Guest post by Misty Hedrick.
What do the killing fields of Cambodia have to do with the onslaught of recently exposed abuse in the church? One word: power.
In Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church, psychologist and trauma expert Diane Langberg suggests that the church in America suffers from a misunderstanding of the relationship between authority and abuse. But Langberg steps beyond describing the dynamics of power and abuse. Redeeming Power delves into the motivations underlying an abusive use of power, but Langberg also explores the motivations behind concealing abuse. While she digs into theological root issues beneath misuse of authority and power and their relationship to abuse, she also offers hope to the vulnerable and traumatized.
Langberg defines power beginning in Genesis, noting that “God created a one-flesh union and called that union of male and female to rule and subdue the earth, not each other.” She then tackles the dynamics of vulnerability in relation to power. “The abuse exposes the heart of the abuser,” she writes, “not the heart of the victim. The refusal to help exposes those asked, not the victim. The asking exposes the courage of the victim.” Then she flips the coin, showing that “withholding power in the face of sin, abuse, and tyranny is also a wrong use of power.”
Research shows that one in ten church attenders under 35 have left a church because of how the church handled cases of sexual abuse, and almost one-third of churchgoers believe the church has more scandal to uncover. Langberg stresses the urgency of victim care rather than victim-shaming:
“We are called to be a safe place for the vulnerable. We have often chosen to be a safe place for the powerful and have deceived ourselves into believing that God would call that good.”
Keeping Christ central, Langberg points out that leaders must first be followers of Christ—and Christ used his power and authority by pouring it out and lifting up others, especially women, children, the weak, the poor, and the vulnerable. She gently yet forcefully admonishes leaders to examine themselves, and to make loving Christ the main priority, above their work for Christ. Langberg presents the profound truth: “Your value as a shepherd depends on your life as a lamb.”