Culture / Theology

Learning from the Margins: The Difference Between Human and Kingdom Power

It’s often the case that the people most able to distinguish between human power and kingdom power are those who have been most abused or excluded by human power structures.  Each moment that a power structure oppresses or excludes can become a moment for a Christ follower to stop and say, “Where is my allegiance? Where is my hope?”

It’s often the case that the people most able to distinguish between human power and kingdom power are those who have been most abused or excluded by human power structures. Click To Tweet

 As painful as it is to feel unseen and unheard, as unjust as it is to be marginalized, through the example of Christ each experience of rejection can be a moment of salvation. The insight gained from rejection gives wisdom about how to engage with empire realities in kingdom ways:

  • When we experience the abuse of human power, will we choose to embrace it as a purifying moment for our faith?
  • Will we choose to learn from the example of those on the margins, adopting their resiliency and best practices?

In light of the complex divides within our country, Mandy Smith and Derek Vreeland, two contributing authors to Kingdom and Country, share with us the lessons they’re learning from marginalized, ignored voices—particularly our brothers and sisters of color, women, global voices, and those in lower socio-economic classes.

Kingdom Capacities

As I (Mandy) watch marginalized friends engage with political realities, I’m inspired to see their common capacities, including:

  • Being unsurprised—knowing that the powers of this world do not ultimately represent the values of the kingdom
  • Prayer—crying out to God in lament from the pain of oppression and exclusion and, in so doing, finding themselves seen and known by God and one another
  • Creating culture—shaping language for this “foot in two worlds” way of life
  • Celebration—finding joy in the face of the world’s power as a prophetic way to trust that worldly power is not the only power
  • Embracing a promised future—following the example of the first-century believers who knew how to turn persecution into another reason to long for the coming of Jesus

These practices from those suffering injustice offer key insight to those of us not speaking, writing, and leading from the margins.

Acknowledging Our Interdependence

I (Derek) agree that voices from the margins do speak with the most clarity regarding the seismic differences between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. Perhaps this is why Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, the mournful, and the meek because they will inherit the earth”  (Matt 5:3-5).

The kingdom of God belongs to those who have felt the abuse of power by the social elites in society. The wealthy elites set the political agenda for a given nation state. The two primary U.S. political parties receive financial pressure from lobby groups, which in turn sets the temperature of the political climate in the United States. The interests and values of the oppressed and marginalized often do not get a hearing because they do not garner attention from these political power brokers.

The kingdom of God belongs to those who have felt the abuse of power by the social elites in society. Click To Tweet

Yet, while these voices go unheard by worldly powers, we who have seen the kingdom of God and have pledged our allegiance to King Jesus want to listen to their voices. If we are to resist the temptation of corrupt political power, we need to learn from their practices. In addition to the lessons Mandy mentioned—being unsurprised, prayer, lamenting, creating culture, celebration, and embracing a promised future—from marginalized peoples I’m learning the power of acknowledging our dependence upon one another.

From marginalized peoples I’m learning the power of acknowledging our dependence upon one another. Click To Tweet

The Kingdom Habits of Lament and Prayer

For me (Mandy), these lessons are not merely conceptual but shape our habits and practices. In my experiences working alongside marginalized people, I’ve noticed this distinction: When there’s a problem, people accustomed to power often complain and strategize. On the other hand, when people outside of power structures encounter a problem, they often lament and pray. This is not passivity but an awareness of where true power lies.

When there’s a problem, people accustomed to power often complain and strategize. People outside of power structures, lament and pray. This is not passivity but an awareness of where true power lies. Click To Tweet

I’ve been in rooms where a person who knows what it is to be outside of human power has led the whole group into a new space, bringing our anxious strategizing to a standstill, leading us through despair into lament, and, somehow, into worship. I choose to honor that example by incorporating these practices into my own work and leadership.

These practices help me stop and notice my knee-jerk reaction when I feel powerless:

  • Am I complaining and strategizing?
  • Or am I lamenting and praying?

When things hit the fan in my life, both as a follower and as a leader, I ask God to stop me in my tracks and switch me from complaining and strategizing (habits that grow from the assumption that I’m in control) to lamenting and praying (habits that grow from the assumption that God is in control). As we see across the Psalms of Lament, lament often brings us to a place of worship. The powerlessness that appears to designate that I am far from God becomes, instead, an opportunity to know God’s power and discover how close God is in seasons of crisis.

Lament often brings us to a place of worship. Click To Tweet

The Kingdom Habit of Confession

Before I (Derek) begin morning prayer, I take three deep breaths. Upon each exhale, I make three confessions. The second of those confessions is “I am a dependent creature.” Growing up in upper middle class white suburban America, I recognize that life has been, for the most part, easy for me. I have falsely assumed that I can do life on my own. Self-sufficiency has become my besetting sin. To repent, I acknowledge my dependence on others.

Self-sufficiency has become my besetting sin. To repent, I acknowledge my dependence on others. Click To Tweet

I recognize my dependence on God’s grace and my dependence upon the community I belong to. I depend on farmers to provide food. I depend on doctors, teachers, auto mechanics, sanitation workers, and local law enforcement, among many others. As we listen to voices from the margins, we’re reminded of this key Christian value—we belong to one another, we need each other, and we are responsible for one another.

With the rise of white Christian nationalism, we who have pledged our allegiance to King Jesus urgently need help to identify the key differences between our identity as kingdom citizens and our identity as citizens of a particular nation state. We need practices that enable us to distinguish human powers from heavenly powers, the power of the State from the power of the Spirit, and the power of the sword from the power of subversive resistance. Those who have been at the margins have embodied these practices, so we turn our attention to them as we move forward for the sake of the gospel.

We who have pledged our allegiance to King Jesus urgently need help to identify the key differences between our identity as kingdom citizens and our identity as citizens of a particular nation state. Click To Tweet

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