God's Mission Matters July 2010 podcast - Perceive the Power!

Power dynamics — understanding racial and social privilege
July 15, 2010

By Dennis Smith

"Never boast of anything except Christ crucified." (Galatians 6:14)

When U.S. Presbyterians set off on mission trips, we often carry an invisible suitcase filled with power. I’m not talking about military might or political influence, but rather the cultural and economic power we so easily take for granted.

Our credit cards, education, relative job security, health insurance and pension plans guarantee that most U.S. Presbyterians will enjoy a level of security unknown to many of our mission partners.

Our power often wears the guise of racial and social privilege. Throughout the history of Christian mission, one of the great challenges has been to discern what elements of our mission initiatives reflect the core values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what elements can be attributed more to our own racial and social backgrounds.

One casualty of this legacy is our latent suspicion of power itself. We often see power as a synonym of abuse and corruption. But power need not be evil.  Power administered wisely and subject to checks and balances is a necessary tool for building the common good.

In the United States we have no monopoly on such problems. Racism and social inequality are just as entrenched in Guatemala as they are in the United States — and just as invisible to many middle-class Guatemalan Presbyterians.

Some mission groups have experienced the gift of being able to explore such profoundly human problems with their mission partners. But the sharing doesn’t come easy. It requires trust-building and hearts that are open to God’s grace. It requires time spent together studying God’s Word. It requires a humble, inquiring spirit that allows us to look openly at our history and to celebrate how the Holy Spirit works through our churches despite our limited vision. 

The mission, after all, is God’s, not ours.

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