our moral imperfections. Holiness and ethics are foundationally inseparable.

It should be clear, then, that the ends never ever justify the means. We cannot calculate costs and conclude that injustice in one area is permissible if it achieves a separate justice elsewhere. Especially at the level of divinity, this is absurd. After all, our arguments for ends and means each depend on an assumption of time and temporality. We reason that we can endure a temporary evil for the sake of a later good. But at the Divine level the same divisions of time do not apply—injustice once is injustice for eternity. Therefore if God participates in evil it does not follow that evil is good, but rather that God is evil.

But the lie of ends and means continues. In the church it takes the form of a kind of unholy expediency. We place volunteers in positions of authority because we have a perception of their qualifications and choose to overlook the significant flaws in their character. We resolutely refuse to acknowledge the bodies under the bus by pointing at the successes of a ministry—people saved, ministry accomplished, churches planted. We spend our funds on unnecessary building projects while the church catholic struggles, suffers, and starves. And we excuse all of these with a perception and apprehension of power that, ironically, we lay at the feet of God Himself.CrystalCathedral

But the place where, perhaps, we sin against power most is the way that we militate one kind of justice against another, particularly when we pit morality against ethics. “How can you care about Driscoll when there are people suffering in Ferguson?” “The focus of the church shouldn’t be on homosexuality, especially when there are suffering people overseas.” Or, as Tony Campolo is famous for saying, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said sh*t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” Can we at the same time pursue God’s character for Justice while repudiating His moral character? Can we pray “Thy will be done” while ignoring “make your name holy?” In each case we have missed an important reality—that a justice which compromises with injustice ceases to be justice. Or, theologically, a Christian justice that compromises on the character of God is no longer Christian. Morality and Ethics cannot be separated.

And yet the narrative of the world says something different. Our world’s narrative tells a story that grants license to immorality because of injustices experienced, whether perceived or real. A person in poverty cannot be blamed for his moral indiscretions. A person suffering under an unjust regime cannot be blamed for her immoral behaviour. Riots are permissible because of the imbalance of power. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sexual indiscretions are overlooked because of the good he accomplished and what he stood for. The ironic twist remains, and both power and powerlessness are used as mitigating circumstances. In the process morality is rendered meaningless—but then again, so also is justice.

In the end, power does not diminish, but rather magnifies the need for morality. The book of James says that not many should presume to teach, because we ought to know we will be judged more severely. Each week I stand and speak before a group of gathered Christians. I will answer for the incautious, misleading words I have spoken. You also will answer for your own misleading and incautious words to your friends, family, children, parents, and people online. But the Scriptures teach that my judgment will be more severe for the simple reason, I suggest to you, that my power has amplified my influence. If you sin, it affects you. If I sin, it affects my whole church. And as with me, so also with every human on earth—as our power increases, as we gain more access, more influence, a bigger platform, then our need for absolute morality increases as well. Power in no way mitigates morality; it only enhances our need for it.Spinal_Tap_-_Up_to_Eleven

Lastly, we cannot defer the need for moral growth to people in power and authority—each and every person is endowed with incredible power, and each and every person will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and answer for his use of that power. And that means, from small to great alike, that it is essential for us to develop and grow our moral fiber. We must reject the myth of mitigating circumstances, resisting the urge to excuse our indiscretions through appeals to power in whatever form. This will create integrity, so that when we are presented with access to power, what is projected out to the people around us is an image of the Christlike moral core we have labored to build. Amazingly, from such a position even our failures become opportunities for leadership, because our confession and repentance are also projected by power to a wider audience. In this way the individual grace of God allotted to you can be magnified by the power of your position. In this way, Christ’s power is made perfect even in our weaknesses.