Power and control are central themes in addressing abuse. Abusers use power to gain or maintain control over their partners. Within the groups we lead, attempts are made regularly to facilitate discussion and reflection around men’s abuse of power in general and more specifically how individual members of our group have used power to control their partners. We highlight the impact of abuse, the motivation and the beliefs behind our behavior.
“She just wouldn’t give in.”
“I had to get her under control before someone got hurt!”
“What was I supposed to do?”
Statements like these and many more are common among abusers and evidence the all or nothing thinking produced by lording power over others. When we exercise power over others we limit our options. The goal of power over is to remain in control and therefore narrows our thinking making it difficult, undesirable or perhaps most accurately unacceptable to consider any option that may diminish our power. This mentality denies feedback, isolates us and our loved ones, and for the Christian defies the very instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Inevitably destructive men who claim the name of Jesus will bring up key Bible passages which they feel support their position to “keep her in her place” or “take control of the situation.” The assumption is that if they are called to “lead” or to be the “head” then they must take control. While there is much that could be said about headship and submission I tend to begin by challenging the sinful approach of power over with the words of Jesus. When Jesus was asked about the role of power in the life of a believer he spoke clearly and effectively. Regarding positions of power Jesus said,
“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
But among you it will be different. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of wiggle room here. When it comes to authority and power the world presses down, restricts, dominates, controls, subdues, and believers are to have no part of it; we are instead to serve. When the world demeans, we empower, when they control, we promote freedom, when they act superior we practice humility, when they reject accountability we submit. The bottom line is that we are different. A husband who lords abusive power over his wife is living inconsistent with the clear teaching of Jesus and it is safe to say that he serves someone or something other than the Savior. The heart of pride longs for power over, but the heart of Christ calls for power under.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” –Uncle Ben from Spiderman
I know that power is a reality in the world we live. Generally speaking men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. Whether we believe it is fair or just, men still hold a great deal of power socially, politically, and in most arenas of life. The question is how will we respond to this power? We as men can continue living in privilege with little or no thought to its impact on women or we can take responsibility, using our power and influence to serve and empower others. The more we practice power under by embracing humility, receiving feedback and criticism well, and recognizing others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3) the more, I believe, we’ll promote a new paradigm of power under.